Michael Villaseñor is leading a native advertising revolution at Spotify. But despite the technological advances he’s pursuing as the director of product design at the world’s largest audio streaming service, Villaseñor is the first to admit that in many ways his team is simply improving on a long-established format.
“Native content within a podcast is basically just radio ads, which have existed for a very long time,” he said. “We're just taking a new adaptation of that and making it really dynamic and flexible.”
“We’re investing massively on the advertising front,” Villaseñor said. “Spotify has this huge opportunity right now, and a big part of that involves moving full speed ahead on podcasts and creating tools for advertisers and meaningful experiences for listeners.”
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Dynamic ad insertion and host-read copy
Spotify’s main advantage to advertisers, according to Villaseñor, is that Spotify is able to capture streaming data and actually determine confirmed ad impressions for podcasts. This provides advertisers with more robust reporting and measurement on their podcast ad campaigns.
For Villaseñor, all of Spotify’s advertising tools serve to accomplish two complementary goals.
“We want to grow this in a meaningful way that allows creators to do what they love doing, which is to create content and make money off of it while providing listeners an experience that feels natural and respects their space and time,” he said.
More than just a platform
Villaseñor said that Spotify can help facilitate both of those things by using its vast wealth of data-driven insights to help brands target their ads to an audience that is genuinely interested in their products or services. The same tools that feed users music recommendations based on their listening history can also direct Spotify’s 406 million monthly active users to some of the staggering 3.6 million podcasts on the platform that might match their interests.
“Spotify, at its core, is about discovery. It's about helping users find a podcast that’s already on the platform that they might like,” he said. “This already works incredibly well for music, but we need to go well beyond that and do the same for brands and storytelling. So much of what Spotify has been in the past is a platform. Now we need to be not only the platform but also the publisher and the creator.”
That means helping brands create podcast ads that don’t feel jarring to the listener. This is where Villaseñor’s previous experience in native advertising at both the New York Times and Hearst comes in handy.
“What is old is new again,” he said. “The mechanisms in the storytelling process that we would go through at the Times is more relevant to my job now than ever. It’s about informing brands of the best practices when creating content. What are the necessary steps for finding the truest form of the story the brand is looking to tell? How do we tell authentic stories in audio form that aren’t just interstitials that the listener will find annoying and skip past?”
Figuring out how to make engaging, authentic podcast advertising has never been more important. Even though it can feel like everyone and their cousin has a podcast, Villaseñor is convinced that the platform is “still in its infancy”.
“This continues to be one of the largest growth opportunities even though podcasts have been around for a very long time,” he said. “ I think it's because of what it does for the listener. It's an active experience in that the mind is actually not only listening but also painting the pictures. The opportunity here is to create stories that resonate with listeners, and I think these stories will only become more impactful as brands find ways to help listeners deeply understand the true story they are trying to get across.”
Justin Cremer is the editor of the Native Advertising Institute. Originally from Iowa, he worked as an English-language journalist in Denmark for several years. In addition to his NAI role, he is also a journalist and copywriter for the Copenhagen content marketing agency Brand Movers.