Is the Mobile Impression Broken?

By Chris Phillips, Chief Product Officer

A problem has been brewing in the digital space for some time now. Industry experts have all but denounced mobile banners, causing, in some cases, mass hysteria for publishers and media buyers alike. I agree. There is something—actually, a lot—wrong with mobile banners, and we want to help.

We’re setting out to reinvent Pandora’s mobile display ad solution to take better advantage of screen real estate, and features native to our own platform. We’ll also be emphasizing the human need for attention on an ad, which needs to take place before meaningful interaction with brand content can happen.

From the dawn of advertising, an “impression” sought out to accomplish something. Back when soap operas were so named because they were sponsored by soap companies, content became a platform for advertising messages. Brands paid for spots, or impressions, because they wanted to connect with their key audiences. Over the past 100+ years, impressions have come in all shapes and sizes and have been more recently reduced to small, hard to read spaces in cluttered environments, where verification of an impression is measured by pixels loading for a pre-determined amount of time. We’ve gone from pure messaging in contextual environments, to scientific evidence proving that an impression had a chance to be seen—not necessarily a chance to actually resonate. In the last two decades, digital impressions have fallen below the fold, failed to render, or have been seen as interruptive nuisances that could actually lead to a negative brand experience. Even more recently, as impressions adapted to the mobile environment, real estate has become smaller and smaller, and impressions have been reduced to almost nothing. Pandora is among a healthy set of beautiful apps and responsive websites—why does the ad space continue to be an afterthought in the user interface?

Ultimately the reason advertisers still care about the impression, is that in spite of all these challenges, an impression still often is the best way to make… well… an impression. Advertisers are attempting to address this problem in a variety of ways: removal of mobile display ads altogether from their media plans, stricter requirements around viewability, and/or attribution modeling by tactic to determine the value associated with bottom line revenue. All of these ways work to some extent, but why are we relying on advertisers to solve the problem? Pandora sees the problem, and we’re going to be addressing it head on.

Our mobile display solutions need work. There. I said it. We’re not alone, but today we are focused on what we can control—our own platform.

Current 300×250 on Pandora’s Environment

Pandora’s current display ad solution follows the industry norm to some extent—it typically delivers over artist’s album art and includes a close button that can seem more like a call-to-action than the intended call-to-action. We also know that listeners’ fingers come in all shapes and sizes and “fat thumbs” is not only a real thing, but can cause real problems. Have we been doing everything wrong? No. We’re still seeing better than average performance, and the advertiser continues to have 100% share of voice in a relatively uncluttered environment. But we don’t want to be good, we want to be great, and we want to solve an industry wide problem.

Enter: The Visual Ad Experience

Muted Video


Responsive Mobile Display

We saw an opportunity to improve the way brands communicate with consumers in a mobile environment. Pandora is uniquely equipped to capture people’s attention with a high time spent listening of 2+ hours per session, and with approximately 10 separate visual interactions per day with our mobile app.1 With our upcoming new mobile solution—the Visual Ad Experience—we will be able to bridge the time spent on our platform with the need for brands to connect with consumers, providing the opportunity to authentically capture audience attention on our platform.

To capitalize on this opportunity and solve the mobile visual problem we’re creating:

  • A Responsive Mobile Display Unit that introduces a larger creative ad unit that will automatically adjust to the size of the phone’s screen, in addition to continuing to accept 300x250s on mobile.
  • Muted Video is a new attention-winning opportunity for advertisers on Pandora. Listeners can tap on the video to un-mute and watch in full screen view.
  • Pre-rendering display ads for optimal load times and to maximize viewability.
  • Refining ad interactions to give listeners improved signals of intent to either dismiss an ad or get additional content.

The outcome? A true impression, measured on viewability, time spent, and revenue impact, should better capture audience attention and lead to meaningful brand impact. Impressions have devolved into checking a box of casting a wide net, and not doing what they initially set out to do in the earlier days of advertising. With our new Visual Ad Experience solution, impressions will once again make an impression.

The best part? It’s already happening. The Visual Ad Experience will be widely available later this year, but through initial testing with 1% of our mobile audience, we’re positively moving in the right direction. After interacting with our new Responsive Mobile Display Unit, we’ve seen time spent on brand’s landing pages increase by 11%, and we’ve doubled the number of listeners who engage with a brand’s landing page for more than 30 seconds.1 What does this all mean? We’re now sending a more qualified audience to advertisers.

I’m excited to introduce important changes to our platform that will make a positive impact for listeners and advertisers alike. The quest for perfection and performance is never over, but Pandora is proud to be part of the solution.

1 Pandora Internal Metrics, May 2016

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