How Audio is Revolutionizing Political Campaigns

Sean Duggan, VP Advertising Sales

Election day is right around the corner, and over 7,000 midterm races are in full swing. Much like countless election cycles before this one, the candidates who emerge triumphant this November will be the ones who can successfully cut through the thousands of campaign ads via TV, radio, yard signs, direct mail, robocalls, and internet advertising to make a meaningful connection with voters.

At Pandora, we have worked with over 3,000 campaigns over the past six years and have seen how campaigns are utilizing audio to gain an edge on their competition. And, increasingly, winning campaigns are opting for audio advertising that is shorter in length and more personalized.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence of this trend comes from the fact that campaigns in 2018 are turning to audio earlier than ever before. Radio ads have traditionally been last minute GOTV buys, utilized by consultants only after TV has sold out in the final weeks of a campaign. Nowadays, audio ads run all cycle, from announcement day to election day.

Campaign managers and consultants have recognized the explosion in audio consumption. Americans are flocking to new ways of listening to music, podcasts, and radio. One in two Americans now listen to some kind of streaming audio every week. That means there are more streaming listeners than total voters in the entire 2016 election. Pandora alone attracts a diverse group of 81 million listeners every month. For campaigns, streaming audio is a massive audience of potential voters.

Political audio ads are also getting shorter. Not that long ago, consultants would never create an audio spot that ran less than sixty seconds. It took Reagan a full minute to paint a picture about “Morning in America,” and Bill Clinton used every second he had to tell his life story in “A Man from Hope.” Today audio spots are more concise and personalized to audio platforms.

Among our political clients, we are seeing more campaigns run thirty seconds or shorter audio ads. The foundation of effective audio creative is to use a conversational tone, address the individual listener, and deliver a concise message with a clear call to action (Vote Tomorrow, Click Here to Volunteer, etc),. This is the best way to connect with voters while they navigate to their content, whether that’s music, podcasts, news or other programming.

This trend toward shorter and more creative ads manifests in a number of ways. Take, for instance, Sponsored Listening, one of our most popular ad products.

With Sponsored Listening, a client or advocacy group can sponsor between 30 minutes and 4 hours of commercial free music rather than running a traditional ad. This advertising solution actually reduces total advertising for consumers. In noisy, competitive races, uninterrupted music is a welcome relief and a tremendous opportunity for a candidate or advocacy group to build good will with listeners. Campaigns and candidates who provide ad-free listening become the heroes of another peaceful hour of Bach or a high-octane workout with music courtesy of Diplo, and voters appreciate the ad-free gesture.

Lastly, like so many other aspects of voter outreach, audio spots are more personal. Campaigns can now speak each voters’ language, literally and figuratively. At Pandora, we collaborate with many campaigns to help produce personalized ads based on which kind of voter a campaign wants to connect with. Now, listeners in the same congressional district can experience different creative messaging. Some might hear English language ads aimed at Republican women, while a Hispanic listener will experience a Spanish language political ad tailored to them.

Today, one size no longer fits all.

These trends will only become more pronounced as streaming audio continues to grow in popularity. Audio is going through this renaissance precisely because of the ubiquity of internet-connected devices. Three-quarters of Americans own smartphones. And now, over 39 million U.S. adults keep a smart speaker at home or at work. That’s a whopping 128 percent increase over the past year. These devices allow campaigns to better target voters and their preferences.

Successful candidates have always been early adopters. Fireside chats brought the president’s voice directly into American homes. Television showed us who thrived on debate stages and who sweated it out. The internet became a potent tool for organizing volunteers and taking donations.

All this goes to show that the next wave of winners — the men and women who get to drop balloons and confetti on Election Night — will have to develop an audio strategy to succeed. And this time around that advantage will likely come through wireless earbuds and speakers that can talk back.

140 million streamers (Pandora internals) to approx. 130 million voters.