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Taco Bell, Toyota promote branded Pandora content via new native ads

Pandora is trying out native advertising in its stations list for the first time, promoting stations from brands such as Taco Bell, Skechers, Bacardi, Sonos and Toyota in the area where users look for new stations they might like.

As interest in native advertising grows, Promoted Stations is a new ad product that will enable advertisers to promote their branded stations to listeners who are actively seeking a new listening experience. The idea is to enable advertisers to tap into music as a way to convey the sound of a brand and reach Pandora listeners directly.

?Custom branded stations are something that brands have looked to Pandora to create for several years,? said Lizzie Widhelm, vice president of digital at Pandora, Oakland, CA. ?Because of the growing demand for that type of content, we are now launching a Promoted Stations feature that will allow our beta partners to extend the reach of their custom branded stations by having them promoted under 'Stations You Might Like' within the user interface.

?This represents the first time that Pandora has natively integrated an ad product within a listener?s station list, making promoted stations the next step in our native offering for advertisers looking to grow time spent with their brand,? she said.

?This is particularly significant in the mobile space because 80 percent of Pandora's listening occurs via mobile device, making native integrations, that are good for both the listener and advertiser, a priority for us.?

Listen to this
The Promoted Stations ads are currently in beta, reaching approximately 10 percent of Pandora?s 75.3 million active users. Ten brands are testing it.

While this is the first time the streaming radio service has looked to monetize its station list in a native way, branded stations have existed for several years.

According to the company, its decision to launch promoted stations was spurred by high demand from advertisers.

?Our ad product strategy is based on the philosophy that what's good for the listener is good for the advertiser,? Ms. Widhelm said. ?Therefore we designed promoted stations to integrate seamlessly with the user experience.

?Promoted stations will appear in the station list, as a ?Station You Might Like,?? she said.

Curated content
The new ads could help brands enhance their branded content strategies on Pandora, which to date have not as big of an impact as they could, according to Dave Martin, senior vice president of media at Ignited, La Segundo, CA.

"If a brand?s goal is to show personality and tone, a branded channel is a perfectly reasonable tactic,"  Mr. Martin said.  "And the fact that you can complement the branded channel with audio ads means there is rich canvas for story-telling. 

"The problem is that brands don?t approach these types of ad products strategically or creatively," he said. "When done right, branded stations can have a big impact."

Pandora recently reported that its mobile ad revenue totaled $103.1 million in the first quarter, up 59 percent from a year ago.

However, the Internet radio service faces growing competition from the likes of Spotify, iHeartRadio and others when it comes to where consumers are listening to radio.

At the same time, Pandora also faces growing competition in terms of attracting advertising dollars as more Facebook and other publishers build out their mobile advertising options.

In particular, there has been a lot of movement over the past year when it comes to native advertising in light of the success that Facebook has had with delivering ads within the newsfeed on mobile.

According to Pandora, native, custom-built experiences such as promoted stations work especially well on mobile by giving advertisers an opportunity to communicate directly with listeners they want to target by tapping into music as a way to communicate a brand?s sound.

?The content development process for custom branded stations, which are now being promoted, varies ? we work with marketers such as Taco Bell, Toyota and Bacardi to help them curate stations that create the listening experience they desire,? Ms. Widhelm said.

?Whether it be custom content from an artist or a mix of songs powered by the Music Genome Project, our team curates along with the advertiser with the goal of driving time spent with a brand and creating a memorable listening experience for fans,? she said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York