Pandora’s Muted Video and Responsive Display Ads Are a Big Hit With Marketers

The new product rolls out soon

Pandora is expanding its muted video and expandable display ads after six months of beta tests for brands such as Google, Express and Lexus.

The ad formats, first announced by the Oakland-based music streaming service back in June, allow marketers to replace the album art with video and display ads within users feeds. The news comes less than a month after the company announced plans for a $9.99 ads free subscription model to rival on-demand services like Spotify and Apple Music.

According to Pandora, the ads—which will roll out beyond beta on Jan. 19—have shown promising results during early tests. Average time spent with responsive mobile display ads were up 50 percent, with third-party measurement firm Millward Brown reporting double-digit lift for metrics including brand favorability and awareness. Muted video ads boosted the total number of listeners spending more time with the ads and, Pandora said, muted video ads with music in the background boosted video completion rates by up to 30 percent.

"What's special about us compared to everyone else running muted video is that it's a display product," Lizzie Widhelm, Pandora's svp of ad product strategy, told Adweek. "You can't call it a video product until someone actually unmutes. But what's unique about us is that when the video is running, it's not dead sound in the background, it's the station or song that you love."

The format, while still new, could be a welcome addition for listeners if Pandora's internal surveys prove to be accurate. A SoundBoard study of 50,000 listeners found that 75 percent preferred it to the old version, with almost as many saying they're more likely to engage with it than before.

While other streaming services have continued to boost their mobile ads game (Spotify updated its programmatic ads options back in July), Pandora still seems to have the highest overall reach. According to comScore, Pandora was the ninth most popular app in the U.S. as of September, per eMarketer, reaching 40.4 percent of American adults.

Along with the beta campaign averages, some marketers running campaigns also reported being pleased with their results on a brand-by-brand basis. For example, Lexus saw brand favorability jump 13 percent, while awareness increased 10 percent and purchase intent 5 percent, per Millward Brown.


Denny's ran responsive mobile ads to debut its buttermilk pancakes. The restaurant chain—which has used Pandora for digital initiatives in the past—tried different types of targeting as a part of the beta program and saw increases in total page views and users, with more than 80 percent of total website traffic coming from mobile devices.

The campaign was part of a broader strategy that also included Snapchat geofilters, custom YouTube content and mobile partnerships with companies such as Waze, Hulu and Yahoo. There was even a Facebook Live activation with an animated pancake character from Denny's web series.

Denny's chief marketing officer John Dillon wouldn't provide details into specific results related to brand lift or purchase intent, but he said the results from the pancake campaign were anything but fluff.

"There are a lot of conversations that happen in a diner booth and our strategy is to take those conversations that happen in a diner booth and take them to the digital space," Dillon said in an interview.

According to Sam Johnson, Media Director at TDA Boulder, a campaign for Ascent Protein on Pandora resulted in a 32 percent lift in users spending more than 5 seconds with an ad, along with a 32 percent aggregate completion rate on 15-second muted spots. The brand also saw a 24 percent completion rate on 30-second spots.

"Pandora's commitment to innovation coupled with their ability to reach our audience at scale were the primary factors that compelled us to partner with them for the launch of Ascent Protein," she said. "We appreciate the 'first-look' opportunity to participate in their beta program, and the synergy between launching our new product and theirs made for the perfect match."