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Moodagent asks, Are you in the mood for some advertising?

January 26, 2010 |  6:00 am

Moodagent, Syntonetic, mobile advertising, iPhone apps, music playlists If you were an advertiser, how might you change your pitches to match a consumer's mood? That's the question that Syntonetic plans to pose as it starts plugging targeted advertisements into its Moodagent iPhone app.

Moodagent, which hit the App Store in December, uses downloadable software to create a "mood profile" for each song in your digital music collection. Syntonetic CEO Richard French said the profiles are based on 40 to 50 musical elements that his team uses to characterize the emotional impact of a song. The Moodagent iPhone app then creates playlists by matching song profiles against the settings chosen by the user. The settings are controlled by five sliders -- sensuality, tenderness, joy, aggression and tempo. With a few flicks of the thumb, you can switch from Beyonc√© and Herbert to Nine Inch Nails and Chavez. 

The popularity of services like Pandora and Last.fm demonstrate the demand for well-crafted playlists. Meanwhile, the mushrooming size of personal music collections is increasing the need for software that can create appealing mixes out of the digital haystack of tracks -- witness Apple's addition of its Genius playlisting feature to iTunes in 2008. So clearly there's a market for something like Moodagent. Indeed, French contended that the app became the fourth most popular item in the App Store within three weeks of its U.S. debut. 

But Syntonetic released Moodagent as a free app, so its popularity hasn't translated into revenue for the company. That's why it's going to start feeding ads to the app within a few months. Users who want to avoid seeing ads on their iPhones will be able to buy a premium version of Moodagent (the price hasn't been fixed yet, but it will be somewhere between 99 cents and $3.99); everyone else can expect to see a couple of banners in the Moodagent application when they open it and adjust the sliders.

At first, the company said, the ads will broadly target music fans. Later, though, it plans to enable advertisers to attach "mood tags" to their ads that would correspond with different slider combinations. For example, an advertiser could add a "mellow" tag to their pitch and have it shown during playlists triggered when the sensuality and tenderness sliders were high but the joy, aggression and tempo sliders were low. That's a really interesting idea, I think, because it gives marketers another clue about the viewer's receptivity at the moment the ad is displayed. Giving advertisers the chance to display their pitches alongside a song by, say, Weezer isn't as useful to them as the chance to market to people who've dialed up a sequence of energizing songs. They'd be guessing at the former audience's state of mind, but they'd have a very good idea about the latter's. Of course, the value to advertisers will also depend on whether Moodagent users pay attention to the banners -- a factor that's been problematic for ads on music-related websites.

French said the company was also considering selling a more feature-laden premium version of Moodagent and incorporating recommendations for songs that were not in the user's collection. The latter approach would steer users to buy tracks from Apple's iTunes Store, generating commissions for Syntonetic. My hunch is that such a model would work better with subscription services, where users could play new songs at no added cost, than with a store that sells tracks for 99 cents (or more) each. But it might also work well with the streamable 10-cent "Web songs" offered by Lala.com, which (ahem!) Apple bought last month.

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times' Opinion Manufacturing Division. Follow him on Twitter: @jcahealey

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