By Justin Merickel
The average city dweller today sees up to 5,000 ads per day. With people constantly inundated by ads, only a few messages can be expected to reach a consumer and sustain attention long enough to have an impact. Do consumers remember five — or even two — ads that crossed their field of vision during their morning commute? To set themselves apart, advertisers continuously look for ways to break through while publishers work to fill up blank spaces with sellable inventory. But people are increasingly escaping from the unwanted chatter and stimuli in their surroundings.
The good news for advertisers is the slew of emerging media channels, such as digital audio, digital out of home (DOOH), and connected television (CTV), that are providing new ways to reach valuable audiences with more precise targeting. As audiences migrate to digital audio and TV, these channels are taking shape to join existing sources of high quality, measurable inventory. And there's plenty of room for brands to use data, context, and culture to stand out.
For many people, music is a powerful force. It creates strong bonds to memories and can trigger nostalgic emotions. Music moves us. Combine that with technological devices, like smartphones, wireless earphones, streaming services, broadband, portable hard drives, and smart speakers and it adds up to a growing ecosystem that makes it virtually effortless to access audio on demand in myriad locations. Other media, however, is limited or absent depending on the locale, such as commuting or being in a sparsely populated area. But digital audio is the most frictionless portal for music, news, and a dizzying array of special-interest, story‑driven podcasts.
According to Edison Research and Triton Digital, digital audio reaches 180 million U.S. consumers each month, or 64 percent of the total population. That's a 43 percent-plus lift compared to 2014. What's more, eMarketer predicted that for 2018, roughly 73 million U.S. consumers, or 22 percent of the population, would listen to a podcast at least once per month, with that percentage jumping to nearly 24 percent next year. Forward-thinking brands and agencies are exploring the promising opportunities of this channel and many are seeing a return-on-investment by including a digital audio strategy.
Brands can seize the opportunity to connect with consumers in a powerful way via audio content distributed across ad-supported services and platforms. Considering the relative nascency of these channels, many brands can better differentiate themselves from competitors.
As consumers shift to digital audio, it's no surprise that advertising budgets are in lockstep. This year might be the tipping point for digital audio, as millions of more dollars in ad spending move to this medium, and providers release innovations to programmatic buying tools. Indeed, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) last year reported that advertising-supported revenues for on-demand and streaming music services grew 21 percent year-over-year, to $369 million.
Sharpening the Dial on Digital Audio
To gain a better understanding of digital audio trends, Adobe Digital Insights (ADI) recently commissioned a survey, titled "Perspectives on Digital Advertising," which took the pulse of 1,000 adult consumers and 500 marketing and advertising business decision makers in the U.S.
The survey showed that nearly half of organizations are planning to boost their investment in digital audio advertising and podcasts by an average of 35 percent compared to last year. Larger organizations and those in the media and entertainment industry were more likely to cite the largest spending increases. (In financial terms, U.S. digital audio [online-originated] ad spending next year is estimated to reach $4.1 billion, a significant increase from $3.4 billion in 2019, according to MediaVillage.)
The Adobe survey also found that half of marketers think it is important or very important to have digital audio as part of their cross-channel strategy. This view was strongest among executives (27 percent said very important), who may have some foresight given their experience and views on the power of audio narrative. In general, digital listening audiences are more educated, engaged, and affluent, compared to the average consumer. This makes digital listeners a valuable and a difficult group to reach with traditional advertising. But when listeners get the message, brands have found some surprising results.
For instance, the survey found that ads via audio content are making a big splash, with 25 percent of consumers saying that they have purchased a product or service after hearing a digital audio ad. Another salient finding: About one-third of the respondents say they have searched for more product details after hearing an audio ad. The ability to dynamically personalize messages is a major reason why these ads are so effective.
These numbers beg the question: Is digital audio a branding medium or a conversion medium? More than two-thirds of marketers agree that digital audio is a strong conversion tactic, while 65 percent agree that it is a strong branding medium. The reality is that it is both, and a variety of factors determine how, where, and when to use each, such as:
- The context (content, format, mindset) of where the brand's ads will appear
- How the audience consumes organic content via the audio channel
- The type of audience venturing into the audio channel
- The service/platform/publisher and their ad placements (podcasts can have scripted and nonscripted ads)
- Opportunities for highly targeted campaigns
- The opportunities creatively
Consumers regularly consume digital audio while conducting other activities, such as cooking and cleaning, with nearly half doing so more than 25 percent of the time, according to the Adobe survey. Such multitasking means listener attention can be fragmented, so knowing how to capture and sustain it is critical. But once the audio ad is delivered there's no way to skip or click away, which also helps to explain its effectiveness.
"I think the main takeaway from this research is that relevance and value-add is key in winning consumer time and attention," Taylor Schreiner, principal at ADI, told CMO.com (CMO.com is owned by Adobe). "Knowing your customers is step one, but understanding their context is just as important."
The Adobe study makes a key point that hints at the future of screenless media: Within the next year, more than half of digital natives, who occupy the millennial and generation Z cohorts and make up a large segment of these listeners, are likely to increase the time they spend listening to podcasts and time spent using voice-activated speakers.
Higher Recall, Better Engagement
Audiences will get more comfortable with consuming audio content — and most major brands will follow suit. Delivering context-aware, targeted audio ads that stand out will garner higher recall and better engagement than more traditional methods of advertising. Now is an opportune time for brands and organizations to innovate using data-driven approaches to hyperpersonalize messaging and target key listening segments in new and exciting ways. Through planning, experimentation, and measurement, this emerging channel can flourish as an integral piece in marketers' overall omnichannel advertising strategy.
BY Justin Merickel is the VP of Adobe Advertising Cloud, a partner in the ANA Thought Leadership Program.