The science of Spotify ads

*Disclaimer: might not contain actual science – just theories I’d like someone else to prove for me.

It was my other half that mused over dinner the other night, that Spotify ads had to walk the fine line of being ‘just annoying enough’.

What an interesting point, I thought. There aren’t many services where you have the option of removing ads. Newspapers, TV etc – the ads have to engage and be memorable – even if they irritate the shit out of you. (Go Compare, We Buy Any Car et al obviously use being irritating as hell as a very effective tactic.) You can’t buy an ad-free issue of the Sun.

But Spotify – that’s different. The ads have to be effective, for sure. Advertisers would never buy into a service that they felt was pure annoyance. But at the same time, the ads have to be a disincentive – you have to dislike them enough to want to get rid of them, but not so much that you will abandon Spotify if you can’t afford it.

How do they do this?

Repetition and frequency surely play a large part. Before we realised (oh joy!) that our new Virgin Media subscription came with six months’ free Spotify, we were hearing ads at the rate of one every two songs, at times.

Lack of targeting is perhaps another annoying tactic. Am I more likely to buy a car if I like Florence & the Machine, or if I prefer Rizzle Kicks? At least when you watch TV, there is some element of supposition about your likely demographic.

Spotify ads also take no notice of what you’re listening to, as far as I can ascertain. I’m pretty sure that my choice of the Fleet Foxes album was once interrupted by a sexual health message. Ruined.

In short, it’s about bending the advertising rules – relevancy, timing – all the rest – and counting on the fact that this stick is still adequately counteracted by the small carrot of free music, albeit with ads.

And in a way, the ads are themselves an advert – every one drawing your attention to the lovely musical promised land that lies tantalisingly close, if you’d just dip your hand in your pocket for a fiver a month.