To change advertising, you must begin with the people

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Spotify's global head of partner solutions believes that brands need to change their input in order to affect their output.

I am a devoted mom, an advertising executive, a Drake fan, an avid runner, a wannabe interior designer—and a black woman.

All of those labels define me at any given moment more than my basic demographic profile online. When I see advertising that reflects those interests and introduces new information or helpful products, I’m intrigued, engaged even.

Yet more often than not, ad creative and targeting appears to be based on reaching a woman of a certain age, of a certain ethnicity who lives in a certain area, using a certain device—without leveraging deeper insights to demonstrate an understanding of my experience.

Once in a while it works, but usually I receive ads that don’t match my interests or needs at all. The communication is not authentic. It’s frequently almost tone deaf.

We all know that authenticity in advertising is essential to driving impact. People-based marketing is a meaningful step forward on a strategic level. As an industry, we’re moving beyond targeting only by cookies and devices and looking more holistically at understanding the person.

With streaming data, we have access to a rich and textured data set that enables a much deeper understanding than ever before. As people stream music in more moments throughout the day, we’re learning much more about their moods, mindsets and behaviors over time.

When we know more about people’s passions, the brief or target audience transcends "reach Hispanic A18-39 on mobile." It becomes "reach business owners during their commute who are obsessed with technology" or "find moms while they’re working out who want healthy snack options." Imagine all the creative opportunities born from briefs that are informed by contextual insights.

People-based marketing is only the beginning. There’s another transformation that we, as an industry, need to make. Now that we understand and can identify audiences, we need the right creative. And to nail the creative messaging, we have to make sure the right people have a seat at the table. 

A diverse team brings varied experiences and points of view to the conversation which shine through in the creative. Without those diverse voices, you squander the opportunity to connect in a real way, an authentic way that drives brand value and outcomes.

This year, I believe the diversity conversation has moved from talk to real action for the first time in a while. Creatives and marketers seeking inspiration are boldly taking on some heavy issues that plague our communities and the advertising industry and threaten creativity.  

The year 2017 has also been marked by ads and content that highlight inclusion and multicultural harmony like AirBnB’s Super Bowl Spot and Spotify’s "I’m with the Banned." We’re collectively recognizing that diversity isn’t a buzzword; it is a business imperative.

When brands understand how to connect with their consumers, they win big across the board. In order to get there, we need to have diverse teams and more people of color in leadership positions. We need to take advantage of the abounding technological advances, but not at the expense of cultural connection. Brands can’t simply preach multi-cultural narratives; we have to live them from the inside out.

At Cannes this summer, it was refreshing to look around and see people of all genders, colors and backgrounds discussing their experiences and sharing ideas—even Jesse Jackson was there to champion our industry. 

"Advertising over the years has helped to push boundaries and knock down walls," he said. "Topics such as interracial and same-sex marriage have been brought to the forefront of the social consciousness in no small measure through their depiction in advertising."

It’s clear that we have more work to do. Let’s get after it. The truth is we can’t afford not to.

Danielle Lee is Spotify's global head of partner solutions.