Pandora takes a cue from podcasts for Questlove station ads

Pandora is getting into the host-read ads business.

Less than a week after announcing the launch of Questlove Supreme, the first Pandora station to mix music and host-led interviews, the company will announce Monday that Boost Mobile will be the station’s launch partner and exclusive sponsor through the end of October.

Pandora has sold its share of sponsorship of stations before. What the mobile carrier gets on Questlove Supreme is slightly different: In addition to display elements that are integrated into the show’s pages, Questlove and, in some cases, his show’s guests will deliver ads themselves, at the top of the hour, during his weekly shows.

While Boost provides messaging ideas, Questlove (real name: Ahmir Thompson) will put his own spin on things, not unlike the host-read ads that dominate podcasts. “It is a little bit of uncharted territory,” said Nick Holt, Boost’s creative director. “But we’re an irreverent brand. We’re excited to see how they express it.”

Those announcements will be made at the top of every hour during Thompson’s show, part of an ad load that will be much lighter than the ones heard on Pandora’s other stations. The move, which also comes on the heels of Pandora launching a number of sophisticated digital ad products, signals that it is more and more interested in pursuing not just native ad opportunities but non-musical programming choices.

According to Lizzie Widhelm, Pandora’s svp of ad product sales and strategy, Pandora got the idea to have Thompson read the ads not from podcasts or from the artist-hosted shows on Apple Music’s Beats 1 but from the success it had with “This American Life” and “Serial.”

Those less funky programs’ episodes have been streamed more than 20 million times since Pandora added them last fall, drops in the bucket of the 5.7 billion hours of music listening Pandora tallied in the second quarter. But those shows were also a big hit with Pandora’s ad partners: Esurance, which signed on as launch partner for the second season of “Serial,” saw healthy boosts in some brand metrics from the campaign, according to research published this summer.

Widhelm said marketers have been asking for more distinctive ways to get in front of mobile audiences, and it seems Pandora is trying to give them what they want. During the company’s most recent earnings call, COO Sara Clemens said Pandora may scale up its non-music programming in the future. To Widhelm, that could open up a whole new galaxy of sponsored content offerings, like a sponsored music quiz on Questlove Supreme, among other things; the company is already exploring possible options.

“We’ll just continue to iterate over time,” she said.

What’s not yet clear is whether these integrations will translate into more dollars right away. Pandora declined to comment on whether the ads Thompson delivers personally add to the cost of the sponsorship.

Photo credit: Jason Melcher, altered and used under a Creative Commons license

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