Bursting Spotify’s bubble

Spotify has a new ad campaign called ‘All ears on you’, made by FCB New York. It is a delight to watch!

The agency uses the creative device of enveloping people in a beautiful bubble and that metaphor works so wonderfully well for audio as a medium. If you hear something through earphones and close your eyes, it is very easy to be transported to a different place/zone, the equivalent of being lost in your own bubble.

Take a look.

By the way, the song used in the ad is ‘Feet don’t fail me now’ by Joy Crookes.

Now, Spotify has done a lot of really creative ads over the years. Almost all of them focus on the listening experience and variety.

My most favorite ad from Spotify is the one they made in-house, called ‘Let the song play’, in 2019. It uses a very real user behavior that I had mentioned once on Twitter too, more than a decade ago 🙂

A couple of more ads, for context.

Horror, 2018 (Agency: Universal McCann)

The British advertising watchdog group Advertising Standards Authority called out this ad as being ‘too spooky’ and did not warn young users that it is just a spoof!

Chase, 2018 (Agency: Universal McCann)

Dinner, 2018 (Agency: Biscuit Filmworks)

The reason why I shared more Spotify ads is to demarcate the ‘All ears on you’ ad from the rest of what Spotify usually chooses to focus on in its advertising.

The ‘All ears on you’ campaign ad is the first time that Spotify is focusing on visualizing how listeners get completely lost in the audio experience.

I can relate to this big time, though not with Spotify or even music. I have driven extensively from home, to work, and back home in horrendous Bengaluru traffic for over two decades and my audiobooks were my constant companion. All the noise, pollution, sun/heat (very occasionally – the weather is a boon/blessing, in Bengaluru), manic traffic jams, etc. fades into the background when I’m immersed in an audiobook.

So, the agency’s creative device of enveloping the people into a beautiful bubble to depict that they are in their own world when they start listening to something (particularly through earphones, earplugs, headphones) is so very apt! They have even thought about a car-based user who may not listen to Spotify on earphones, but through the car stereo – and the whole car gets enveloped inside the bubble – that was a nice touch 🙂

To be fair, this ‘bubble’ experience is not unique to Spotify – it could well appeal to, and work for, any streaming audio service.

In fact, Amazon’s Audible (audiobooks) has had more ads that focus on explaining how people get lost in the audio experience.

Here’s a March 2020 campaign (agency: mcgarrybowen) where the wife goes on a work commute even when she’s working from home 🙂

Or their January 2020 campaign called Temptations (agency: Fold7) where Audible is positioned as an alternative for the many social media temptations on your phone.

Or the September 2016 campaign called ‘Feel every word’ (agency: Fold7) where the crux is, “What’s more powerful than a voice in your ear?” – so aptly summarised!

Regardless of what makes you ‘get lost’ in the sound—music or the spoken word (podcasts, audiobooks)—the crux is the same. So, the bubble metaphor is so brilliant.

But, pause for a second and observe who the ad ‘All ears on you’ is targeted at. Here’s a clue from the ad:

‘Reach the most immersed audience’! This Spotify ad is not for you and me – the end users/listeners. It is meant for advertisers and brands, but we, end-users, happened to see it too because it is online.

Herein lies the flaw.

By depicting highly immersed users, that too inside their own enveloping audio bubble, and adding ‘reach the most immersed audience’ as a call-to-action for brands and advertisers, Spotify is literally bursting the listener’s blissful bubble 🙂

Whether we like it or not, whether it is great to listen or not, advertising interrupts. We do not choose to listen to advertising – we choose to listen to the content that interests us (music, podcasts, audiobooks, etc.). And when something that we did not choose to listen to plays in the middle of us listening to something we did choose to listen to, that is an interruption.

In other words, Spotify has a new ad that is targeted at advertisers and shows how advertisers can burst the listeners’ bubbles.

Of course, there are many nuances here, if we think through this. For instance, the audio ads could be highly engaging and creative. Or could be practically useful, as this LinkedIn – Spotify case study mentions: Sponsored Sessions is a mobile format that offers 30 minutes of ad-free Spotify listening in exchange for watching one of the campaign’s videos. In this case, we would be volunteering to listen to the ads! Yet, we are doing so only to get to listen to what we really want to listen to.

In terms of effectiveness, advertising on a streaming platform is almost like advertising on conventional television – if you are listening, you are expected to remember what you listened to and then, eventually, perform the call-to-action (go to a website). Or, you need to really interrupt the experience by prompting people to look at their device screen and click on something that takes them outside the audio streaming app’s experience to a campaign website.

Whichever way you consider it, ads do not come inside the bubbles. They get you out of the bubbles.

I can visualize a slightly longer version of the ad where the girl inside the bubble falls off the sky because her peaceful audio-based envelope has been pierced by a bank selling its wares 🙂

PS: Last year, I wrote about audio streaming platforms like Pandora and Spotify testing interactive audio advertising where the ads not only interrupt you but also expect you to respond with your voice! Oh, the sheer horror!

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