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Targeting the Tone Deaf

ToneMedia, the latest spin on the ad network model, allows brands to target John Lennon-loving cat owners

Illustration: Taylor Callery

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Let’s be honest. Lyrics websites haven’t exactly enjoyed the best reputation. Between in-your-face banner ads, aggressive ringtone offers and often artless aesthetic—not to mention their murky copyright infringement issues—they don’t exactly evoke “premium.” But that’s exactly what some companies hope they can be, and not without reason: People seriously love lyrics. According to Google, only the word “Facebook” has generated more searches than “lyrics” in the U.S. since 2004.

Aiming to capitalize on this, ringtone marketer ToneFuse last week launched ToneMedia, a new ad platform for lyrics and music content sites, such as lyrics007.com. Val Katayev, ToneFuse’s founder, CEO, said when he entered the lyrics business he saw “a huge opportunity there.”

By pairing information about music preferences (from ToneFuse’s ringtone product) with third-party data, the company says it has created 900 audience segments to help brands target consumers across some 100 publishers. The result is a slew of odd, nonintuitive insights. John Lennon fans, for instance, are 101 percent more likely to own pets while Rihanna lovers are 189 percent more likely to be interested in cruises.

When asked about copyright issues, the company said most of its publishing partners are licensed or becoming so. Katayev says before officially launching ToneMedia, its client roster included Dove and Axe. The company declined to have the brands speak with Adweek.

David Goodman, president of CBS Interactive Music Group (which bought MetroLyrics last October and has a strategic partnership with ToneFuse), said that as companies like his look to elevate the lyric sites space, brands are starting to recognize their impact. “Lyrics are a premium content experience,” he said.

But David Cohen, Universal McCann’s evp, global digital officer, says lyric sites often generate in-and-out traffic, indicating poor engagement.

Ilan Zechory, co-founder of the popular Wikipedia-like lyrics site Rap Genius, said lyric sites hoping to attract brands need communities. If you’re just displaying lyrics, there’s a ceiling to how…classy an ad space you can have,” he said. “But if you’re doing something with deep levels of engagement, then it’s absolutely a very attractive place to be.”