Brand Strategy

A conversation with Lee Brown, Spotify’s global head of advertising

The company is hosting performances from Dua Lipa, Post Malone, and more at Cannes Lions this year.
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Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

4 min read

After the pandemic sidelined festivities over the last two years, Cannes Lions is back. Spotify is celebrating with a major blowout, treating attendees to performances from artists like Kendrick Lamar, Dua Lipa, and Post Malone.

Marketing Brew sat down with Lee Brown, Spotify’s VP and global head of advertising, to chat about its plans for Cannes Lions and its recent partnership with ad-tech company IAS to work on a “brand-safety tool” for podcast advertisers.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

I’m looking at the full slate of the lineup that you guys have planned—how does Cannes merit this kind of investment? I assume bringing on performers like these isn’t a cheap date. How do you measure the investment in such a large production?

Lee Brown: That kind of investment is a way for us to bring our brand to life in real life…that’s what people expect when they come to Spotify. When they come to Spotify on their phone, they’re listening to their favorite creators, they're listening to their favorite artists. And we want to show up in real life in the same way.

We’re really interested in brand safety for podcasting. You’ve done work with GARM as well. Can you explain the difference between this new partnership with IAS and the work you’ve already done regarding brand safety and podcasting?

I don’t think it’s a difference; it’s just nonexclusive. We want to lead the industry and we want to work with as many third-party partners as we can to help define those standards and to help to bring the right tools and reporting to inspire transparency and confidence in podcast advertising.

As we work with industry organizations like GARM on defining and setting standards, and as we work with companies like IAS on developing technology and tools, we will continue. We’ll work with a broad range of partners to help lead this. It’s a long journey.

What’s the most common thing that advertisers are asking about with regard to brand safety for podcast ads?

We get asked a lot about helping them understand how to define [brand safety], right? Because when they think about immediately not wanting to be around crime, you’re like, “Well, true crime is one of the biggest segments of podcasting,” right? It’s not necessarily what you think about in your typical brand-safety rules or definitions for other platforms and mediums.

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So it’s really working with them to adjust how they think about applying their legacy models of brand safety to a medium like podcasting, where there’s some nuances there.

How many of these podcast ads are sold programmatically rather than directly by salespeople?

We’re still in the early stages of automating it, but it’s still mostly sold through our direct-sales force.

What categories or genres of podcasts are in demand for advertisers?
Certainly the mental-wellness category, mental health; sports and entertainment is exploding in terms of the amount of content that’s there and the audiences that they can reach there. Those would be the two that come to mind off the top of my head.

How do you prove that podcast campaigns have been successful?

It certainly depends on the goals that you had at the outset—what were those goals? Were they reach and frequency? Was it conversion? Was it website traffic? What was the goal of the campaign to begin with?

We definitely have tools in place that can deliver reporting back to clients in terms of the audiences they reached, the frequency in which they reach them. We do brand-lift studies; we do all kinds of measurement and reporting. We just purchased Podsights, so we’re working to bring attribution and conversion into it.

We launched recently CTA cards, which are call-to-action cards, which enable advertisers to append a CTA to their audio messaging within the podcast’s show-description page and within other services within Spotify. So there’s ways that we’re starting to work down that funnel and provide the right solutions from a surface and technology standpoint, but also from a reporting and measurement standpoint.

Why do you let people skip ads on podcasts?

In our data, most people don’t skip. We’re learning a lot from the skips and we learn a lot from who skips, what [is skipped]—what shows, what kind of content, and so forth—and so it. can help us better inform our programming and our algorithms.

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