When is a phone not a phone? When it’s a camera, of course. That’s where we’re at with most new-fangled smartphones — the phone functionality itself is a secondary consideration, while its various internet-connected apps and features are pretty much a given. In 2018, the quality of the camera is nearly always positioned as the main selling point and differentiator.
With that in mind, Chinese smartphone giant Huawei today unveiled the Mate P20 and Mate P20 Pro and, again, the camera (both hardware and software) was a major focal point. The company showcased a new ultra wide-angle camera lens, for starters, but a couple of particularly interesting video camera effects stood out.
You will have noticed that “bokeh” has become a buzzword in smartphone photography — due to improved depth-sensing capabilities that blur the background while keeping the subject firmly in focus. Well, the Huawei Mate P20 range can now do that with video so that when you follow a person around a room, the background is blurry while the subject remains crystal clear.
But arguably the more interesting effect is what Huawei is marketing as “AI Cinema” mode, which is capable of rendering both color and black-and-white images in a single shot, similar to the color pop feature recently announced for Google Photos.
Here’s how it works.
In the device itself, Huawei actually calls the effect “AI Color,” and it sits just to the left of “background blur” — the bokeh video effect.
Above: Huawei Mate P20 Pro: Video effects
Image Credit: Paul Sawers / VentureBeat
When you activate the AI Color feature, the subject you are following remains in color while everything else is in black and white. This presumably works for pets too (we didn’t have any hamsters on hand), and we are told it can also work for inanimate subjects.
Here’s a quick GIF we made of the effect in action.
Above: Huawei Mate P20 Pro: AI Color effect, (AI Cinema)
Image Credit: Paul Sawers / VentureBeat
It is possible to recreate similar effects in professional video-editing software, but having something like this baked into a smartphone — and able to work in real time — is a notable advance not only for smartphone camera technology, but for the underlying AI-powered computer vision smarts that enable it.
The ‘Sin City’ effect
If you’ve seen the award-winning 2005 flick Sin City, you’ll know what Huawei is playing at. Sin City garnered critical acclaim for the way it mixed splashes of color into what was largely a black-and-white movie, allowing one character in a scene to be represented in color while everyone else remained monochrome or to appear in color against a black-and-white background.
Above: Brittany Murphy in Sin City (2005)
Some scenes were rendered with just a smidgen of color sprayed across an otherwise black-and-white screen.
Huawei’s effort isn’t quite up to the standards of Sin City‘s color-processing prowess, but it shows how technologists are pushing the boundaries of what is possible with a tiny AI-infused pocket rocket.
It also serves as yet another reminder of how big a marketing role the smartphone camera now plays. The fact that the Huawei Mate P20 / P20 Pro has ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack wasn’t mentioned throughout the announcement, and nobody really even asked the question. I briefly considered asking about its omission, but what’s the point — it’s pretty much assumed now that most flagship phones won’t come with a headphone jack. It’s a minor inconvenience, designers think, when all people really care about is the camera.
Just in time for the holidays, Pinterest is announcing a slew of changes to make it easier for people to shop on its website and mobile app.
First up, the company is phasing out its Buyable Pins — pins served up by retailers that allowed users to buy products without leaving Pinterest — and replacing them with redesigned Product Pins.
The major difference between the two is that Product Pins contain dynamic pricing and stock information. That means if a user pins a jacket on their own personal fashion board, they will see the most up-to-date pricing information whenever they view that pin later, as well as whether that product is still in-stock.
Retailers can enable Product Pins by adding markup tags on the product pages of their site, or providing Pinterest with their product feed. It doesn’t cost anything for retailers to create Product Pins, but they can pay to promote their Product Pins in the feed of Pinterest users.
A Pinterest spokesperson told VentureBeat in an email that since testing out the new Product Pins, clicks on products to retail sites have increased 40 percent. The company doesn’t share how many retailers are on Pinterest, but said there are currently “hundreds of millions” of Product Pins.
The company is also adding product recommendations beneath style and home decor pins. The recommendations will be powered by the visual search technology that Pinterest has been working on for the past few years, since launching its Lens visual search tool.
Pinterest will start by showing recommendations of Product Pins that are stylistically similar to the one you’re viewing. Over time, the idea is that Pinterest’s algorithms should learn the price point and brands you like as well, Pinterest head of shopping product Tim Weingarten told VentureBeat in a phone interview.
“When Pinners come to Pinterest, they’re in sort of this pre-shopping phase, where they have something sort of objective in mind. They’re maybe trying to update their living room, or looking for a pair of jeans for a date,” Weingarten said.
“The overwhelming feedback we got from Pinners, was ‘OK, once I find the idea or find the inspiration, I now want to be able to discover products that are fulfilling that inspiration,’” Weingarten added. “When I click on the product, I want to land on the product page of the retailer to buy it — I don’t want to go to the retailer’s home page, or a category page, or an out-of-stock product [page] and be disappointed and frustrated.”
Last month, Pinterest announced that it had passed 250 million monthly active users. According to a recent forecast from eMarketer, Pinterest is expected to generate $553.3 million in ad revenue this year. The average amount of revenue it’s generating per user is similar to the amount Snap is generating, but Pinterest is still monetizing more slowly than other social networks, most notably Instagram and Facebook.
“Marketers are seeing Pinterest’s potential for reaching consumers as they’re considering products,” eMarketer’s Monica Peart wrote in the report.
Web-based visual design platform Lucid Software has raised $72 million in a round of funding from Meritech Capital, Iconiq Capital, and Spectrum Equity.
Founded in 2010, Lucid Software is best known for its flagship Lucidchart product, which is kind of like a Microsoft Visio-style collaborative diagramming app that’s used for wireframing, UI prototyping, and similar use cases. Companies can use it to create an organizational HR chart, for example, though in reality anyone from freelancers to students can use the software.
Above: HR organization chart created in Lucidchart
The company also develops a drag-and-drop design program for creating print and digital publications, which it calls Lucidpress.
Prior to now, Lucidchart had raised just north of $40 million in funding, including a $36 million tranche two years ago, and with another $72 million in the bank, it said that it will accelerate its product development and chase global growth, with plans to open its EMEA headquarters in Amsterdam in early 2019.
Lucidchart competitors include tools from the likes of Adobe and, as noted, Microsoft Visio, while other players in the field include SmartDraw, Gliffy, and the open source Draw.io. Lucidchart aims to differentiate itself through a combination of “ease-of-use, access on any device or platform, real-time collaboration and advanced functionality, like automating diagrams and combining them with external data sources,” a spokesperson told VentureBeat.
“Lucid Software is driven by the vision that when people think and communicate visually, we can work faster, collaborate more effectively, and be more innovative,” added Lucid Software CEO and cofounder Karl Sun. “Though Lucidchart started as a replacement for traditional, hard-to-use diagramming applications, our ambitions have always been far greater. We are determined to make working visually an integral part of the future of work, ensuring that innovators everywhere can turn the best ideas into reality.”
Lucid Software claims 15 million users globally, and said that it is attracting 700,000 new users each month from 180 countries. Clients include Google, and NBC Universal.
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If you’re an avid Twitter user, you’ve probably clicked on a tweet that’s racked up quite a few retweets or likes among your followers, only to get a message that this tweet is no longer available. It could have been because the user deleted the tweet themselves unprompted, or because the tweet was reported for violating Twitter’s rules.
Now, Twitter will include a notice when a tweet has been removed for violating its rules. The message will read, “This Tweet is no longer available because it violated the Twitter Rules,” with a link to Twitter’s ever-changing public-facing document about what is and isn’t allowed on Twitter. The message won’t say how exactly the user violated Twitter’s rules.
“Improving our communication around steps we’re taking to keep you safe remains one of our top priorities. We hope these changes bring more clarity on how and when we our enforce our rules,” Twitter product and health employees David Gasca and Sam Toizer wrote in a blog post.
This change is about as transparent as Twitter has ever gotten when it comes to highlighting to users when it takes action on an account. Twitter has a long-standing policy to not comment on individual accounts. In the past, when reporters have approached Twitter about an account that they believe violates the company’s rules, Twitter has sometimes deleted the tweet without telling reporters if the tweet violated Twitter’s policies or not.
Last September, when President Donald Trump tweeted what some users interpreted as a declaration of war on North Korea, Twitter initially refused to comment on the tweet, and then a day later gave the public slightly more information when it said that it also takes “newsworthiness” and whether or not a tweet “is of public interest” when deciding whether or not to keep a tweet up.
The company also announced today that it will hide a tweet from a user’s timeline once they’ve reported it, even if Twitter hasn’t taken action on it. This is a much-needed change, given that Twitter can’t always immediately act on tweets that users believe violate the company’s rules.
Brand safety is a long-standing issue that affects thousands of companies in every industry. Ads from family-friendly companies are being found on extremist YouTube channels, and Facebook feeds are constantly bombarded with fake news and other objectionable content. This is no longer an issue marketers can ignore; they have to pay more attention.
We are at a point where 7 out of every 10 marketerssay that their brands, or brands they’ve worked with, have been exposed to brand safety issues at least once.
Brand safety is a severe and growing issue, one that’s not going away unless companies take active steps towards better ad placement and monitoring. It’s easy to blame various areas of the complex ad-supply chain, but brands are ultimately the ones who have the most to lose. If they don’t care about it, no one else will. As a result, they are the ones who are stepping up and taking the most action.
About half of marketers surveyed by Digiday said they reviewed their agency and vendor contracts over the past year, and more than a third are layering on extra third-party ad measurement to their campaigns. However, the most common tactic is to simply increase spending on brand-safe sites and apps.
Which environments can be deemed brand-safe? What are some areas to avoid? The lack of trust from consumers on social media platforms when it comes to basic issues like privacy and data protection is just one indicator that social may not be the best place to invest. Yet in 2018, $25.24 billion in ad dollars will be spent on social networks in the U.S. alone.
That’s not all. The biggest culprit is fake news. According to the AdColony Brand Safety Survey, ads from “fake news” outlets are most commonly found on social media platforms, like Facebook (47 percent), versus nine percent in mobile games.
Sixty percent of users also encounter hateful, inappropriate, or offensive content on Facebook, compared to the 19 percent in mobile games. This type of content placed next to, above, or below an ad is not only more likely to negatively impact how users view the outlet or app, whether it’s a social, news, entertainment, or gaming app, but their perceptions of the advertiser as well.
Deceptive content also has a bigger impact on ad engagement over ad relevance. According to Business Insider Intelligence’s Digital Trust Ranking, 54 percent of consumers said that deceptive content is very or extremely impactful on their decision to engage or not to engage with ads, compared to 35 percent for ad relevance.
People tend to be unreceptive to ads if they don’t trust the content on the platform — even if they would otherwise be relevant. On the other hand, high digital trust is an indicator that consumers will be more receptive to ads and sponsored content. Brands that create compelling campaigns on trusted platforms can enhance their credibility and are more likely to receive positive engagement from audiences.
More than six in ten (63 percent) users would respond more positively to the same ads if viewed in a more established content environment, according to a study. Another 37 percent claimed that ads on objectionable sites would change their brand opinion, and 66 percent would turn away from a brand after a negative brand experience.
There are other platforms, however, that offer a safer environment for brands. For example, mobile games continually prove to be a safe environment when it comes to maintaining a positive company image. Mobile games are professionally-created content, high-quality environments that are premium environments for ads. Ads in games catch users when they are happy and engaged and not bothered by this type of negative content.
It’s true; consumers have said they prefer to encounter ads in mobile games over YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram. Consumers who see an ad in a mobile game are more likely to interact and view the brand in a positive light. In fact, almost 30 percent of users end up purchasing products or services through mobile games after seeing an ad on the platform, compared to the mere nine and ten percent who make purchases on Snapchat and Instagram.
Consumers care a lot about the ads they see, and especially where they see it. That’s why it’s of utmost importance for companies to invest in brand-safe environments where they can feel comfortable knowing their message is going out to the right audience and their image isn’t being harmed.
Brand safety isn’t something to set and forget. We must deal with the issue immediately and actively, or the situation is only going to worsen. If we ignore it, there could be a complete pullback or loss of interest from consumers, and your brand reputation could be irreversibly damaged.
Matt Barash is the Head of Strategy & Business Development at AdColony, where he oversees AdColony’s global commercial relationships with automated advertising, data and marketing technology partners.
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Google today unveiled a slew of Google Play developer news, including better support for larger Android app bundles, subscription improvements, in-app updates, more Google Play metrics, an expanded Google Play Instant, and Academy for App Success. The news was announced at the company’s Playtime event for Android developers in Berlin and San Francisco, which will be followed by events in Sao Paulo, Singapore, Taipei, Seoul, and Tokyo.
In addition to an average size reduction of 35 percent, Google has improved Android App bundle’s support for large apps. Available in early access today, you can now upload large app bundles with installed APK sizes of up to 500MB without needing to use expansion files.
Also available in early access, Android app updates are about to get easier. With a new API called In-App Updates, you can now prompt your users to update without leaving the app — either by showing a full screen experience that takes them from download to restart or by helping them download and install in the background. Google promises to roll out this program to all developers “in the next few months.”
Google Play subscriptions
Google has also improved subscriptions on Google Play with two additions. At its I/O 2018 developers conference in May, Google introduced the cancellation survey, which tells you why your subscribers are canceling. Now Google is testing the ability for users to temporarily pause their subscriptions instead of outright canceling. Developers can also deliver promotions to win back canceled subscribers.
Additionally, subscription pricing is getting more flexible. You can now change the price of an existing subscription without needing to create a new SKU in Play Billing Library version 1.2, and offer a plan change that is effective at the existing renewal date.
Google Play console metrics
Google has added new tools in the Play Console to help you evaluate your core metrics. Additions include cumulative data, 30-day rolling average metrics, and roll-ups for different time periods. You can also download any configured reports as a CSV file.
Google has also linked together two tools in the Play Console: the pre-launch report, which runs your apps on real devices situated in the Firebase Test Lab and generates metadata to help you fix issues before pushing your apps to production, and Android vitals, which helps you track the quality of your app on users’ devices in the real world. Whenever a crash happens in both, you’ll get all the extra metadata in both reports, so you can debug more effectively.
Starting today, Google Play Instant is available for premium titles and pre-registration campaigns, so Android users can try your game before it launches and generate additional buzz. Games like Umiro by Devolver Digital and Looney Tunes World of Mayhem by Scopely (pictured above) are already taking advantage of this feature.
Lastly, Google today launched the Academy for App Success, which features interactive courses (plus quizzes and achievements) to help developers get the most out of the Play Console, understand Play policies, and utilize best practices. The free program is available in English for now but courses will be translated “soon.”
The day before, former PDA darling Palm emerged from oblivion with a new device — after Chinese electronics company TCL, which also operates the BlackBerry brand in mobile phones, acquired the Palm brand from HP back in 2014.
Above: The Palm is a phone for your phone.
The Palm is a Verizon-only device that is pitched as a secondary phone you can seamlessly use with your regular phone number, but in situations that may not require the full functionality of a large-screened premium phone.
The Palm is small — about the size of a credit card — and although it is capable of running the usual array of Android apps, it’s not designed with that in mind. Its marketing spiel says:
Never miss out on the world around you. Life Mode is a unique Palm feature that lets you stay connected while minimizing digital distractions. It puts you in control of what gets your attention so you can stay connected and present in the moment.
“A phone for your phone,” is another way of putting it, which highlights how bonkers the idea truly is.
Yesterday, another companion phone emerged on the market, this time from Japanese telecom giant Docomo. The Card Keitai KY-01L is legitimately designed with digital detoxers in mind and features an e-paper touchscreen and functionality limited to calls, text, and basic internet. It doesn’t work with mobile apps and has no camera.
Above: Card Keitai KY-01L
A quick glance across the mobile phone spectrum identifies a marked rise in such devices.
Last month, Swiss firm Punkt Tronics unveiled the MP02, the first non-BlackBerry phone to use BlackBerry’s security smarts.
Above: Punkt: the MP02
The MP02 is designed for people who want to unplug from the world of apps and constant notifications and simply use a well-designed phone for ultra-secure calls and texts.
Earlier this year, New York-based Light successfully crowdfunded its second phone, the Light 2, which again is all about tuning out the digital world.
Above: The Light 2
So what, exactly, is pushing this trend? A cynic might say it’s a symptom of an oversaturated market, with manufacturers seeking additional inroads to your pocket — “You’ve got a smartphone? Cool — you need this more basic phone too!”
But digging deeper, it seems the appearance of these secondary “stripped down” phones is being driven by growing concerns that we spend too much time immersed in digital worlds.
Smartphones, and the “always on” connectivity they enable via myriad services, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, are increasingly being blamed for a decline in mental health. More specifically, smartphone use has been directly associated with a rise in depression and teen suicides.
Such reports are not lost on technology companies. The two big players in the smartphone operating system world, Google and Apple, have recently integrated digital well-being features into Android and iOS, respectively, encouraging users to analyze the time spent on their phones and consider cutting back.
Fearing a technology backlash, both Facebook and its Instagram subsidiary have added tracking tools to help you limit your time on social media.
But these features don’t really get at the root of the problem, and they are easy to ignore even when they are available. What some people really want is a device with inherent functional limitations.
None of the “minimalist” devices I mention above stands much chance of creating more than a ripple. The Palm, for example, doesn’t really work as a concept, because it still offers almost complete connectivity to all the usual apps. Sure, it’s more portable and discreet, but you will probably end up just getting frustrated by the small screen and fiddly features.
Docomo, Punkt, and Light are certainly on the right track — they are building funky little phones that will appeal to some, but the problem is they are just too basic.
Finding the perfect secondary phone
Last year, I invested in a Nokia 3310, a sort of modern-day version of the original Nokia 3310, but with a slicker look and 3G connectivity.
The plan wasn’t to replace my main phone, but to use it as a secondary device and perhaps wean myself off constant connectivity. I was looking for something I could use to keep in contact, but that wouldn’t bombard me with messages and notifications or tease me with the latest highlights reel from the weekend’s soccer.
The Nokia 3310 seemed perfect.
Above: HMD Global: Nokia 3310 survey
Image Credit: Paul Sawers / VentureBeat
I have used it on occasion, but it’s ultimately no good. You see, it doesn’t have WhatsApp — the Facebook-owned service is pretty much the focal point of many social interactions today, making it impossible to live without for long.
Also, the Nokia 3310 doesn’t have mapping software or a decent camera.
And herein lies the problem facing any company seeking a sizable market for secondary mobile phones.
Amidst all the hullabaloo warning that “smartphones are bad for your health,” it’s easy to forget just how integral they are to our everyday lives. Nobody owns dedicated mp3 players these days, nobody lugs an A-to-Z city guide or bus timetable around with them, and nobody carries a dedicated camera. And, crucially, nobody really uses SMS all that much anymore.
Getting people to give up their main premium phone is a tall order, but if someone can design a minimalist secondary phone that offers some of the basic assets of a smartphone, that device stands a chance of finding a decent market share.
So what does the perfect secondary phone look like? The answer is naturally subjective, but I can lay out some general guidelines.
Concept companion phone
Given that the main app-makers generally only cater to Android and iOS, the concept phone I have in mind would probably have to be Android. It shouldn’t be able to run an app store, such as Google Play, so it would probably have to be a forked version of Android that allows more customizations (though there may be more flexibility with this in Europe).
At an absolute minimum, the ideal phone should come preloaded with WhatsApp, or other messaging apps depending on the market. Ideally, it would also run a maps and navigation app, such as Here or Google Maps, if licensing permits. There is probably scope to open things up to a ride-hailing service such as Uber, while Spotify would also be welcomed by many.
It should also have a decent camera and a built-in music player for those, like me, who still have vast mp3 collections.
Arguments could be made for other apps, but there is a danger of losing sight of the original goal: to tune out while being able to access the basic utilities we have come to rely on from our smartphones. I do rely on Gmail, Google Search, Slack, Citymapper, Netflix, Words With Friends (LOLZ), and others, but I can certainly live without them for a weekend.
While Light’s second phone currently offers very basic functionality, the company has previously said it is considering introducing maps, ride-hailing, music playlists, weather, and other utilities — though it has stated emphatically that it will never support email, social media, or news.
Above: Light Phone 2: Got, might get, not getting
It’s also worth noting here that WhatsApp recently landed on the KaiOS-powered JioPhone, an advanced 4G feature phone. But it is only available in India, and it probably includes too many other internet-related distractions to really fit the bill.
For this concept to really work, it would ideally offer a way to use your main phone number on the secondary device, as Palm enables. Requiring a consumer to use two phone numbers adds unnecessary friction, and will likely mean they will end up not using the secondary phone nearly as much. But this introduces additional problems, insofar as WhatsApp can really only be used on one device at a time with the same number. So maybe the ideal device I’m looking for would have to be my primary device, with a more feature-rich smartphone serving as my secondary unit.
Or, if I’m being honest, this is perhaps where my whole idea starts to fall apart.
Given recent activity, one thing is clear, though: There is demand for stripped-down companion phones that don’t require users to permanently give up their main device, and manufacturers are starting to pay attention. But there’s still a great deal of room for iteration and innovation.
The phone cannot be too basic, but at the same time it can’t betray the fundamental reason for its existence. What the perfect companion phone looks like is up for debate, but whoever nails it could find a line of eager consumers ready and waiting.
Facebook last week unveiled its Portal and Portal+ smart speakers that can follow you around at home while you’re on a video call. While that alone was a shit product idea from a company like Facebook, that shit has been hitting the fan ever since. The devices are expected to ship in early November, but they will inevitably sink.
I want to be crystal clear: This isn’t commentary on strategy or business model. (For that, check out Ben Thompson’s excellent evaluation that concludes Facebook is the least well-positioned in terms of smart speakers compared to Amazon, Apple, and Google.) This also isn’t a hardware or software critique. I haven’t tried the Portal myself — nobody has — and reviews aren’t expected for another couple weeks. And this has nothing to do with the failed Facebook phone. I don’t believe Facebook knows how to build physical products — it’s an internet company that excelled at offering free services backed by advertising — but I’d be happy to be proven wrong.
Four days after Portal was announced, Facebook shared new details of the hack, confirming that personal data had been stolen: data such as name, gender, email, phone number, language, relationship status, device types used to access Facebook, places checked into, and recent searches.
If Cambridge Analytica was enough to delay Portal’s debut, this hack should have shelved the product permanently. I could have written this column last week.
But you see, we’re not done yet.
Eight days after Portal was announced, Facebook confirmed it will indeed use Portal to learn more about you so it can target you with ads. The joke that Portal is just another device that Facebook can use to spy on you is no longer a joke.
“Portal voice calling is built on the Messenger infrastructure, so when you make a video call on Portal, we collect the same types of information (i.e., usage data such as length of calls, frequency of calls) that we collect on other Messenger-enabled devices,” a Facebook spokesperson told Recode. “We may use this information to inform the ads we show you across our platforms. Other general usage data, such as aggregate usage of apps, etc., may also feed into the information that we use to serve ads.”
To add insult to injury, Facebook’s product page for Portal calls it “private by design.”
I would call this the final nail in the coffin, but there are plenty of days left between now and Portal’s launch flop.
ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.
Personalized web and mobile ads that reflects your customers’ tastes, values, and preferences is what keeps them clicking — but it’s hard to pull off. To learn how companies like Pandora flawlessly serve up the customized advertising that clicks, don’t miss this VB Live event!
Remember in 2012, when Target hit the headlines because an angry father marched into a retail location and demanded to know why his teenage daughter was getting advertisements for baby stuff? Turns out the company’s predictive marketing and advertising algorithms were so good the company was able to accurately determine whether a customer was pregnant, even if the customer was actively hiding that information.
Creepy, terrible — but also kind of the holy grail of ad personalization, right? In this particular case, because baby retail is big, big business, and if you engage and grab a shopper around-about their second trimester, you have a very loyal, very long-term customer.
So there’s a fine line. Customers are increasingly happy to hand over their data if it means that the ads you serve them are hyper-personalized, tailored to their tastes, their values, and their preferences. They’ll start clicking and they’ll keep clicking, allowing you to gather even more data about their browsing and shopping history, making your advertisers’ hearts happy and refining that algorithm all the way down to the finest grains. But you also have to be really careful about crossing over into creeper territory (and possibly ending as a headline that gets consumers wondering how much personal data is too much data to share).
Companies like Pandora are nailing that balance, and finding new and better ways to serve up personalization, including its new range of audio ads that serve up dynamic hyperpersonalization in real time to its listeners. Pandora collects a broad range of data on its loyal listeners, from the usual demographic info to the weather that correlates to music choices and genres. They have found that a listener’s taste in music can reflect their income along with a host of other key factors. From there, they can serve millions of individualized permutations of particular audio ads for its clients.
And that’s just the tip of what you can do with ad personalization, as AI and machine learning grows more sophisticated even as off-the-shelf AI products and platforms make it completely accessible to companies of every size.
To learn more about why ad personalization should be near the top of your monetization strategy list, the approaches that will have the biggest impact on your bottom line, and how not to be creepy — plus get inspired by more real-world, real-company use cases — don’t miss this VB Live event!
Personalized web and mobile ads that reflect your customers’ tastes, values, and preferences is the key to keeping them clicking, but it’s hard to pull off. To learn how companies like Pandora flawlessly serve up customized advertising that always clicks, don’t miss this VB Live event!
Personalization is the core of Pandora, says David Hardtke, director of advertising science at internet radio station Pandora, which has more than $1 billion in digital advertising revenue.
His team focuses on optimizing the Pandora platform on behalf of their advertisers, using music listening preferences and music listening data to get insights into who their users are. The goal is determining when and where to play ads, using intelligent ad search technology powered by AI and machine learning, as well as improving measurement on whether or not an ad was heard and whether it was effective for the advertiser.
In Pandora, users start a station, seeded by an artist or a song or a genre. As Pandora serves up related music, the listener provides feedback in the form of thumbs up or thumbs down for the songs they like and don’t like. From there, Pandora builds a personalized station based on that user’s feedback, as well as the feedback from other listeners on that feed.
And on the advertising side, it turns out that the music you listen to is one of the more powerful signals into getting an insight into who a customer is, Hardtke says.
“The average Pandora listener listens 24 hours a month, so we have this wealth of personal data: when you listen, what devices you listen on, and what you like to listen to,” he explains.
Pandora’s raison d’être is building algorithms that personalize stations for their users, and their data science team is focused on ensuring that the music is right for each individual listener — and they then can apply that to their advertising. They can build custom targeting segments based on listening behavior and other behaviors.
For instance, Pandora can figure out when you are listening with your kids and which kid you are listening with. They can identify when you’re in the car with your kids, and when you drop them off at school. They can figure out when you’re working out, and surface not just workout-appropriate music, but also workout-appropriate ads, and then build tests with advertisers.
“The powerful thing is that we find these patterns of listener behavior and interactions identify really specific, really niche groups of people,” Hardtke says. “We’re only just now starting to exploit that and help our advertisers use that data in their campaigns. We see the immense power to hitting the right audience with their message.”
Hardke warns that it can be overdone, completely skewing your data and serving up advertisements that are not just incompatible, but insulting to your users, such as when you can engage in what’s called overfitting, which is over-personalization based on a limited set of data. An example of overfitting would be during the American election, in which the Rasmussen poll consistently showed Trump having a larger than expected vote share among black Americans than any other poll.
He also points out that there’s a very fine line between hyper-personalization and trying to have a broader reach. When you’re trying to narrowly target the people you think are in the market, you’re missing out on people who have unanticipated future needs — but hyper-personalization still unlocks a world of opportunity for brands that want to keep themselves top-of-mind, such as the listener realizing their insurance is about to inspire. And who could turn down the possibilities of personalization that follow your customer throughout their journey, from mobile to web and all during the day?
To learn more about how Pandora transforms rich user data into advertising dollars, how to unlock the potential of hyper-personalization, and how to avoid the biggest mistakes, don’t miss this VB Live event!