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So You Think You Can #Ad Spend?


An advertisement is an attempt to purchase attention.

Many of the platforms we use day and night, from Instagram to Spotify, sustain their business operations by leveraging attention en masse. Users can access these services for ‘free’ so advertisers can buy access to user attention from those services. Consider it digital marketing’s circle of life. 

This particular slice of digital marketing, aka paid media, involves spending money to insert all kinds of stuff — gifs, images, videos, audio, stickers, text — into all kinds of internet destinations, from Twitter timelines to TikTok clips to Google search results. You don’t need us to tell you why all of this is relevant in music. You might need us to tell you about some of the road bumps artist teams encounter when they’re getting their hands dirty in paid media.

Turns out lots of smart people end up taking the same wrong turns. 

To help serve up some food for thought, we spoke with AWAL’s resident experts about slinging ads, trusting the algorithm (for once), targeting the right audience and measuring success properly. Kelsey Miller, Jeni Bell, and Aaron Bogucki have decades of combined experience in the field, and we’ve collected a number of insights from them just for you. Does this list include every mistake digital marketers make? Hell no. Will it get your gears moving? One can hope. Happy reading.

Common, Critical Digital Marketing Mistakes

  1. Asking for something before you introduce yourself. Lots of teams try to start their paid campaigns by driving click conversions (e.g. “swipe up to listen”). You can compare this to asking for a favor before you know the person you’re asking. Some folks classify this as awareness: people will stream a song before they spend money on tickets or t-shirts. But asking for a stream might not make sense if the target audience has limited (or zero) context re: who you are or why they should care. When the first ads in a campaign resemble TV spots (an impression with no click-through option), they act as open invitations for potential fans to explore your world. Down the line, when you retarget those same people, they might just be more willing to follow a call to action (“swipe up”) and click through. 
  2. Thinking all of your fans are just like you. Everything that’s visible or audible to an audience, from song lyrics and sound selection to IG captions and the clothes you wear, act as filters that help potential fans decide whether they do or don’t align with an artist. It’s easy, then, for an artist who’s obsessed with anime and Supreme to assume their followers feel similarly. But audiences are complex, and many smaller groups exist within the sum of your supporters. To avoid overlooking these nuances, turn to the audience insights provided by Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Spotify. Recognize any differences between those followings and create / advertise accordingly (e.g. don’t spend much money promoting a 21+ show on Instagram if 90% of your followers are 18 and younger). 
  3. Targeting an audience pool that’s too specific. Relatedly, artist teams can miss the mark when they build campaigns (e.g. in Facebook Business Manager) that eliminate too much of a potential audience, e.g. only targeting 18 – 24 year olds who like Lauv and Patagonia. Let your inferences take you halfway there, then let the algorithms do the rest. Facebook’s using machine learning to discover connections between user profiles and the affinities (brands, artists) and demographics (age, location) you’re optimizing for. So, if you solely target Lauv fans, or just Omar Apollo fans, and not fans of both, you sell yourself short. The ad managers social platforms provide want to find you the most affordable conversion possible to remain competitive.
  4. Targeting an audience pool that’s too broad. Targeting as many people as possible to drive big numbers can dilute the effectiveness of a campaign. Ideally, you pay to put yourself in front of those who are most likely to like what they see or hear and stick around sooner. (It’s cheaper, with a quicker return on investment, to target folks who click to buy a ticket after they see an ad for the third time, versus the 13th.) You might be able to run more YouTube ads for less in certain markets, like Southeast Asia, but that could make the campaign susceptible to click farms and skew your audience demographics. 75 million views in 24 hours isn’t impressive if 99% of the viewers bounce and never return. Just last week, YouTube announced that their TrueView system, which lets advertisers effectively purchase views by slotting their video posts into pre-rolls that play before other videos, would no longer contribute to their music chart calculations. 
  5. Failing to fuel the algorithm with assets. Facebook Business Manager can automatically serve different groups of people the creative content that performs best among them. Translation: If you input multiple variables, e.g. different cover art, or different captions, it will run tests and mix and match to find the best configuration. Artwork A might lead to more conversions or engagement among 18 – 24 year olds, while Artwork B might resonate more with the 25 – 34 bracket. It usually takes a couple of days after launching a campaign, or about the first 50 conversions, for the algorithm to complete its learning phase and determine the most fruitful route forward. When performance clearly declines, it’s usually time to refresh the creative.
  6. Exhausting resources (and yourself) in rabbit holes. Compelling creative assets are at the heart of any standout marketing campaign. While thumb-stopping images, videos, gifs, and text sometimes require serious thought and lots of energy, investment has diminishing returns. You’ll reach a point where you might spend $5,000 more on CGI or aftereffects to only generate $300 more in value, or a marginal percentage increase in engagement. Do your best without doing the most, and remember that different platforms have (1) different format norms, aka vertical vs horizontal, and (2) different audiences with different preferences. 
  7. Betting everything you’ve got in isolated bursts. It’s tempting to throw all available resources at a rollout’s tentpole events, e.g. amplifying the album’s release week by spending the majority of an ad budget. However, a low-spend, always-on awareness campaign can yield more mindshare for the duration of the rollout. By maintaining and nurturing your audience pools you’ve built for ad targeting, your requests for true activation (e.g. conversion ads, aka “buy this” or “stream that”) might come across as less invasive when the time is right to ask.  
  8. Waiting too long to test new formats. Every time a new mode for digital marketing emerges, e.g. TikTok right now, or Instagram Stories when it first supported advertising in March, a supply-demand mismatch tends to define the early days. Bigger advertisers, ever skeptical, hold off on investing and stick to what they know, which makes available ad space in the new format more open, less noisy, and resultantly cheaper than alternatives — the perfect time for artist teams to experiment.
  9. Confusing curiosity with intent. A number of consumption and engagement metrics are shrinking in length as creativity gets packaged into smaller and smaller bits. These statistics, e.g. three-second view counts, or email open rates, can help indicate the health of your online audience, but it’s a stretch to say they represent a fan’s overt willingness to take action and support. After fans click through an ad, how many actually purchase a hat? Marketers who specialize in paid media often think it can take seven impressions (someone seeing an ad from an artist seven times) before you make someone familiar enough with you to support you. Ideally, though, some of those impressions are organic, e.g. via press coverage, or a feature on another artist’s song. In a vacuum ad spend rarely delivers success on it’s own.
  10. Overreacting to negative responses. If you launch an online ad or boost a post and the comments don’t quite fill your heart with joy, don’t panic. Adverts interrupt someone’s personal scrolling experience, so you’ll usually catch a little flack for the invasion. It’s easy to forget that the positive response you’re looking for isn’t a happy comment but a desired action, e.g. watching something, or clicking. Few people will click a link AND comment. That said, if you’re a believer in embracing feedback, it doesn’t hurt to browse reactions and see if there’s any validity to some of the harsher messages folks drop on your digital doorstep.
  11. Overspending on bells and whistles. In other words, don’t feel like you’re at a disadvantage if you’re not spending $1000 a month on every digital marketing tool under the sun. You can leverage free services, like Facebook Business Manager, which aggregates Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger, to program and learn from powerful paid campaigns. Lots of other third-party tools sell themselves by taking data from major social networks and presenting it in different ways, but most don’t add much value; the few good ones are typically nice-to-haves at best. (Influencer marketing platform Upfluence stands out as an exception worth looking into.) 



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