The Power of Audio: Chapter 2

The Impact: Messaging that works.

“Rolling out of bed, the first thing I do is unplug my phone from my charger, go straight to my speakers and plug in my aux cord. Music helps me pick up the pace, get a bit more lively and attack the day.”

That’s Greg, one of the many consumers we spoke to about how they listen to audio in Chapter 1 of our Power of Audio series. And he’s far from alone. Thanks to streaming and mobile devices, people are soundtracking their lives more than ever, with content that reflects who they are, what they’re doing and how they’re feeling in the moment—whether it’s workout time, bedtime or downtime.

When we explore the habits of millions of individual listeners and map them all out, what results is an incredible creative canvas. By leveraging data and insights about how people listen, you can now connect with audio messages that appeal to your audience’s state of mind.

How can you make audio work for you? In this chapter, we break down a few keys to tapping the creative opportunity.

Think story.

Keep your audience entertained with a memorable message.

What do the songs that linger, the podcasts we share and the jingles we remember forever have in common? They’re good stories. Whether the ingredients are melody or spoken word, they’re built to entertain, engage, and keep us listening from beginning to end.

The same is true for audio messages. “Don’t put on your advertising hat ever when you’re coming up with creative,” says Tony Mennuto, president of the audio agency Wordsworth & Booth. “Put on your show business hat. Think like a comedy show producer or a writer of a movie or a drama, because everybody wants to be engaged. Everybody wants to hear a story.”

Not surprisingly, some of the best examples of this can be found in podcasts. On Gimlet’s StartUp podcast, for instance, a recent ad for Virgin Atlantic (produced by Gimlet Creative) features the show’s host interviewing the airline’s global food and beverage manager, who tells a story about making a custom dish for a passenger and naming it after him: George’s Bagel. It’s a fun and engaging spot, and the Virgin Atlantic shout-out at the end ensures listeners will associate it with the brand.

Audio ads are more than 2x as likely to lift purchase intent and information intent than display ads.

Story-driven audio ads are proven to work. A comScore study found that ads within podcasts were the least intrusive when compared with all other types of digital ads. Many of those surveyed said they felt more “connected, intelligent and energized” after listening, and two-thirds said they acted on those ads, either by looking up the product or service or by making a purchase.1

The same principles can apply while consumers are listening to music. In an analysis of audio ads overall for Spotify, Nielsen found that listeners were more likely to enjoy audio ads than display ads across radio and streaming services. What’s more, audio ads are memorable and motivational—they drove 24% higher recall than display ads, and were twice as likely to lift purchase intent.2 Whether you’re connecting during a podcast or a playlist listening session, think about how your message can feel less like an interruption and more like a story, or how you might use sequential messaging to re-engage your audience over time.

For a more custom way to engage music listeners, annotated playlists can be a great vehicle for audio storytelling. When Fox wanted to promote its new TV show Star, the network used a branded playlist on Spotify to share the stories behind the show’s music, with commentary by the cast in between the songs. The Dutch brewery Grolsch took a similar approach with an eye towards its audience in Ontario, partnering with Canadian music journalist Alan Cross to narrate a guided history of indie music within a branded playlist. Cross’ narration drove high CTR, and audiences kept engaging with the playlist well after the end of paid media support.

"Everybody wants to be engaged, everybody wants to hear a story."

How Virgin Atlantic told their story on Gimlet's StartUp podcast.

Think context.

Make sure your ads match the format and moment they’re in.

In Chapter 1, we explored how listening sessions are often intimate, evocative and guided by what people are doing and how they’re feeling. As any great storyteller knows, if you want your story to connect, you have to feel out the room. Bruce Springsteen’s stadium show is different from his setlist for a more exclusive gig; Chris Rock tells different jokes when he’s playing to an arena versus a comedy club. When it comes to digital audio, there’s a wealth of insight about how your audience listens to help you “feel out the room” more effectively than ever before, and even to personalize that story for the right listener at the right moment. In short, if content is king, context is god.

Case in point: Gatorade’s Amplify campaign, which focused on the workout moment to create a highly personal experience. Gatorade drove its audience to an interactive site built with Spotify’s API, where visitors could pick the length of their workout session and up to three genres to generate a personalized playlist timed to their workout or interval training. Gatorade also partnered with Steve Aoki and the Dim Mak All-Stars to create the “ultimate high-energy workout mix,” resulting in new original music created for the brand on Spotify.

When it comes to digital audio, if content is king, context is god.

In another instance, BACARDÍ® leveraged Spotify’s Branded Moments format to own the “Party” moment. The brand targeted party moments on Spotify and served relevant video creative to remind partiers that “he who controls the playlist, controls the universe”—and that, no surprise, BACARDÍ® goes well with parties.

In some cases, the context is the experience of listening itself. On the popular political podcast Pod Save America, when hosts Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor and Jon Lovett start talking about a new brand, it doesn’t sound like a traditional ad break—it sounds exactly like their usual conversations, just focused on a new app or clothing company they love. They’re tapping into the mindset of an audience that’s already tuned in to hear what they have to say.

"Audio is uniquely immersive, whether it's with headphones on the subway or in the park with a wireless speaker."

Greg Boyer, US: Media & Entertainment Consulting Leader, PwC

Think music.

Leverage music effectively to win over your audience.

From Star Wars to Harry Potter, our biggest pop culture touchstones all feature an instantly recognizable piece of music. When you want to tell a memorable story, a great soundtrack is key. Similarly, music can be used in marketing to evoke emotion and even inspire action. Brands already know this well. In Ipsos’ global database of over 3,500 advertisements, about 89% use music in some way, whether it’s featured prominently or audible in the background.3 Ipsos also found that when used properly, music can make a real impact—ads with branded or popular music were more likely to positively impact purchase intent.

“Music stimulates us or calms us down,” says Rob Wood, CEO of Music Concierge. “That’s why we go to the gym and use stimulating music, or we go to a spa and we use relaxing music. It affects our bodies and our behavior. A lot of brands, by their very nature, are trying to influence your behavior [too].”

89% of ads in Ipsos’ global database use music in some way.

Using music effectively can be as simple as picking the perfect song for your message. In the biggest game of the year, many of the ads feature music front and center, whether it’s a big hit like Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” (Chrysler’s memorable 2011 spot) or an indie jam like Hundred Waters’ “Show Me Love” (Coca-Cola’s 2015 spot). This year, Lexus pumped up viewers to the sounds of Sia’s “Move Your Body,” as freestyle dancer Lil Buck showed off his moves around their newest model.

Using music effectively can also mean curating the perfect playlist that reflects the sound of your brand. Nike’s running playlists and BACARDÍ®’s party playlists are expertly curated representations of their respective brands. And for a non-branded source of inspiration, look no further than Barack Obama. The former President saw playlist curation as one way to build his brand, balancing classic song choices like Billie Holiday with more timely picks like Chance the Rapper.

Taking a more custom approach, Jack Daniel’s created a “Journey With Jack” Branded Playlist to celebrate its 150-year anniversary. The brand used annotated narration from the band Highly Suspect to take listeners on a journey through 150 years of music. With a cohesive message (and great music, from Frank Sinatra to Miguel) the campaign drove increased interest for the brand, outperforming benchmarks for other ads in their sector.

"Music and advertising have always gone hand in hand."

How Jack Daniel's used music to tell their story on Spotify, featuring the band Highly Suspect.

Think sound.

Immerse listeners in your world.

From McDonald’s “ba-da-ba-ba-ba” melody to HBO’s signature fuzz at the start of a show, some brands use sound so well that it becomes as recognizable as their logo. While not every brand uses sonic branding in the literal sense, using sound to communicate your brand’s message is more important than ever, as audio makes its way into more moments of your audience’s day.

Research proves that telling your story through sound makes it easier to keep your audience hooked. One study found that using sound effects in an audio drama increases the level of mental imagery for listeners, and also makes them a more attentive audience.4 Another report from Radiocentre found that when audio ads are added to the marketing mix alongside videos, they can expand a brand’s network of mental associations—essentially, meaning more listeners associate that brand with more moments of their day.5

Audio ads drive 24% higher recall on average than display ads.

Consider the full sonic palette at your disposal—ambient noise, immersive effects, entertaining narration and catchy melody—to tell stories that people remember. On Spotify, wine company [yellow tail] used the pinging sound effect of a smartphone alarm to provide a “reminder” to listeners to enjoy their playlist. And thanks to boundary-pushing creativity, sonic ads are starting to pop up in unexpected places. Swedish pharmaceutical company Apotek Hjärtat developed a billboard that coughs on cue when it detects cigarette smoke on the streets of Stockholm.6

In fact, the future potential for experience-driven and immersive sonic advertising is huge. Tune in on February 28 for Chapter 3 of our series, where we explore how innovations like voice activation and augmented reality will having us living in surround sound. And start by exploring how you can use the power of audio to resonate with your audience, and give them a story they’ll remember.

"You have these visceral responses to different types of audio."

Amy Belfi, Cognitive Neuroscientist, NYU

Sources for Chapter 2:

1 comScore and Wondery, Podcast Consumption on the Rise (2016)
2 Nielsen Media Lab study (2017), Information intent = top 1 box; purchase intent = top 2 box (5-point scale)
3 Ipsos, The Influence of Music in Advertising (2016)
4 The Atlantic, Inside the Podcast Brain: Why Do Audio Stories Captivate? (2015)
5 Radiocentre, Radio: The Brand Multiplier (2016)
6 PSFK, Anti-Smoking Billboard Reacts When Smokes Walk By (2017)

About the Power of Audio

The Power of Audio explores the role of audio in consumers’ lives and its impact for brands and advertisers. Fourteen experts were interviewed and 46 consumers were tasked with creating audio diaries, (four were interviewed in depth in the US, UK, Brasil, & Japan) between September and November 2016. Custom panel-based research measuring the effectiveness of audio advertising was conducted in partnership with Nielsen Content Solutions, December 2016 through January 2017. Nielsen’s study was conducted through an online panel with 4,000 respondents aged 15-54, entirely on mobile devices, using a pre/post exposure methodology. Each respondent was exposed to content in a mode dependent on which ad format they were allocated to. The survey covered 4 key topics: Content Engagement, Brand Perceptions, Brand Behaviors, and Ad Engagement.

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