Audio Advertising : Future Sound or Past Hearing.

There is an inherent mistrust of the advertising industry over some less than scrupulous tactics and methods employed by a handful of advertisers down the years. It’s fairly clear people don’t feel they can trust anyone who is trying to sell them something, if they are aware of it. Unfortunately, adverts, though by no means the only, are by their very nature the most ostentatious of these methods. When you consider people bemoaning adverts what is it that springs to mind? Maybe its parents complaining about unsuitable adverts on Saturday morning tv, it could be people on your commute groaning about how their periodical is now more ad than news, or possibly muttering in the cinema about the fact the popcorns almost gone but the film has yet to start. In my (a relatively ‘young’ British observer’s) experience the one media with advertising that is infrequently maligned for it, is the audio industries. In recent times, audio advertising has been given something of a boost via the introduction of new forms of auditory output both physical and digital. The creation of music streaming services, a massive growth in the podcast market and a digitally enhanced resurgence in radio listeners have all made their own contributions.

It’s often stated that the sense most linked to memory and therefore best able to create emotional attachment is smell. Frequently cited is the ability to remember long gone events from one’s childhood via a familiar smell. If this is true, perhaps we can suggest sound to be the strong second place. I’m certain we have all created an emotional connection with some audio, be it a piece of music, certain radio stations, or even the voice of certain celebrities, be they in the sphere of audio-media or another. This creates an ideal opportunity for marketers to use the desire for these connections to introduce their product to listeners in a manner they find hard to distinguish as even having been subjected to far easier than a pictorial advert in a written work or video ad midway through a gripping sports contest even.

The blog aims to look at the latest trends in audio advertising across three major fronts: radio, streaming and podcasts and vocal assistants

Radio

In the earlier part of this millennium there were a lot of people who believed they would be witness to the quick and unceremonious killing of the radio stars by not only video but more importantly by the ability to have video when and wherever we liked via the internet and digitisation. Perhaps this was naivety on the part of those people, or maybe it just has yet to pass but the first truly global media broadcast system is if anything in the midst of a resurgence in popularity. It may have been the overlooking of the quiet progress of the audio industries, often lost in the wake of visual systems, but the radio boom shows no signs of slowing growing as it has in the UK, though also elsewhere, by an eyewatering £170mil in revenue in the last few years from its admirable 2016 high of £526mil.

In reference to the earlier discussion about the amount of people moaning about audio adverts it also does to discuss the safety of radio adverts. Given the current culture surrounding fake news, social media spats and general media distrust it stands to reason that the radio, oldest, de facto wisest and most deeply legislated of all the available mediums is trusted far and above any other. This does extend even beyond the mainstays of the BBC channels to the new wave of commercial stations. Over the past decade several high-profile presenting teams and back room staff from the publicly funded organisation have made the move to privately owned enterprises with great success a sure sign, were there any doubt, that the market exists.

The creation of this competition in the market as it does with most any such conflict leads to innovation. This includes associations with new forms of digital media, of course they use social media to great effect, both on and off air but are also coming more to enter the world of podcasts both as a form of highlighted catch-up service, should they not have one, and also as extra branded content cheaper and easier to produce than regular programming.

While radio has not been considered a usual go to for advertising in recent times, its continuing growth is hard to overlook. Given its, let’s not over egg the pudding here, super-liminal way to affect people’s thoughts the power of voice and song is not something to be taken lightly.

Streaming and Podcasts

One thing is certain in the world of new media, broadcast television is no longer king. The amount of people taking up streaming services such as Amazon Prime, YouTube Premium, Netflix, Spotify or even using television catch up services has grown exponentially over the past several years and far outstrips those using paid television services on a regular basis.

Currently Spotify boasts nearly 217 million concurrent users, Around 100 million of these pay for the privilege of an ad free membership. The others get given a couple of ads every 30 minutes of listening time as well as on app start-up. Most other audio streaming services like SoundCloud and Google Play Music have followed suit, creating financial models based around receiving advertising in varying quantity for a certain fee.

Many of these companies most notably due to its vast reach Spotify determine user data, their age, gender and listening habits, its usability on mobile devices producing even more in-depth audience analysis such as listening locations and social media usage. Combine this with information readily available based around their financial information and the picture of each member is quite a rounded one. This all means as opposed to less interactive forms of audio like radio, advertisers are able to target extremely effectively, making use of analytical and reporting tools to determine the efficacy of their message.

Podcasts are booming in the UK, with around 6 million adults listening to at least one a week. The volume of weekly listeners has grown dramatically in the last five years – from 3.2m in 2013 to the current over 6 million. Of that number 76% said that they have followed up on an ad or sponsored message from the show, very promising engagement figures. Almost all podcast listeners tune into radio too. Radio and TV broadcasters are embracing the medium featuring regularly in the iTunes podcast chart. TV broadcasters are increasingly interested in podcasts as a source of material for TV shows, or as an extension of established series

Research carried out by Ofcom shows that UK listeners access podcasts from the BBC, YouTube and iTunes. Other sources included online and streaming services such as Spotify, Google and news sites. These continue to invest in podcast firms to help diversify their audio offerings, a plan expected to take Spotify’s paid subscribers past 100 million in the near future.

Effectiveness of advertising in this medium must not be understated. The increase of uptake of podcasts is across all age and social ranges, but the fastest growth is among young adults, 15-24 years old, well-educated and with higher earnings. This target demographic can often be one of the toughest to crack for advertisers but frequently the most highly prized, being as they are, possibly lifelong liquid consumers. The biggest advantage of the systems in place for podcast advertising is the low chance of listeners being distracted by activities as they tune in. While this may be a detriment, the savviest listeners more readily identifying marketing tactics, it does allow, brand messages conveyed over the medium to be far more likely to be absorbed by the audience.

Vocal Assistants

Very much the newbie of the group in terms of time on the market vocal assistants, have had an unprecedented speed of up-take. Vocal tech is developing rapidly, understandable given that the more interaction with the customer base effectively gives rise to new innovation in recognition and move towards true artificial intelligence. Amazon has said that 100 million Alexa driven devices have been sold since their introduction to the market in November 2014. Even more importantly Apple has said the use of Siri on over half a billion devices, having been shipped with the application in well over 1 billion iPhone handsets since its adoption in late 2011.

Experts speculate that within the coming year, voice searches could make up around 50% of all searches, the figure is hotly debated but most agree that around 55% of teenagers and 44% of adults use some voice search feature on a daily basis.

Obviously this is a huge potential market for advertisers to exploit, luckily for the most part it takes little to adapt marketing strategy to be usable in this new environment. While google, amazon and the other big tech giants are doing most of the work creating the ability for the software to ‘read’ and listen marketers only need to come to consensus (hasn’t happened on most things yet!) as to how people will search vocally. For a long time, search engine searches have not been driven so much by the searcher but more by conventions put in place by the engine’s creator or advertisers. If you want to search fast and efficiently for something cut down your request to its constituent parts, remove conjunctions, the questioning phrase and any surplus information and type the resultant jumble of words into your search engine. No one talks that way, so in future voice assistants will have to learn to not only search for the important parts of the request but also to remove extraneous elements that could be as simple as the word ‘in’ or as complicated as replacing localised slang terms.

It’s unlikely from the evidence above that audio advertising is something that can remain in the background of the marketing communities’ thoughts for the foreseeable future. Whatever form it takes the inherent trust and gravitas put upon, and provided by, the human voice is too important a tool to be consigned to the scrap-heap of advertising history. Best to stay abreast and keep your ears open for the coming of the audio revolution.

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