Q&A with Rob Walker, Global Director of Creative Solutions at Spotify | M&M Global

Q&A with Rob Walker, Global Director of Creative Solutions at Spotify

We caught up with Rob Walker, Global Director of Creative Solutions at Spotify to find out more about the potential for brands to use audio as an essential part of their advertising strategy.

Over the last few years, audio has exponentially grown as a medium of choice for consumers and as a result it’s become a very interesting space for brands to utilise — but how do they successfully navigate it?
The most important thing to remember is not to overthink this space. Yes, audio
—streaming audio specifically— is an essential part of any marketing strategy but it’s also
a very exciting space to test and iterate. Many brands may be thinking they don’t know
enough to get started, so that’s why at Spotify we have an in-house creative team who
produce easy tips on how to get started and we even have automated creative audio tools
to get you started right away. A great example of this is the guidance we’ve provided for
Ad Studio, our self serve ad platform for brands both big and small who want to get ads on
the platform quickly but don’t have the means to produce one.

 What are the biggest challenges brands face in this space?
The biggest challenge isn’t just an audio challenge, it’s a marketing challenge: How do I
reach a large qualified audience with a message that resonates? That’s where streaming
audio, unlike traditional radio, has become an effective tool for marketers — Spotify
provides not just mass reach but the opportunity to segment targets to specific audiences
based on our Streaming Intelligence, the data and insights we glean based on our users’
streaming behaviors. Based on that, the most interesting challenge is how brands start to
contextualize their audio creative to match their targeting.

Everyone who listens to podcasts can remember one of the first adverts they heard, but
what does an engaging and successful audio campaign look like in 2020?
Podcast advertising is unique because the medium is growing like wildfire space, with
the innovation primarily coming from the quality of the hosts being the creatives on the ad messaging. That isn’t going to leave the podcast space because that core principle —
having contextual messaging within content — is good for the listener. Putting the listener first is our top priority when we’re creating any advertising for brands. “Don’t kill their vibe” is a line we’ve used a lot recently, because an engaging and successful audio campaign today mixes in those contextual messages to the environment of the listener. Streaming audio is responsive and can adapt to the listener. It’s audio that listens.

As the world gets to grips with the global pandemic of Covid19 it is fair to assume the
number of people listening to audio has increased significantly, so how does the sector
take advantage of this?
Yes, people are listening more. However, the shifts are what are really interesting too. Due to the ubiquity strategy of Spotify, we’re a platform that users can access on thousands of hardware platforms. Consequently, we can see how listeners are shifting from one device to another. During COVID-19 we saw an increase in home listening on gaming devices and desktop, with in-car listening obviously declining. Those trends are stabilising now, but gaming is still big.

What are the common misconceptions of advertising campaigns in audio?
The biggest misconception of audio advertising is that it’s radio. Much as we’d not think of
online video as TV, or digital outdoor as a standard sheet, streaming audio is not radio.
With that being said, another misconception is that you can’t be a visual brand and use
audio. Audio is a wonderful storytelling medium, and many visual elements of brands are
easily translated into sound. If you know your visual identity, you’ll know your audio one
with a little bit of guidance.

What brands are getting it right when it comes to audio advertising?
I was very impressed by the Cannes Audio + Radio winner last year; HBO’s Westworld.
They may have broken the category because they created more than an audio ad — it was
more of an audio skill that became an immersive audio experience for Westworld fans.
Another that is near and dear to my British upbringing is the BBC Seven Worlds, One
Planet campaign on Spotify. The BBC not only created custom audio ads with their iconic
host, David Attenborough, but they also utilized the sounds from the TV episodes to take
over playlists and create a wonderful 3D audio experience on our platform that
complemented and extended that experience you get from the brilliant TV series.

What sector of brands do you feel could be doing more audio?
Related to my last answer, I’d love to see entertainment brands taking on more streaming
audio in their advertising. They are experts in creativity, and when applied to a platform
like ours they create phenomenal audio advertising. We’ve heard that with 3D audio for A
star is born or podcast and playlist integrations with Quentin Tarantino for Once Upon a
Time in Hollywood.

How do you envision the audio sector developing over the next 12 months?
I think it’s straightforward — it will continue to be more digital in nature. What happened to Print, TV, and OOH will continue happening to audio. On-demand consumption always
wins, and as audiences continue to move to streaming platforms like Spotify we’ll see the
nature of audio advertising shift that way, too. That’s pretty exciting because the space is
still rich for innovation and creativity coupled with the measurement and buying
requirements that brands expect from digital, too.

To find out more you can watch back Rob Walker’s Festival Fridays session – Spotify presents: Code to Audio Creativity 

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