As digital audio ad spend rockets, it’s time for advertisers to make themselves heard

Posted on Monday 17 May 2021 | James Chandler - Chief Marketing Officer, IAB UK

With the value of digital audio amplified by the year’s Digital Adspend report, our CMO James Chandler explores the exciting opportunities presented to advertisers by audio in 2021

Raise your hand if you grew up being told that sitting too close to the TV screen would give you square eyes. You? Yeah, me too. My name is James and I’m a life-long screen lover, as well as living proof that the square eyes thing is a lie. Whether it’s my phone, my smart TV or my laptop, screens are an ingrained and essential part of my daily life and I know I’m not alone. Back in May 2020, a study by VisionDirect revealed that the average person will spend 34 years of their lives looking at screens and, since COVID hit, this reliance has only intensified. From catching up with mates to catching up on Line of Duty, screens undoubtedly keep us connected, informed and entertained. 

And yet, as much as we love them, we do also need a break from the pixels. Screen fatigue is real, and data suggests that people are increasingly starting to plug into digital audio to engage with their favourite media. Listener numbers have soared in the past year. An IAB UK/YouGov survey of those who listen to online audio reveals that 66% have listened to podcasts more since the start of the pandemic, while 54% have streamed music more. Meanwhile, providers have reported a surge in downloads and revenues and the likes of Spotify witnessed podcast listening hours double in Q4 2020. 

It’s clear that, for many people, digital audio has come into its own during the pandemic. Whether it’s music lovers turning to streaming services to replace the cancelled gigs, or runners plugging into podcasts as they pound the pavements, audio merges both entertainment and escapism in an extremely appealing way. While screens demand our undivided attention, digital audio engages us on a different level. If we lean into screens, we lean back into audio. 

Amplifying an advertiser’s voice

So, where do advertisers sit in this space and what are the opportunities for aurally-inclined brands? Just as listener rates have grown, spend has surged. The IAB’s Digital Adspend report shows that advertisers increased investment in digital audio by 17% in 2020 and, within that, podcasting spend was up by a whopping 43%. The market is small still, but the potential is massive and growth rates like this show that advertisers are starting to look at how they can, literally, amplify their voice in different ways. 

Is this a brand new opportunity? No, but it’s a fast-growing one. Sonic branding has long been a factor in advertisers’ campaigns, playing an important role in the fight for consumer attention and adding a vital extra dimension to any brand personality. But how do you adapt established audio techniques to the multifaceted and ever-evolving world of digital? Crucially, this is not about repurposing radio ads or a broadcast strategy. Digital audio offers different opportunities to engage with consumers via personalised creative and seamless integration.

Take A Million Ads, which delivers personalised, data-driven audio creative such as Berocca’s interactive smart-speaker ad that recently grabbed headlines. Or NumberEight, which uses AI to detect the context of an audio environment and delivers advertising that will enhance that. I could go on but, in short, the technology and innovative options for digital audio advertisers are endless and allow for brands to integrate within what is a highly immersive and intimate environment. 

The fact that social media firms are also harnessing the power of audio via a suite of new tools shows how diverse the digital audio space is, as well as how it will continue to grow and evolve. From Clubhouse and Twitter's Spaces to Facebook’s soon-to-be-launched Live Audio Rooms, app-based audio-only events could become as commonplace as the Zoom panel, potentially providing brands and businesses with a new outlet to engage and interact with audiences. 

Whether it’s audio-only events, podcasting, streaming or smart speakers, it is the time for advertisers to make themselves heard. The growth in listeners that the sector has seen in the past 12 months is testament to the quality of the digital audio content that is being produced, while the growth in ad spend is testament to the opportunities for brands. Together, this makes for a winning combination and it’s those that build a sonic branding strategy now that will get ahead. 

Written by

James Chandler

Chief Marketing Officer, IAB UK


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