The Next Big Ad Innovation: Stop Stealing My Time

by Lizzie Widhelm, Senior Vice President, Ad Product Sales & Strategy, Pandora

I think about time, all of the time. With a busy career, spouse and three young sons, I often feel like I have very little of it. So little, in fact, that I’m relentless about choosing who and what gets my attention.

Do I sound like anyone you know? The quest for time and attention is a hot topic in our households as well as every marketing meeting. Now more than ever, consumers are taking control of their time, so capturing it has become exceedingly difficult for brands. They want attention but it’s not surrendered easily.

The last decade has been a boom-town for content that does capture attention. Time spent on linear, appointment-based viewing and broadcast listening has been replaced with more personalized, choice-based content. Share of ear is moving away from broadcast radio to streaming music platforms; share of video viewing is moving away from TV to on-demand services; some would even say our social time is moving away from real life to social networks like Snapchat and Instagram.

We all have the ability to discover and personalize the content we consume. The only problem is the advertising experience has not kept pace. Many publishers still choose to create more inventory by increasing ads and the number of ways they’re served. The worst offenders place ads on top of entertainment content, training young generations to completely disregard and avoid.

The Solution: Earn Quality Time by Giving Back Control
I joke that my job at Pandora is to take something very special and not ruin it. Nearly 80 million listeners spend 24 hours a month tuned in to Pandora, enjoying their favorite music. That’s a level of time and attention almost unheard of in digital media. But music isn’t all they’re listening to. They also hear ads, which is the oxygen that keeps our service free and available anytime, anywhere.

Our challenge today is the same as when Pandora first started: how do we integrate ads without disrupting time and attention?

We’ve learned that consumers need to have a sense of control–or at least influence–over how brands interact with them. Unwanted interruptions and intrusive, bothersome ads are no longer acceptable. A recent Millward Brown study confirmed that users are nearly 4X more receptive to brand messages when they have control over the ad experience1.

But the truth is consumers don’t always feel like they have control, which is why ad blocking is such a hot topic in the industry right now. Recent eMarketer estimates show that a quarter of internet users (26%) have ad blockers enabled on their devices2. While this is concerning for the industry, the reasons are exactly what you’d expect. According to a recent Facebook survey, people use ad blockers to “stop annoying, disruptive ads” 3.

Publishers Must Respond With Better Offerings
The good news is that this movement to give users more control is already here. Publishers are offering better ad products, more sophisticated targeting and improved ad serving methods. Facebook recently improved the relevancy of their ads by offering users more tools to control the experience3. Similarly, Google announced changes to the way it collects data to result “in more personalized ads by connecting data across products and devices”4. Even news publications, like The Economist and Financial Times made headlines last year with guaranteed, time-based ad models.

When a user can authentically express intent towards a brand, engagement, attention and resonance follow naturally. This is the future of advertising.

We recently embraced this new future at Pandora by announcing new features on our ad-supported service. For the first time ever, listeners can unlock additional skips and replays by engaging with 15 seconds of video ads. This is the latest iteration in an ongoing effort to give both listeners and advertisers more control and flexibility. Advertisers not only get to support an enhanced listening experience, but they also connect with more deeply engaged listeners. With this approach, users will no longer feel the need to avoid advertising. In fact, it’ll be just the opposite.

At Pandora, we adhere to the philosophy that “what is good for the listener, is good for the advertiser.” I’m happy to see the industry adopt a similar mindset, responding with solutions that put more control in people’s hands, while creating a better user experience.

Yes, the struggle for time and attention is real, but smart solutions that capture attention for brands are equally as real–so long as an organization is willing to stop stealing time and start giving back control. I promise, it will only improve performance for your brands. As for gaining more time at home, I’m still accepting suggestions…

1 Millward Brown, “AdReaction: Video Creative in a Digital World,” October 2015
2 eMarketer, US Ad Blocking Users and Penetration, June 2016
3 Facebook Newsroom, “A New Way to Control the Ads You See on Facebook, and an Update on Ad Blocking,” August 2016
4 AdWeek, “Google Wants to Give You Better Control Over the Personalized Ads You See,” July 2016

Join Lizzie Widhelm and other advertising innovators as they are inducted into the Advertising Hall of Achievement on November 15 at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York. Learn more and register here.

About the Author

Lizzie Widhelm, Senior Vice President, Ad Product Strategy, Pandora


Lizzie WidhelmLizzie Widhelm is a storyteller. She believes that good stories and good conversations make lives better. People want to build meaningful connections with other people. The desire for those connections extends to products and brands. For Widhelm, advertising is the ability to have those conversations, to tell those stories. Facilitating those conversations through music is a career-defining passion, combining the rhythm of great songs with the heartbeat of great advertising. The earliest stories of our time were told through music, and today a great and vast generation of consumers is changing the rules and its attention span.

Today, as the Senior Vice President of Ad Product Sales and Strategy for Pandora, the go-to music source for fans and artists, Widhelm brings ad products to life that enable marketers to tell their stories and build connections with consumers. She has been with Pandora since the company’s formative moments over a decade ago. Throughout her time at Pandora, she has built not only ad products, but also an industry-leading company with her focus, tenacity, and unparalleled passion for advertising.

As Pandora has grown, Widhelm has proven she can do anything and everything — sometimes all at once. She started at Pandora as the company’s very first salesperson, selling “digital audio”…a product that no one had ever heard of. After cracking accounts with some of the most prominent advertisers in the country, Widhelm became Pandora’s Vice President of West Coast Sales and Vice President of National Entertainment Sales, driving Pandora’s success with entertainment, film, and TV advertisers. Next, she was Vice President of Digital where she was responsible for Pandora’s digital advertising positioning and oversaw the advertising sales strategy team. Widhelm has continued to rise and has seen more success thanks to her unique understanding of Pandora’s listeners and how to translate listener insights into engaging products and campaigns for advertisers.

Prior to Pandora, she worked with startups such as Broadband Enterprises and game companies (iWin, Uproar, and Flipside) before and subsequent to their sale to Vivendi Universal. Widhelm received a bachelor’s of science in finance and accounting from the University of Arizona. Outside of work, she enjoys being a mother to three wild boys and a wife to her loving husband Ben.

Follow Widhelm on Twitter: @LizzieWidhelm.