Spotify Sponsored Sessions
Sponsored Sessions are a native advertising format for Spotify mobile. An ad will pop up and prompt the user to opt-in and watch a video ad. The company running the ad will then "sponsor" thirty minutes of ad-free listening for the user after their ad has been watched. There is also the option to skip the ad experience all together.
Mobile User Flow Rework
The initial user flow for mobile Sponsored Sessions received poor feedback in testing. Those who interacted with the ad format complained that it felt like 3 consecutive ads instead of 1, that they thought the title card was a third-party ad, and that they did not know how or if they could leave the experience. A common sentiment from the user research sessions was that people felt tricked into watching the video, and had little understanding of the "reward" of getting 30 minutes ads-free
With these problems in mind, I worked with another design intern to improve the UX. First, because a Sponsored Session is supposed to be an opt-in experience, we wanted to extend the opt-out for the entire run-time of the ad. This was key to addressing the problem of users feeling "tricked" into viewing the ad, and then trapped once it begins. We believed that if we made the concept of the reward clear enough, there would be no need to limit the user's options - they would knowingly choose to continue watching if they deemed the 30 minutes ads-free session worth watching the 30 second ad now. We also utilized the learned behavior of tapping outside a video ad once it begins to resurface the SKIP button.
We also wanted to make the experience feel like a single, seamless experience and not three loosely related ads. The title card in the previous user flow looked unlike most Spotify content stylistically, which was why many mistook it for a third-party ad. We chose to discard it completely, opting instead to give the user a preview of the ad they would be watching. This accomplishes a couple of things - eliminating unnecessary discontinuity from the flow and moving the user's inertia in favor of continuing to watch the ad, both in terms of providing a default action and potentially enticing them with the first 5 seconds of the video. Another thing we did to make it feel like a single ad was to start the scrubber at the beginning of the title card, at -0:05, and show that the whole ad was expected to finish at 0:30.
Finally, we wanted to reinforce the reward message. The key way of doing this was to make the opt-out button read "SKIP AD FREE SESSION." That way, the user knows what they are foregoing when click that button. We also had the text at the beginning match the voiceover, so as to reduce cognitive load.
Another feature we wanted to explore was providing a choice between ads. This extends the idea of an opt-in ad format to include even more room for user choice. If someone chose to watch Video A over B, there is more of a chance that they will be receptive to Video A's messaging, especially if they previewed both video options. It also makes the ad viewing experience more enjoyable to the user to be able to pick a favorite of the two. A challenge for including an ad selector was making it instantaneously understandable that there is a choice (ad or no ad), and a sub-choice (Ad A or Ad B). We chose to tackle this problem using visual hierarchy, by splitting the screen into two sections with the "OR" line. The messaging also changes to "Pick a sponsored video to watch..." to signify the sub-choice.
Sponsored Sessions on desktop
At the user testing sessions for the new mobile Sponsored Sessions flow, we received positive feedback for the changes we implemented. When people understood the reward of 30 minutes ads-free more clearly, they could imagine situations in which they would opt-in. One user went so far as to complain that Sponsored Sessions are not accessible and available enough. This made me think about giving it a place to live on the app and seeing how the ad format would adapt to desktop, and I made that my hack week project.
If done right, providing Sponsored Sessions with a home on the desktop client would be a win-win situation for all stakeholders. On the advertisers' side, if a user opts-in to the ad experience, that’s more engagement. If a user chooses your ad from a group of different ads, that’s more engagement. If a user wants a longer sponsored session, that’s an opportunity to present longer-form promoted content. If a user credits their uninterrupted listening with your brand, you leave a strong, positive impression.
Users get more control of their ad experience on the free tier and the ability to choose ads that are more relevant to them. We can imagine a use case as follows: "I am about to have a dinner party and don’t want to ruin the mood with obnoxious and unpredictable ads. I choose to watch something longer now instead." Or, "I am warming up to go for a run. I’d prefer to stay in the zone once I get there, so I watch an ad while I’m stretching."
Finally, Spotify wins. Getting users to opt-in to advertising improves both UX and ad impressions, which is essentially my team's (Monetization, aka C.R.E.A.M.) mission. Showing that users are more engaged and engaged for a longer period time also makes this a coveted ad format that can be sold at a higher price point.
Possible homes on desktop
A challenge to think through next is to find paths of discoverability: how do you guide users to Sponsored Sessions' new home? One obvious path is to point it out after a Sponsored Sessions ad pops up for the first time randomly. Another idea is to provide it before a Running session. Another next step is to find a visual design that makes the user aware that they are in the "sponsored" period of ad-free listening. This would also be a good place for further ad messaging, as it allows the user to associate the reward more strongly with the company sponsoring it. Some ways to do this are by incorporating a reward timer of some sort, or even some kind of light-weight skin on the client. Finally, the different locations should be tested with users, and the thinking on homes should be extended to mobile.