Why Audio is an Advertiser's Secret Weapon

It’s March, which of course means it’s SXSW! We love this conference because it brings together our favorite things: music and technology. This past weekend during SXSW Interactive, we camped out at The Gatsby and hosted and participated in several different speaking sessions, including our panel "Why The Hardest Working Media is Between Your Ears."

A topic near and dear to our hearts, we truly do believe that audio is the hardest working media available to brands today. Our SVP of Strategic Solutions, Susan Panico, kicked the panel off by diving into data points that showcase how audio’s popularity has continued to grow year over year. More than social, more than gaming, more than utilities, music is where people spend their time. We live in an “earbud era” where everyone’s must-have accessory is their headphones. Consumer behavior has shifted to this always-on, always-connected, mobile-first environment, and audio is the only form of media that reaches people everywhere - even in the shower! This is why the amount of time spent listening to streaming audio is expected to double by 2020.1

To showcase the growing popularity of audio even more, Edison Research just launched their 2017 Infinite Dial study, which revealed that over half (53%) of the US population 12 years and older listen to streaming radio weekly, and that number jumps to 83% when looking just at 12-24 year-olds. Time spent listening with audio is also up to 14 hours, 39 minutes per week from 12 hours, 8 minutes last year, which further supports the prediction that streaming audio will soon double.

Susan put it best during the panel when she said, “The number one time spent activity on mobile devices is listening to music. When you connect mobility and music, music truly is life. You can take it on-the-go, it’s a universal language, it’s a cultural connector, it transcends ages and genders, and it’s what powers up our days, everyday.”

Creating a Sonic Identity

For those of you who think audio is old school or part of the golden days of yester-year’s radio, it’s time to start listening. The acceleration of technology and the ubiquity of mobile has brought the sexy back in audio. “People think audio is a media of the past, but when I see it today it’s really in it’s golden age,” said panelist Chris Smith, Brand Creative Group Head at The Richards Group. “There are more ways to access audio today than ever…[Audio] was always seen as an adjunct to something else, but now more and more brands are seeing it as a centerpiece to their marketing because of the cost effectiveness of it and the speed of producing it.”

We also live in a world today where voice is the new touch. The rise of voice-activated devices makes things as simple and easy as a few spoken words. In fact, technology is advancing so much that soon the days of clicking, swiping and dialing will be over. “Throw away the idea of the OS wars. Soon no one will care about iOS vs. Android because everything will be driven by audio. Amazon Echo is a prime example of this,” explained Scott Burnell, Global Lead, Business Development & Partner Management of the Ford Developer Program at Ford Motor Company. Scott went on to say that soon (this summer in fact) you will be able to use devices like Alexa in your cars, and with a simple sync, you’ll be able to lock or unlock your car, tell how much gas you have left, or even start your car, all by just using your voice and audio controls.

Even still, audio is not an advertising silver bullet. Pranav Yadav, CEO of Neuro-Insight, explains that if your advertising isn’t registering in a consumer’s long-term memory bank, then no matter the medium, it won’t be as effective. He explains, “Unless and until your key messaging or branding is going into someone’s long-term memory, all you’re creating is entertainment.”

But when brands create a Sonic Identity and use it throughout their advertisements, it can be extremely memorable. Pranav provided an example to the audience from Intel in which they tested out a series of ads without their usual sonic branding compared to ads that did use it. They found that the ads with the sonic branding had higher engagement, proving the association between the music and the brand worked to their benefit to create a combined effect that people both remembered and responded to.

Wanting to dig a little deeper into neuromarketing ourselves, Pandora recently commissioned Neuro-Insight to conduct a study that found ads served alongside personalized, emotive content have greater resonance with the listener, leading to more memorable and engaging campaigns than what is typically found on other media formats. (To learn more about this study, go here.)

The Power of Audio

We truly live in an earbud era and that’s why audio has become the most “native” of all digital ads. Audio is incredibly powerful because consumers can take it with them on the go. It’s time for marketers to rethink audio as a primary media format because it’s the only medium that reaches people in an emotive environment with an IV straight to their brain.

Marketers must be asking themselves: what does my brand sound like? What music do I align my brand with? What audio experiences am I placing my brand message with? Sound is what can make someone recognize and remember your brand beyond the 30-second spot.

Download our free eBook to learn even more about the state of audio today.

Even though the Interactive portion of SXSW is over, we are in full-swing for the Music portion of the week at The Gatsby. Not only do we have an amazing lineup with over 30 different artists performing throughout the week, we also just unveiled our latest product offering, Pandora Premium, so be sure to stop by to see it in action.


1 Magna Global, Media Economy Report – Capturing Consumer Attention in an On Demand World, June 2016