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Weird science, Spotify & sound advice

12 Oct 2020  |  Dominic Mills 
Weird science, Spotify & sound advice

Why is Vodafone the UK's most valuable brand? And why does Spotify think Dominic Mills could be a teacher in his mid-20s? Mills on Monday goes in search of some answers

Like many I suspect, I was both surprised and not surprised at the news that New Commercial Arts (NCA) had mounted a successful stealth attack on the Vodafone account, spiriting it away under cover of night from Anomaly in a raid no-one saw coming; and not surprised because hey, NCA is hot and that’s the sort of thing that happens.

But not half as surprised as I was to read in the same story that Vodafone is, according to the Kantar’s BrandZ study, the UK’s most valuable brand. Huh? How does that work?

In my eyes, Vodafone is a bit of a lame dog. A once grand ambition thwarted, it is now reduced to selling off bits of the silver (South Africa, Egypt, Turkey, New Zealand.. to name a few).

Meanwhile, its share price has trickled southwards gradually, halving in the last five years and down by about 80% since 2001. This is not a company going anywhere interesting soon. Indeed, its best days appear to be well behind it.

Which begs the question: why is its brand so valuable?

I can’t tell you, other than describe the Kantar methodology in brief, link you to it in full, and allow you to make up your own mind. I should, by the way, say that it has the appearance of rigour and science, but then so does quite a lot of stuff these days.

Anyway, here’s the full methodology, which involves analysing past earnings; working out the contribution of the brand; looking at future earnings; and conducting consumer research.

In the case of Vodafone, it’s both its recent financial performance, which shows a steady decline in revenues and the focus on consumer attitudes that bring me up short.

That’s because, according to Ofcom’s most recent survey of telecoms’ providers customer satisfaction, Vodafone is near the bottom of the list on every count, including the second-highest number of Ofcom complaints per 100,000 customers.

Er right. That’s put a dent in the brand.

But there’s another question: who cares about these brand valuation exercises? If there’s an audience out there (journalists apart who get a nice story and a big table to publish — no questions asked), what is it? To whom does knowing that brand x is worth £xxx make a difference? What do they actually do as a result of knowing this?

Let me give you an example: BrandZ ranks Unilever’s Lipton tea brand as the UK’s sixth most valuable brand, worth $9 billion, and Unilever itself’s most valuable brand. That’s 30% more than the value BrandZ gives Dove, by the way.

But Unilever has put its tea portfolio up for strategic review much as it has previously with other sectors where it can’t see decent growth prospects. This is code for saying: “We’re a bit stuck on this. Anybody out there got any good ideas and like to take it off our hands?”

Is it really what you would do with your most valuable brand? I think not.

Oh no…Spotify ramps up its ad tech

Spotify seems to have gone a bit tech crazy in its efforts to improve its ad business, according to two news items about patents in the last few days from Music Business Worldwide.

One is geo-targeting via 3-D audio, (you’d imagine it would do that but I’ve never heard a Spotify ad that remotely includes any location element). In its words, it works “in such a way that the media content sounds like it is coming from a direction of an identified geolocation of a sound source”.

The second, very Big Brotherish, is for technology that allows Spotify to analyse users’ personalities via their music consumption along such lines as openness, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness and extraversion — the so-called Big Five traits — and then, I suppose, alter messaging, ads and perhaps music accordingly.

All this makes me laugh because, so far I am completely mystified by some of the ads Spotify seems to think I should be exposed to.

You’d think for example, that the music you choose to listen to would be a good proxy for age: jingle-jangle guitar rock, indie rock, sensitive singer-songwriters and so on. Equally, the music you choose not to listen to: Ed Sheeran, chart stuff, anything in the last few years.

But what do I get? Last year and earlier this year, Spotify was convinced I could be a teacher, which means it thinks I might be in my 20s, not the wrong side of 60.

Of late, it’s hitting me with Fifa 21 videos, PCWorld ads targeting uni students who want a laptop, and some artists I’ve never heard of (and don’t even get me started on frequency capping), family programming from Disney+, Lululemon and an invitation to an open day at Canterbury Christ Church University (which is either several months too late or too early, but definitely not for my age group). But I do quite like the current BT broadband campaign.

It doesn’t get it all wrong, however: I get a few Specsavers hearing aids ads which, although I find marginally insulting, I accept are fair game.

Nevertheless, for a company with access to good tech and consumer data, its ad performance is poor and, from my experience, what was once funny is now irritating.

Forget all this stuff about geo-location, 3-D audio and personality targeting, Spotify would be better off just getting the basics right. Walk before you run is sound advice.

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