A Million Ads announces two new DSP partnerships

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A Million Ads announces two new DSP partnerships that accesses more programmatic inventory across the globe.

We’re excited to announce two new partnerships:  The first is with leading full-stack audio tech provider, Triton Digital, and the second with DSP, Adform. These partnerships cement our next stage of growth, enabling our clients across the globe to benefit from access to more DSPs and to purchase digital audio inventory. 

The new integration with Triton Digital, a leader in the digital audio and podcasting marketplace, offers A Million Ads’ clients access to a2x®, enabling inventory to be purchased programmatically to run in music streaming platforms such as Deezer. Furthermore, Triton’s supply-side platform, Yield-OP, will enable clients to connect to more DSPs than any other SSP. This full stack audio technology enables advertisers, broadcasters and publishers to work seamlessly. 

But that’s not all: we have also partnered with Adform, a full service DSP, who are now introducing dynamic audio offerings to their clients. The formation of these partnerships means all of our clients can now benefit from an increased choice of buying platforms to access audio inventory, making personalized audio more accessible for all. 

Our Founder & CEO, Steve Dunlop, commented “After rigorous testing our clients can now benefit from greater efficiencies and new integrations: Triton are an obvious partner given their global reach and many partnerships within the audio ecosystem. Meanwhile, Adform, is a very exciting opportunity for us and the partnership is already generating interest from an entirely new audience.” 

Want to find out more about what these new partnerships mean for you? Get in touch today! 

Who is Triton Digital? 

Triton Digital® is the global technology and services leader to the digital audio and podcast industry. Operating in more than 40 countries, Triton provides innovative technology that enables broadcasters, podcasters, and online music services to build their audience, maximize their revenue, and streamline their day-to-day operations. Triton Digital is a wholly owned subsidiary of The E.W. Scripps Company (NASDAQ: SSP).  Find out more at tritondigital.com 

Who is Adform? 

Adform is one of the leading adtech companies in the world, providing innovative software solutions for buyers and sellers to automate digital advertising, operating in over 28 countries across the globe. Find out more at adform.com

Don't be dumb about branding

Prunella for Tesco, Sensorial Branding & ‘The Holidays and Coming’

Prunella for Tesco, Sensorial Branding & ‘The Holidays and Coming’

The misconception of sonic branding

Early on in my career at Capital Radio, a sales exec came to the creative department with a problem. They said ‘Tesco’ - then in their heyday as the leading British supermarket - ‘had tested radio and it hadn’t worked so they wouldn’t be spending for the foreseeable future’. So the first question was, what did they test?

We were sent a radio ad voiced in the style of Dracula for a promotion about steaks that had been played exclusively in a North East test region. It didn’t take much analysis to understand where the problem lay. At the time Tesco were famous for their distinctive TV ads that developed the characters of a mother, played by Prunella Scales and Jane Horrocks as her exasperated daughter.

What Tesco hadn’t understood was these character voices were their sonic branding, and by not using them they were essentially testing unbranded creative, not radio. It’s not enough just having any voice say Tesco, you might as well print the logo in wrong colours and typeface on a print ad or poster. So we made that point by doing just that [see below]. We simply asked would they expect the same research results if the logo colour and font was different or indeed if it was missing completely?      

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The body text mentions which supermarket the ad is for, but it needs conscious attention to actively register. For visual branding looking as an active process and seeing as a passive process is equivalent to listening and hearing for sonic branding. However the difference is that visually, logo positioning and use of white space ensures the brand is always present, even to someone passively seeing the ad. However a voice saying Tesco in a 30” ad is not a sonic equivalent as it isn’t present throughout to a passive hearer of the ad, whereas a character voice[s] or a music bed throughout, is.

The Tesco marketing team were persuaded and soon after Prunella and Jane were signed for radio, they commissioned a short sonic logo that appeared with the visual logo reveal and Tesco became a leading investor in radio for several years after.

We explained this obvious oversight [or should that be oversound], with the fact that radio was a relatively juvenile advertising opportunity in the UK back then. Although UK commercial radio began in 1973 it hadn’t reached a critical mass for national advertisers until the mid 1990’s. As a result, brands were inexperienced with the idea of branding with sound. That doesn’t mean there weren’t some strong sonic brands, it’s just they had been predominantly built on TV and many didn’t consider keeping the consistency across radio.

The evolution of sonic identities

We made it our mission to promote the importance of sonic branding and define what that meant. The general presumption was sonic branding was just short sonic logos that some US brands had created, like Intel’s for the Pentium Processor, but no one would consider a visual logo to be the totality of visual branding.

When considering what sonic branding is, brands need ensure the desired brand values are implicitly learnt by the listener through voice, music and sfx. Distinctive, interesting, recognisable and familiar character voices and of course music all play a vital role (as I’ve described previously music is an extension of the elements that make voices emotional). Consistency of sound also has an added benefit in that most people miss-attribute how or where they were exposed to ads, believing they saw a TV ad when they actually only heard an audio ad, which is a very cost effective way of extending a campaign.

McDonald’s show more clearly why music is so adaptable for sonic branding as the recall comes from the melody, but that mnemonic can be delivered is a huge number of different contextually relevant ways by musical genre, tempo, language, age/sex of voice or even utilising sfx. Although, for many years the brand that really understood the importance and scope of sonic branding was British Airways, through their continual and varied re-arrangements of The Flower Duet from the Opera Lakme by Deleabe.

Bauer Media recently announced that 40% of their online streamed audio is delivered by smart speakers and we are seeing similar percentages for the dynamic campaigns we’re delivering, so it is unsurprising that global brands are now developing sonic branding strategies. Here are a couple of recent examples:

How we can help

A Million Ads offers the opportunity to take sonic branding to the next level by becoming dynamic, personalised, sonic branding. We’ve already run campaigns for some of the most recognisable sonic brands like McDonalds [I’m lovin’ it], Coca-cola [Holidays are coming], and Compare the Market [Meerkats - Aleks & Sergei. We're looking forward to exploring how our technology can amplify the brand equity they’ve already established subconsciously through our ears.

So don’t be dumb about branding, if you don’t have a distinctive, identifiable, unique sound to your communication that resonates with the values of the person you are wanting to influence, you may as well be dumb and not have a voice. If you’d like to find out how dynamic personalisation we can help your brand increase their sonic brand presence, give us a shout!







A Million Ads brings its world-leading personalization technology to podcasting with the launch of new podcast product

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London, 5th April 2019: A Million Ads, the personalization experts, today announces the launch of Studio:Podcast, a targeted release of their world-leading dynamic audio personalization tool, built specially for podcast advertisers. Studio:Podcast enables brands and advertisers to create dynamic and personalized digital audio adverts that are delivered to users while they listen to their favorite podcasts.

Podcasting is rapidly gaining traction with listeners and therefore getting more attention from advertisers. The environment for advertising in podcasts, however, is different to other forms of entertainment – it is more intimate and personal, and often consumed with headphones – so the majority of today’s podcast ads are delivered via host-read sponsorships, which take advantage of the unique relationship between the listener and host.

The latest offering from A Million Ads, Studio:Podcast, combines the scale of broadcast adverts with the intimacy and effectiveness of host-read sponsorships by contextualizing the creative with the name, genre or category of the podcast, the type of device the listener is using, their location and how many times they have heard the message. This brings scale and efficiency to the creative process, and results in better performing, more effective campaigns.

Over the past few months, Acast, the world’s largest podcast company, has been pioneering the use of Studio:Podcast as the first pilot partner, running campaigns for iD:Mobile and Natwest in the UK. Acast has over 100 million listeners now tuning into podcasts each month and recent research revealed that podcast listeners are consuming more than 3.5 hours of shows a week*, which opens up a vast opportunity for brands to monetize through this route to market.

Oskar Serrander, Acast’s Chief Commercial Officer said “Making advertising a positive experience for the podcast listener is crucial. As the largest podcast company in the world, we spend a lot of time making sure the advertisers we work with get their message across to the leaned in podcast audience in a way that works for advertisers, listeners and podcasters alike. Studio:Podcast from A Million Ads is truly solving this problem and we are proud to be a pilot partner, offering personalized ads in a way that podcasters, advertisers, and listeners will love.”

Steve Dunlop, Founder and CEO of A Million Ads said “Podcasting is such an intimate and personal medium, so ad experiences in this environment need to be  too. With Studio:Podcast, we’ve built a tool and designed a creative approach that enables advertisers to respect the listener by personalising each ad to them. Acast are a great pilot partner and I look forward to driving innovation in podcast advertising together.”

*Source: Acast Audio Intelligence Report, March 2018

A Million Ads marks next stage of growth with new hires and the opening of New York office

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  • Founder and CEO, Steve Dunlop, moves to New York to head up US operations

  • Niki Stoker joins A Million Ads as COO for UK and Europe

  • Brian Sherman appointed as US Sales Director

London, 19 March 2019: A Million Ads has announced the next stage of their global expansion with the opening of a New York office and several new hires across the international team.

After a successful 2018, raising £2.3m investment, winning the Campaign Marketing New Thinking Awards and working with clients such as Virgin Atlantic, Deliveroo and Toyota, A Million Ads has taken the next step in their global expansion, opening their US office in New York. This move sees Founder and CEO, Steve Dunlop, relocate to the States to head up the US operations, and welcomes Niki Stoker as COO for UK and European operations in the London HQ.

Niki joins the team after several years running brand agency Rabbit and Hare, and brings a wealth of experience from previous roles in AdTech companies. Niki said “I’m delighted to be on board as COO of A Million Ads. From meeting Steve, to the rest of the team, I know I have made a very smart decision: their energy is palpable, and the technology is incredibly sophisticated.” Niki has  20 years’ experience in Digital Advertising, Ad tech specifically, holding positions at some of the top names in creative Ad Tech including Tangozebra, Double Click, Google, Flashtalking and Scoota.

To support the opening of the New York office, CEO Steve Dunlop has appointed Brian Sherman as US Sales Director. Brian joins the team after several years working in the digital audio industry. He commented “As soon as I heard what the A Million Ads team was doing, I knew I wanted to join and help bring this amazing creative innovation to the US.  We are disrupting the way brands think about audio advertising and I'm excited to build out the team in the US that will bring this creative technology platform to clients across the industry.” Brian’s experience includes 12 years in the Digital Advertising sector, working at innovative companies like CBS Interactive, Live Nation, and SoundCloud.

CEO, Steve Dunlop, commented “I'm thrilled to continue our hyper growth by adding Niki and Brian to our team. Brian is our first hire in the US and cements our position here, bringing real fire-power and a solid background within music and entertainment advertising to the role. In the UK, Niki as COO will lead the sales and creative operation, driving our continued growth and market position with her vast Ad Tech industry experience. I'm delighted that we've been able to attract such talent to A Million Ads.”

Dynamic audio in 2019

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It’s the time of year where every news outlet is either reviewing the year just gone or predicting the year ahead. So, for a bit of light reading, we thought we’d review the reviews - how meta.

First, here’s Adweek’s view of five trends that are sweeping audio that you’ll want to listen to:

The targeting capabilities of digital audio are very attractive to advertisers … [who] also view the ability to use dynamic creative, like changing parts of the message based on a listener’s location or other contextual data, to be a benefit.

Next, AdExchanger reviews 2018 as the year the podcasts and programmatic audio took off:

… programmatic digital audio became easier to buy on the open exchange across mainstream DSPs , while dynamic audio creative emerged as  more accessible capability.

Digiday provides a succinct and compelling podcast edition to wrap up the best of their 2018 interviews and, along with sponsor Xaxis, gives audio a big prop.

Here, ExchangeWire asks four industry heavyweights what they believe is coming round the corner in 2019:

This shift can be put down to three key trends: overall increase in consumers spending time with audio, which is being driven by the adoption of connected devices; growth of voice activation and exciting new content with streaming and podcasts; and ad tech innovation, with all major SSP and DSP platforms facilitating audio, and new technologies providing the ability to deliver personalisation through data with dynamic creative insertion.

And finally, RAIN News has a range of 2018 retrospectives, but our favourite is the wrap up of the data and research that includes all of the year’s research highlights including the IAB, Infinite Dial and many more.

We hope the excitement and these bullish prediction for digital audio come true. Wishing you all the best for 2019.

Adobe Aims for Dynamically Personalised Audio Ads with New Partnership

Press release taken from Adobe’s blog.

Adobe Advertising Cloud partners with data-driven audio marketing leader, A Million Ads, to help brands tap into the growing power of digital audio.

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Despite the massive growth of digital audio, with advertising revenue in the space reaching $1.6 billion in 2017, advertisers continue to struggle to make an impact with new targeting techniques. To help brands navigate these important, underutilised channels, Adobe Advertising Cloud, part of Adobe Experience Cloud, is partnering with A Million Ads, a global leader in data-driven audio marketing.

Brands understand the importance of emotional connections and know that in a busy, noisy world, it’s best to communicate with consumers in a personal way without being intrusive. Adding higher-level capabilities like dynamic creative and real-time user data can help marketers create and deliver context-aware, targeted audio ads that have greater standout, higher recall and better engagement — vital requirements when trying to reach people who no longer listen to the radio and instead focus time across a multitude of streaming audio platforms.

To ensure marketers have all of the right tools, Adobe Advertising Cloud and A Million Ads, are partnering to expand the ways advertisers target and capture the attention of key audiences with personalised, data-driven audio ads. Through A Million Ads’ sophisticated technology, advertisers have insights into a user’s location, time, weather and device. With access to this data, advertisers can combine their targeted messages and determine the best sequence of hearing an ad.

“Data-driven audio marketing has delivered significant impact for us, specifically with student markets,” said Jake Taylor, Digital Marketing Manager of furniture solution provider, CORT. The ability to hyper-personalise messaging and target audio ads to key listeners has already driven fantastic results for us. That’s why we are extremely excited about the partnership between Adobe Advertising Cloud and A Million Ads – as the expanded capabilities will help us both better target our valued audiences and stretch our campaign dollars.”

Steve Dunlop, Founder and CEO of A Million Ads said, “Audio is the hottest channel is advertising right now and  we provide the tools that advertisers need to reach consumers with more relevant and personalised content than ever before. Partnering with Adobe gives us the opportunity to ensure consumers across podcasts, online radio and music streaming platforms are being served with better quality, less invasive and more relevant advertising.”

“Customers have really resonated with the opportunity to expand dynamic creative efforts in audio marketing from the performance world to the branding world – in an effort to achieve branding KPIs,” said Justin Merickel,  Vice President of Adobe Advertising Cloud. ‘Audio, Video and branding efforts need just as much hyper-personification in this noisy world as Direct Response campaigns.

“Instead of showing the same ad across platforms and devices, advertisers need to actually create a story for their customers. Many marketers struggle to use the right technology to create truly creative, customised ads. We’re giving the right tools for brands to create strategy and be able to engage with people with the right content at any given moment and on any device.”

Adobe Ad Cloud customers can immediately start using the power of A Million Ads, more info found here.

About Adobe Advertising Cloud

Adobe Advertising Cloud is the industry’s first end-to-end, independent platform for managing advertising across traditional TV and digital formats. By focusing on brand safety, improving transparency and leveraging the full power of Adobe Creative Cloud and Adobe Experience Cloud, our platform enables advertisers to gain greater control of their global advertising spend and achieve their business objectives. The platform already manages roughly $3 billion in annualised ad spend on behalf of more than 1,000 global clients, including Allstate, Ford, Heineken, L’Oréal, MGM, Southwest Airlines and Wells Fargo.

About A Million Ads

A Million Ads personalises digital audio advertising. Think music streaming ads that know what city you are in, or radio ads on your smart speaker that know if it’s raining outside. Our ads are more context aware and relevant to the listener, and so perform a lot better. We have delivered over 180 campaigns across Europe for brands including Sky, BMW, British Airways, Deliveroo, Carphone Warehouse, Virgin Atlantic and Nissan, are working with five out of the six major advertising agencies and have partnerships with all the major music streaming, internet radio and podcasting services around the world.

We exist to make ads that you love. We do that by combining creativity in the production process with a tech platform that, powered by data, delivers the best ad at the right time for each user.

Today we deploy our personalisation engine across digital audio and we are now extending that capability across many other channels, starting with video.

About Adobe

Adobe is changing the world through digital experiences. For more information, visit www.adobe.com.

A Million Ads: plumbed in

Building bridges. Photo by  Mark Basarab  on  Unsplash

Building bridges. Photo by Mark Basarab on Unsplash

Over the past few months we've been working hard with many of the largest players in the ad tech space and I'm delighted to announce that we now work with every major programmatic audio buying platform.

This is great news for brands, advertisers and their agencies as it means that you can now buy personalised dynamic audio from A Million Ads using your existing DSP.

We've always been available via the audio ad tech specialists and directly with some publishers but now we can add some of the biggest digital ad platforms in the world to that list. This coincides with digital audio advertising getting more attention from the traditional display or video ad tech vendors, who have been adding audio to their offerings. Wherever digital audio inventory is being traded, the creative of that ad can now be personal and dynamic.

Get in touch if you want to make your digital audio ads work harder and are interested in running a dynamic campaign using your existing buying platform.

UK personalised audio startup, A Million Ads, raises £2.3m seed ahead of formal US Launch

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  • A Million Ads intelligently personalises audio adverts by combining contextual information with an advertiser’s message to create highly relevant, better performing ads

  • £2.3m round led and priced by GMG Ventures with Edge Investments contributing £1.3m. Other investors in this round included Bertelsmann Digital Media Investments, Force Over Mass Capital, and Ascension Ventures (who are following on from previous rounds)

  • Cash injection will fund the company’s product development in its core audio offering, the launch of a personalised video product and US market expansion

  • The company is a recent graduate of the Founders Factory’s tech accelerator programme, where the media vertical is backed by GMG Ventures in partnership with The Guardian

A Million Ads, a London-based start-up making digital audio advertising more relevant and context-aware, has raised £2.3m in seed funding.

A Million Ads was founded by CEO Steve Dunlop, who has built a stellar team and pioneered personalisation in audio. A Million Ads is an innovative platform for producers and creatives to quickly and easily build millions of versions of an advertisement. The platform leverages information known about consumers, the brand and a campaign to influence the creative of the ad, such as the music, voice-over or sound effects. The result is highly relevant ads, which are delivered real-time, reducing noise for consumers. The ads are more context-aware, creating a more pleasant listening experience, therefore performing better than traditional advertisements.

The company is already working with music streaming, internet radio and podcasting services around the world, producing campaigns for brands such as Virgin Atlantic, Audible, BMW, Ebay, British Airways and Deliveroo. A Million Ads is fully GDPR compliant and uses environmental and aggregate data to make ads feel more personal to each user.

The audio market has recently experienced a resurgence thanks to developments in technology and consumer habits. Audio-on-demand (such as podcasting) is experiencing the same growth trend as music streaming and video-on-demand, benefiting the company’s core proposition.  Moreover, there is clear demand from consumers for better quality, less invasive, more ethical and more relevant advertising.

Funds raised in this round will see the company expanding its product to include video, as well as accelerating growth in the US, where the company already has a blue-chip client base.

Steve Dunlop, Founder and CEO of A Million Ads, said: “We are at the heart of two of the hottest trends in advertising – audio and personalisation. By innovating in the creative process, we provide the tools that advertisers need to reach consumers with more relevant and personalised content than ever before. This backing from our investors is a clear signal that we are on to something, and the funds will help accelerate our international growth as well as apply our personalisation know-how to other channels, starting with video where the market opportunity is clear.”

Alan Hudson, Managing Partner from GMG Ventures LP said: “Among its investment themes, GMG Ventures invests in talented founders, who are leading companies disrupting traditional media business models, including advertising.  A Million Ads’ value is clear and tangible to both consumers and brands, while it benefits from significant market tailwinds.  We are also excited about its US market traction to date, indicating an attractive growth opportunity for the company.”

David Glick, Founder and CEO at Edge Investments, said: “A Million Ads fits exactly with Edge’s investment remit; a creative-led, technology-enabled business run by an experienced and talented entrepreneur which is poised to become the leading player in this space by positively changing the consumer experience and delivering huge value to advertisers and publishers. With this additional capital, A Million Ads’ world-class technology and excellent team will propel it to the next stage of growth in the UK and overseas.”

About A Million Ads

A Million Ads personalises digital audio advertising. Think music streaming ads that know what city you are in, or radio ads on your smart speaker that know if it's raining outside. Our ads are more context aware and relevant to the listener, and so perform a lot better. We have delivered over 130 campaigns across Europe for brands including Sky, BMW, British Airways, Deliveroo, Carphone Warehouse, Virgin Atlantic and Nissan, are working with five out of the six major advertising agencies and have partnerships with all the major music streaming, internet radio and podcasting services around the world.

We exist to make ads that you love. We do that by combining creativity in the production process with a tech platform that, powered by data, delivers the best ad at the right time for each user.

Today we deploy our personalisation engine across music streaming, internet radio and podcasting services and we are now extending that capability across many other channels, starting with video.

About GMG Ventures LP

GMG Ventures LP, a venture capital fund whose sole limited partner is the Scott Trust, owner of the Guardian, invests in early stage businesses focused on developing the next generation of media technology which will accelerate GMG’s strategy, or be adjacent and disruptive to the media sector.    Examples of sectors we focus on include tools for journalism, including AI and blockchain, payment technologies, tools or platforms allowing readers to act on content that inspires them, new forms of content distribution, including audio and VR. As part of our strategy, we seek to provide portfolio companies with unfair advantage due to their ability to leverage Guardian resources such as potential access for start-ups to The Guardian's extensive global network.

About Edge Investments

Edge Investments is one of the UK’s most dynamic and innovative specialist investors in the creative industries. Since its launch in 2006 it has raised £200m. In November 2015 Edge launched the Edge Creative Enterprise Fund, a £40 million fund with backing from the British Business Bank.

Recent investments have included video and audio platforms Newsflare and audioBoom, Antidote, a factual TV production company, TRX, a TV licensing platform, Airbeem, a leading Over the Top (‘OTT’) video distribution platform and kid’s activity market place Hoop. Edge Investments has also invested in children’s entertainment, live events and mobile games analytics.

Core to Edge’s approach is its experienced team of creative industries and investment professionals. Individually and collectively, the Edge team has been investing in venture capital since 1984 across 11 separate funds.

A Million Ads And GDPR

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GDPR is the new data privacy regulation now in force across Europe. You will have felt the effects of this from the torrent of emails asking you to re-subscribe to mailing lists or give your consent to being contacted.

GDPR is great for us - you and me - the average internet user, who innocently traverses the web minding our own business. It provides a set of requirements for the sites we visit and the services we use to treat us and data about us with respect and enforces a common-sense set of rights. This legislation will weed out the "bad actors", the people and companies who have been acting nefariously, and for everyone else, provide a level playing field.

At A Million Ads, we need to share user data between our partners in order to personalise our adverts for you. Data sharing is at the heart of what we do so we built GDPR-compliant practices into our product and processes from the start. This blog post is part of us being open and transparent about what we do and how we do it.

Everything is clearly set out in our privacy policy, but here are a few highlights.

First, GDPR does not stop anyone sharing data, its just states that sharing has to be done lawfully, transparently and with a specific purpose.

We work with big, well-recognised players in the music / audio / radio sphere who are complying with the legislation to collect, store, process and share personal data, and pass it to us so that we can provide our ad personalisation service. Our publisher partners have a very clear value exchange with their users, who appreciate sharing data to get the value of the service.

In GDPR-speak, we are data-controller in tandem with our partners and our legal basis for collecting and storing personal data is legitimate interest.

Over the last couple of months we have been working with an expert GDPR lawyer to double-check that we are up to spec: from our updated privacy policy, through to staff training and working with our suppliers and customers to ensure their compliance.

Finally, we have a Data Protection Officer and any queries can be sent to privacy@amillionads.com.

Photo by Matthieu A on Unsplash

AI Talking to me?

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I did my first Power of Sound presentation in 1998. Not using any visual cues was unnerving to begin with but practice and various memory training tricks helped make it fairly slick. By the time I’d delivered it maybe a dozen times I was offered 30 minutes in front of the marketing director for a big non-radio spending insurance brand. I was well rehearsed but on entering the boardroom at Capital he promptly announced something had come up and I now had just 5 minutes to convince him of the creative potential of sound and radio. Branding is hugely important in industries where product features are easily copied. Brands are defined by how we feel towards them - the emotional connection. Sound is how we receive most of the emotional information through our lives. I looked at my playlist and said I wanted to play just two audio clips, back to back, to prove that point:

It worked, he agreed. In under 5 minutes sound had managed to take him to the opposite poles of human emotion. Genuine human emotion delivered through the instrument we’ve evolved for that specific role, our voice. 

There is a lot of chat around voice, it’s the hot topic of the moment, particularly with the impressive Duplex demo in the Google I/O keynote earlier this week.
 

There are more details in their blog post here

Just after the UK launch of the Amazon Echo in the Autumn of 2016, I wrote a blog post titled "Why it’s good to talk, trust, think and feel", in which I explored the origins of human speech and the potential for synthetic voices where I linked to Wavenet, the work of DeepMind AI. They have been part of Google since 2014 and are undoubtedly behind many of the impressive aspects of Duplex. It’s funny as an audio creative I’ve always been drawn to natural, emotive vocal delivery,  trying to distill and replicate its impact in my own presentations and yet when it comes the production of ads we often remove the imperfect, the umms, arrhs and breathes, unless it’s dialogue of course. However why shouldn’t they remain in some announcement, single voice scenarios. If they need to be added to enable trust in the delivery of a synthetic voice then perhaps we should be more forgiving in other circumstances.

The other noteworthy recent development in this area was the synthetic recreation of JFK’s voice to deliver the speech he never gave in Dallas - 1963, the day he was assassinated. This was the work of Edinburgh based Text to Speech specialist, CereProc.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/jfk-video-hear-kennedys-lost-dallas-speech-in-his-own-voice-xtkvhm255

There are some really interesting applications for this technology with A Million Ads, starting with simply testing how dynamic scripts might sound within our Studio pre-production, right through to voicing huge lists of store locations, retargeted product catalogues or all known first names to entire campaigns. The key creative aspects to believable synthetic voices are the same we are dealing with when ensuring that dynamic campaigns using human voices sound indistinguishable from non-dynamic broadcast style ads. Particularly making sure dynamic edit points are compatible with the way we naturally merge sounds in the way we speak. However longer term the idea of being able to synthetically sample and recreate people’s voices could have a profound effect on voice talent. I used a CereProc synthetic voice, that we considered the most believable called Stuart, for this Nissan Leaf pitch demo highlighting that lack of emotional engagement. 

Of course synthetic voices currently lack genuine emotional delivery, but it would be naive not to consider their eventual improvement through artificial intelligence to the point where we can’t tell them apart from a human voice in certain circumstances. So we’re intrigued to experiment with synthetic voices to fully understand their capabilities as they develop. The future could involve applications for recreated synthetic voices of well known people who have consented for such use. We can licence a David Bowie song for an ad campaign, will we eventually be able to have it voiced dynamically by Sir John Hurt?

This advert is amazing! Conscious personalisation with Virgin Atlantic

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At A Million Ads we split our personalised creative approach into sub-conscious and conscious, with sub-conscious personalisation pricking your attention by coincidentally and perhaps subtly mentioning your nearest city, or what the weather is like for you right now. We've done plenty of campaigns that deploy these techniques to great effect.

Conscious personalisation, however, lets you as the listener know exactly what is going on by exposing what data we know about you.

So, imagine you are listening to your favourite audio service on a cloudy Saturday afternoon in Northampton ...

 
 

Working with Adam&Eve, PHD and OMGP we put together this Virgin Atlantic campaign for their Amazing January Sale and it is the first ad that deploys conscious personalisation.

We understand that conscious personalisation triggers a different part of your brain and sure enough, listeners of this ad have taken to Twitter to let us know what they think.

 
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Our dynamic creative approach allows advertisers to communicate more personally and intimately with listeners than ever before. For Virgin Atlantic we reference the weather, day of the week and your location.

 
A sample Virgin Atlantic script line displayed with the rules that power the audio

A sample Virgin Atlantic script line displayed with the rules that power the audio

 

The blue lines in the script each correspond to a dynamic data point, creating over 24,000 possible versions of the ad, so that listeners in locations such as Coventry, Southend-on-Sea, Exeter and Hull hear the version that is most relevant to them.

We know that when an ad is more relevant and aware of our context, it performs better. This was clearly demonstrated by some interesting reactions across Twitter, such as this comment from Paul O’Donnell:

 
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Whilst no government agency was involved in the production of this ad, as with any leap in technology, it's going to take some getting used to. Like Aaron says: 

 
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We are delighted with this campaign and it really proves that our personalisation technique can create the cut through that all advertisers dream of.

Some people, however, will never be happy:

 
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Cheeky.

Drawing a Crowd With Dynamic Creativity

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A Crwth is an ancient stringed instrument with it’s roots in early Anglo-Celtic culture, a predecessor of the modern guitar it was played by traveling musicians across Europe. My surname, Crowther, is derived from these musical storytellers who unlike me, had a fairly high social status. That’s because they were an influential alternative source of information from that of the Church. While both the Church and Crwth players used storytelling, music and performance to get their message across, the tone was very different between the two, the Church used authority and consistency, Crwth players were the entertainers, using more emotion through music, rhyme, drama and comedy to tell stories of battles and affairs of court. They became influential because of their popularity, the English word Crowd is derived from the large gatherings that resulted from a Crwth player arriving in a town with the latest ‘entertainment’ news. Information has always been power, the Church distributed theirs through scripture as they controlled the production of books. Before the invention of the printing press, books were expensive to produce, they took many man hours to produce but with monasteries across Europe, they had access to a dedicated workforce. Books ensured the distribution of a consistent message, where as word of mouth can get skewed to the priorities of the storyteller, where they are and the mood they’re in at the time the stories being retold.

So what does this have to do with modern day advertising? Media traditionally has been planned around frequency, repetition of a consistent brand message which creates familiarity and has the effect of psychologically conditioning consumers, making it easy to subconsciously select a brand from amongst the ‘noise’ of competing brands. Of course this can be amplified if you simply don’t allow or greatly restrict any competing noise, something the Church learnt thousands of years ago and is also being practiced in many London Tube stations by the Trivago poster campaign.

Some commentators haven’t minced their words on the subject, like this article in The Drum - Doing shit work is easy when nobody gives a fuck - I understand the frustration expressed by Dave in this article, however I doubt any of the people he chastises were even employed, it’s a cost efficiency driven econometric tested results driven campaign, globally planned and created in-house on a shoestring (shoot me if I write that sentence ever again). That’s my explanation of it, not excuse for it, because as with Dave it goes against all my creative instincts, media brawn over creative brains. I took the picture above at Westminster Station and you can’t ignore them but I would have loved it if the final poster in the line had the Trivago girl being caught with her feet up, cup of tea in hand and searching for a new more interesting job, quick Indeed/Monster get in there!

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The psychologist Ivan Pavlov with the help of his hungry dogs proved the concept of classical conditioning, however what is lesser known is that when he tried to repeat his experiments in front of guests the dogs didn’t respond as before. As well as identifying classical conditioning, Pavlov had identified something he termed the orienting response, which is a reaction to novel or significant stimuli. New people coming into the house are suddenly more interesting and overrides the conditioned response, humans like dogs are curious creatures. I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts that communication is a process of appealing to both our conscious and subconscious brain. What Crwth players and live performers of any kind have learnt, is that their performances have more impact the more emotional, dramatic, entertaining and tailored to the priorities of the audience they can make them. Due to the fact their method of delivery was live and dynamic by necessity, it lacked the consistency of written word being spread from the pulpit, but they used that to their advantage by reacting to significant stimuli all around them to tailor their storytelling.

Dynamic, personalised creative allows brands to reflect this human instinct and can either be used to elicit the subconscious conditioned response for brand building or provide the conscious significant stimuli of the orienting response for tactical messaging.

If you’d like to hear more about the power of personalised dynamic creative, please get in touch. I‘m perhaps an example of nominative determinism, travelling and presenting through sound, although I’ve ditched the Crwth for an iPod.

Now Pay Attention, I’m Talking Bull!

Fearless Girl, McCann New York for State Street Global Advisors

Fearless Girl, McCann New York for State Street Global Advisors

I usually wake early, but thanks to a transatlantic flight body clock I recently found myself up and out of my New York hotel for a run before 5am. Watching the sun rise behind Brooklyn Bridge was spectacular but my main aim was to visit a small four foot statue on Wall St… Fearless Girl. It was early but she was stilI attracting attention, the group visiting from Kansas in the picture above, were there to avoid the inevitable crowds later in the day. Fearless Girl is the idea of the ad agency, McCann New York, for their client State Street Global Advisers. It is a statement about the power of women in leadership. and has attracted a huge amount of global attention - it was awarded the Titanium Grand Prix at the recent Cannes Lions. It’s an idea that resonates with people who enthusiastically share it on social media perhaps because that idea is manifested in beautifully crafted art.

Art is an idea wrapped in sensorial persuasion
— Alain de Botton Author & Philosopher

What makes this communication so influential? Why did a young girl from Kansas get up so early to be pictured next to it in a ‘Girls are strong T-shirt? Is it a one off, or are there lessons for an industry that trades in sensorial persuasion? What is the relationship between attention and influence? Another piece of communication that did well at Cannes was this film, Evan.

 
 

It cleverly uses the inherent weakness of human attention to make its point, principles highlighted in the famous invisible gorilla experiment, a psychological demonstration of the selective nature of human attention. The fact we say ‘pay’ attention is a big clue to its nature, because attention has a cost. By focusing on something we are blinkered to much of what else is going on around us.

I was in New York at the invitation of our friends at Pandora to speak on a Psychology of Personalised Sound panel at the One Club Creative Summit. The subject of human attention was a central part of that discussion but sonic and visual cues have very different effects on attention. We see far less than our brain cleverly makes us believe we’re seeing. I’ve ridden motorbikes since I was eighteen, when I was learning I had a conversation with an RAF Harrier pilot, a veteran of the Falklands War. He taught me what they teach fighter pilots. To look and see you have to look twice, only then do you see the movement of an object in your peripheral vision be it a car or an aircraft, otherwise you can be completely blind to it.

In our evolution hearing and listening performed a different function. It allowed us to survey our environment 360 degrees, over a decent range, 24 hours a day. To do this consciously would have been utterly draining so we do it subconsciously. Anything that is then a potential threat to us, or personally relevant, attracts our conscious attention. This evolved a process commonly known as selective attention - The Cocktail Party Effect.

 
 

Advertising occasionally uses the threat response of selective attention but self relevance is far more acceptable. The relevance of anything is how it personally makes us feel. Our emotions, or more specifically our emotional memories, are key and as discussed in earlier blog posts, sound and emotion are intrinsically linked. Fearless Girl and Evan like most powerful communications are emotional stories in different forms. They are powerful discursive tools that make it easy for people to share and comment on issues as important as gender equality or as vital as missing the social clues to gun violence. They make these issues accessible as the attention that they garner becomes self-relevant leading to shares on social media. The strength or value of any story is in it’s ability to form or change perception. As Rory Sutherland regularly argues, all value is a matter of perception with context and self relevance being crucial in how we experience the world. The girl is only fearless in the context of standing up to the Bull of Wall St.  

Tell me the facts and I’ll learn.
Tell me the truth and I’ll believe.
But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever,
— (Ancient Proverb)

At A Million Ads we believe the value of dynamic personalisation in advertising is in its ability to attract attention by being more self relevant and contextually aware. Creating methods of communication that can positively shift brand perception.

We are applying this thinking to Deliveroo’s current dynamic digital audio campaign, which changes by timebands through the working week to suggest an appropriate service and then purely by weather at the weekends.

This means that at Tuesday breakfast time in Brighton someone will hear this message:

While someone in Manchester on a weekday evening will hear this:

...And if you're in London and it’s sunny this then be sure to listen out for this:

Partnership between RMS and A Million Ads announced

Hamburg, 25th April 2017

RMS partners with A Million Ads to deliver personalised audio advertising. The audio sales house RMS and UK start-up A Million Ads are bringing Dynamic Creative to the German audio market.

 
 

RMS, the leading German audio sales house, and A Million Ads, a global leader in data­-driven audio marketing, announced their cooperation on the German market today. A Million Ads specialises in the delivery of dynamic content and personalised adverts for online audio. It is the UK company's first partnership in Germany. This shows the continuing growth of Programmatic Audio. 


Thanks to the partnership, RMS now has access to the technology and creative approach developed by A Million Ads for the marketing of its online audio portfolio and can link them with its own adserver. Based on the known user information, advertisers can mix dynamically generated elements within a campaign, and thereby create personalised audio spots with a vast amount of possible combinations. The data which A Million Ads can access from the outset includes the location, time, weather and user device as well as the sequence of hearing the ad. In the next stage, first party data will become available, e.g. from login or usage. 


Frank Bacher, Head of Digital Media at RMS: "We are delighted to have gained A Million Ads, an experienced expert in personalised, data-powered online audio advertising, as a partner. This will give advertisers the chance, for the first time, to adjust and place advertising spots in real time for individual target groups. Thanks to this precise transmission, we can gain maximum attention in relevant situations. That is a real ground-breaking innovation for the audio advertising market. Dynamic Creatives emphasises the high quality of the online audio format. Together with A Million Ads and the campaigns of the first selected advertising partners, we will drive forward new developments in the German audio market."


Steve Dunlop, Founder and CEO at A Million Ads: "RMS are the obvious partner for us in the German market. Their scale and capability offers advertisers the chance to reach millions of consumers. Now, with A Million Ads, those moments can be personalised to each individual listener, capturing more attention and driving ROI for advertisers."


At the moment, the preparations for the first test campaigns are ongoing in cooperation with a large agency network. 

About A Million Ads
A Million Ads delivers personalised audio creative on-the-fly and at scale. driving higher brand engagement and greater media effectiveness. We make this possible by combining cutting-edge technology with innovation in the creative process to deliver relevant and personalised digital audio ads in real time. 
Contact: press(at)amillionads.com


About RMS
As the leading audio sales house in the German audio marketing market, RMS helps its clients to get closer to their target groups and their purchasing decisions, both in terms of location, time and topic. To do this, RMS offers services from the whole audio spectrum; advert times and formats as well as online offers from 165 private radio stations nationwide. On top of that, they are also leading the market in web radio and mobile apps. The marketing offer is supplemented by further services for market research, media planning and creation. In 2016, the revenue of the RMS partner stations was 1,270 billion Euros, according to Nielsen Media Research. The Chairman of the Board is Florian Ruckert. RMS has offices in all large German agency cities. The company's headquarters are in Hamburg Together with RMS Austria, RMS is the biggest audio sales house in Europe.

Contact: Kirsten Schade, Company Communication Press spokesperson, RMS Radio Marketing Service GmbH & Co KG
T. +49 (0) 40. 23890-153 M. 0175 8346079 E. schade@rms.de

SXSW: Highlights From The Influential Austin Experience 

Steve and I are off to Austin, Texas, USA for South by South West's annual Film, Music and Interactivity festival that should be in every media influencer's diary. We’re newbies to the whole SXSW experience but along with the Cannes Lions it is a key opportunity to showcase A Million Ads to the media industry and I’m speaking as part of the Brands and Marketing track of the Interactive festival. As we have some coffee fuelled travel time, here are a few thoughts on what makes SXSW such an influential event.

I bought an early generation iPod in 2002, or rather Capital Radio Plc my employer at the time did. Before then I had put sonic presentations together on tape, DAT, CD and/or minidisc. We had thousands of audio clips, radio ads and soundtracks from TV ads in an archive grandly called 'The Sonic Laboratory'. The iPod, cleverly pitched as ‘a thousand songs in your pocket’, offered a perfect solution to the fact that in those days we played individual clips from a playlist which had different orders for different clients. So now there was no need to re-record, burn or reorder on these different formats. The iPod, or rather the iPod + iTunes, was every sonic presentation I could ever want to give in my pocket. The problem was, after about a year of use the battery died, and it couldn't be replaced for less than the cost of a NEW iPod! That’s pretty annoying even if you didn’t stump up the substantial cost in the first place. This issue really irked the filmmaker Casey Neistat. In fact, it annoyed him so much that he decided to make a public service film called iPod’s Dirty Secret about his direct action on iPod’s iconic poster campaign. It became the first viral online video I can remember. It might not seem significant now but this was 2003, YouTube didn’t launch until 2005, to watch the short film you needed to patiently download it! I kept a close eye on Casey’s career ever since and he went from having his own HBO show with his brother, to producing commercials, to becoming one of the biggest YouTube stars out there, to launching a Tech Media company which he recently sold to CNN. Casey is discussing his fascinating journey at SXSW 2017, and this is his most recent film about what it means to be a creator.

 
 

Casey has claimed that is was his young son that introduced him to YouTube because he wasn’t that impressed his dad had an HBO series as he and his friends didn’t watch TV. It’s hardly ground breaking to highlight the impact the internet has had on video content but it feels online audio content is now being talked about in a similar way in it’s evolution. Video and audio are very different and consumed in different ways but people’s attraction to on demand, personalised content will only continue to accelerate.

My presentation content has evolved over the years, some of the core examples have survived from the playlists of that first iPod while others have been added, developed or are the result of research. Around the time that iPod battery was dying, I was involved in commissioning research into Musical Fit and the Recall of Radio Ads with Professor Adrian North who at the time was at Leicester University’s, Centre for Psychology. We had been draw to his fascinating work into music and consumer behaviour, through his study into the effect music has on wine purchasing preference (a study we mention in the animation on our home page). To understand how marketing and advertising works, it’s logical to look at how human communication works and the work of psychologists around the world. Advertising is about influence so it was no wonder the work of Dr Robert Cialdini would come up, because he quite literally wrote the book on the Psychology of Influence. I've found his theory on the 6 weapons of influence a great way to showcase influential sonic creative and was fortunate to get a pre-release copy of his recent new book, Pre-suasion, from his publishers. Robert is discussing this new book with Guy Kawasaki at SXSW and he also quotes Adrian’s wine study in the opening chapter.

 
 

Although we applied to speak at SXSW well before we had agreed to work with Pandora, it’s now a happy coincidence we can be here with them as they are one of the festival's major sponsors. With them sitting perfectly between two of the three main strands, interactive and music, they have a big presence all over Austin. If you happen to be at SXSW our session is called Subconsciously Seduced by Sound, 11.00 – 12.00, Salon E, JW Marriott. Where we will be presenting our theory on how and why our subconscious has such an impact on the information we’re influenced by and how brands can use dynamic creative and personalisation to take advantage.

 

SXSW: Subconsciously Seduced by Sound

MAR 15, 2017 | 11:00AM – 12:00PM, JW Marriott, Salon E

The digital age is responsible for a dramatic decline in the human attention span. However brand advertising has a powerful secret weapon, sound. Or more specifically, communicating to people’s subconscious with sound. From utilising the passive nature of hearing to psychologically condition people to using selective attention to make people actively listen, relevant sounds have an extraordinary effect on influencing emotional memory, behaviour and brand selection. Join this experiential session to learn how this legacy of our evolution is being used in dynamic creative and personalisation for digital audio, helping brands communicate the way humans do instinctively.

Pandora Partners with A Million Ads to Become First Publisher to Deliver Dynamic Creative Audio Advertising

23 February 2017

Imagine a world where the advertisements you hear speak to you like a trusted friend. They get you. Your likes. Your perspective. And understand how to add value to your everyday life.

We’ve worked hard to make this level of personalisation a reality for your music listening experience on Pandora. We already know how important it is to deliver the right message, to the right person, at the right moment–so we are beyond thrilled to announce that we are entering an exclusive partnership with UK-based company, A Million Ads, to enable our advertising partners to do this at even greater scale and efficiency.  

Together Pandora and A Million Ads are working to establish a new standard for data-driven creative in audio advertising. Not only will this partnership allow brands to further personalise their creative on Pandora, but they will also be able to look at performance across many more variants.

By applying dynamic creative technology to the world of audio, select Pandora advertisers will soon be able to test these enhanced features (that we plan to make widely available later this year):

  • Dynamic Creative at Scale: Serve real-time, tailored audio ads to Pandora listeners through a single tag. In addition to gender, age and zip, these ads also take into account variables like location, time of day and weather–letting advertisers create up to thousands of versions of an ad easily and efficiently. Combined with Pandora’s registration data, this puts the true power of personalisation to work for your brand message.
  • Sequential Messaging: Tell a complete brand story with sequentially targeted audio ads. We’ve already seen how campaigns that prioritise storytelling over asking the consumer to make a purchase achieve more effective results.1 Now, we take that to the next level through an unstoppable combination of audio storytelling and sophisticated targeting technology.

Dynamic Creative Expected to Lead to More Effective Brand Messaging

Can you imagine the possibilities of serving hyper-personalised, real-time audio ads to an audience who is already engaged and immersed in a personalised music listening experience? The end result is a brand message that actually connects with the listeners. Instead of serving the same coffee shop ad across regions and demographics, Pandora advertisers can easily tailor their creative to achieve more relevance to the listener. For example, listeners in Oakland, CA might hear something like this:

We’re also excited to be enabling musical personalisation, where advertisers can leverage a variety of different music beds and sounds to match a listener’s current listening experience.

Key Performance Indicators Expected to Get a Boost

We’ve seen time and again that contextually relevant ads generate more resonance with their intended audience, leading to better performance in terms of engagement and recall. Through this partnership, we also expect to see key performance indicators get a boost, including the hard-to-move metrics of Brand Favorability and Purchase Intent.

“We share Pandora’s vision and value for personalisation within the unique and intimate audio environment,” said Steve Dunlop, founder and CEO of A Million Ads, “and I’m delighted to partner with Pandora to bring this to market at scale. Dynamic creative represents a significant step in innovation for digital audio advertising and we look forward to building on this partnership as we grow.”

Pandora advertisers can expect dynamic creative functionality to be widely available later this year. To learn more about our partnership with A Million Ads,

Sources:

1. The Science of Social Advertising, “A Research Study on Sequenced for Call to Action vs. Sustained Call to Action,” May 2014

Dreams and Strange Sonic Fruits

Dreams and Strange Sonic Fruits
“If facts don’t work, sing to them”
— Advertising Adage

In the post 1985, The Year I Started Listening we explored the two core aspects of sonic communication. The passive process of hearing and the active process of listening. In the post Why It’s Good To Talk, Trust, Think And Feel we explored the role of spoken language in sonic communication and particularly why - It’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it - is considered a universal truth. I began that with the inspiration of Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech which has influenced people ever since and was studied by Barack Obama before the creation of his Yes we can anthem. Why do certain speeches and phrases resonate so much? Simplistically it’s the emotion behind the words, but linguistically it’s how that emotion manifests itself through the way we change volume, pitch, intonation and rhythm. The more emotional we say something, the more musical it sounds. It is this link between voice and music we’re going to explore, voice is music and music is voice.

From 1982 until 1987 every Monday to Friday school term evening I sang evensong in Tewkesbury Abbey. We would also rehearse for an hour in the morning. Music played a big part in my life and education. There are three musical elements to an evensong, the Psalms, the Magnificat / Nunc Dimittis, and the Anthem. The Psalms were tedious, they were chants sung back and forth between Decani and Cantoris, the two sides of the choir. They were often long, boring and hypnotic to sing as a young boy, but relaxing to listen to now. The Magnificat / Nunc Dimittis are canticles and were more interesting to sing, basically they were the same lyrics each night but to different melodies. The part we always enjoyed singing was the Anthem, these would sometimes include such classics as Zadok the Priest... No... Think Champions League, and would also mark the end of the service, Hallelujah! That’s how we felt as young choristers and I suspect the release of endorphins was the intention for congregations over the many centuries.

 
While technology creates opportunities, it’s creativity that creates value
— Sir John Hegarty
 

Sound is difficult to ignore, it’s immersive, affects us regardless of where attention is focused and is able to manipulate a group of peoples’ collective emotions. The church, being perhaps the oldest organised communication experts out there, understood life was hard beyond their gilded walls, so designed services to stimulate the senses to generate emotional elation, from the mundane to joy, from the drudgery of daily life to beauty and splendour, from chants to champions league, from godlessness to godliness.

We instinctively and subconsciously add musical elements to our voices because we’ve implicitly learnt the tiny changes in volume, pitch, intonation and rhythm that enable us to understand the emotional state of the person in front of us, and convey our emotional state to them. However, I hadn’t heard a demonstration of quite how musical we sound when we speak, until I heard ‘sometimes behave so strangely’, the Speech to Song Illusion from the perceptual and cognitive psychologist, Diana Deutsch. I first came across it in this excellent Radio Lab Podcast.

The importance of sound in communicating emotions is perhaps why music and storytelling are so fundamental to human culture. Speech and song are so intrinsically linked because what is story telling if it isn’t adding emotional context to a set of actions and outcomes, more emotion, more musical it sounds. The greatest storytellers from Shakespeare to the Beatles have focused on the pillars of human emotion - love, power, fate, revenge, society, dreams. Legendary adman, Sir John Hegarty was recently quoted as stating, ‘While technology creates opportunities, it’s creativity that creates value’, and creativity in advertising is all about emotional storytelling. Interestingly this idea has been elegantly demonstrated in Google’s Oscar nominated virtual reality short film ‘Pearl’, a story that uses music as it’s central theme.

 
 

So when you have something to say, think about the way you say it, think about the emotion you want to convey and the way it comes across musically and if that fails to make an impression, sing. Some phrases just stick and you can’t read them without hearing the specifics of volume, pitch, intonation and rhythm in the way they they were originally delivered, from ‘I have a dream’ to ‘you talking to me?’ or ‘show me the money!’ or even, ‘I’m luv’in It’. The American Film Institute’s 100 years, one hundred movies quotes has ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’ from Gone with the Wind in the number one spot, a film with a link to perhaps the greatest example of music storytelling of all time and significantly predates Dr King’s speech. I’ll let a far more accomplished writer than me explain the story of Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit, I recommend you listen to the song while you read. A brilliant example of cognitive dissonance through music’s ability to subconsciously seduce while simultaneously, consciously shock and persuade.

 
 

Why It’s Good To Talk, Trust, Think And Feel

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During the first week of my first proper job at Capital Radio in 1997, something happened that caused a shiver down my spine, a feeling I can vividly remember to this day. I was played some audio I’d already heard countless times before, a clip of Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. What had changed was the context, the induction group I was part of was asked to read the phrase just before listening to it and asked what the difference was. It was so obvious, hearing the audio contains all the emotion. Something that we instinctively knew but had never consciously considered before then. A very simple but hugely effective way of demonstrating the power of sound and thus the power of radio. I mentioned this process in my first post, it’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it, a universal truth, but why?

To answer that we first have to ask why do we say anything, as a species why do we talk?

A clue to that might be heard on the scrublands of southern and East Africa. Vervet monkeys have three main predators, leopards, eagles and pythons. As a consequence they have evolved different, distinctive alarm calls for each that elicit different responses within a group. 

 
 

On hearing the leopard call the vervet monkeys run up the closest, highest tree, on the eagle alarm call they look up and run for low cover and on the snake call they stand up high and look down into the grass. Research has shown that the same responses occur when just audio recordings of the calls are played back, discounting the possibility the calls are general warnings and the presence of the predator is eliciting the response. Vervet monkeys are clearly communicating with sounds that have distinctive meaning, the starting point for words and language.

 
It’s hardly surprising that the ultimate threat of death could be the source of a profound, evolutionary leap like this...
 

It’s hardly surprising that the ultimate threat of death could be the source of a profound, evolutionary leap like this. However, the evolution of language itself has been considered the ‘hardest problem in science’ to solve, there isn’t a consensus as to why and how it happened. We believe it evolved rapidly in only the last 100,000 years and potentially had profound implications on the development of communal living, memory, the role of emotions in behaviour and the development of intelligence.

Our most primal instinct is for survival, through personal threat/response - fight or flight - and ensuring the continuation of our genes through procreation, which are also the sources of our deepest emotions. Our ability to communicate meaning through sound, and it’s association with these deep emotions, is perhaps why as language developed so did the areas of our brains associated with emotion and memory. After smell, sound is the closest sense linked to memory. Smell almost certainly has it roots in the process of bonding through grooming that is displayed in all the great ape family groups. However, our ability to simultaneously convey our feelings with actions allowed us to build trust through language as well and sound grew in importance. Trust is what humans had to develop to be able to co-ordinate and innovate for the good of wider communities as well as trade between communities. The association of sound and emotion also had a potentially profound effect on how we think. Can you imagine thinking without an inner voice? We can think about actions, visualising processes but language gives a whole new dimension for problem solving and the expression of concepts. This idea of the inner voice and thinking is explored in this fascinating RadioLab podcast.

 
Just as amino acids can be called the building blocks of life, associations can be called the building blocks of thought
— Dr Robert Cialdini
 

One of my favourite quotes from Dr Robert Cialdini’s new book Pre-suasion is “Just as amino acids can be called the building blocks of life, associations can be called the building blocks of thought” and the association of sound with the expression of human emotion is at the core of the importance in the way we say things. Regardless of how and why language evolved, influencing other human beings is a fundamental tenet of all the languages we have ended up with and is now at the forefront of our interaction with artificial intelligence like this year’s must have technology gift.

 
 

Realistic, believable, trustworthy speech synthesis is a fascinating field at the moment and the work of Amazon and Google’s Deep Mind, are certainly leading the way.

While text to speech and speech synthesis have fascinating potential, particularly for application with A Million Ads, they have a long, long way to go to capture the simple beauty and emotion of this classic radio ad… It’s the way you say it or as Bob says, it’s good to talk… 

Sam Crowther, Head of Creative Development

 
 

1985, the year I started listening

Our Head of Creative Development, Sam Crowther, writes about the significance of communicating through audio and the defining sounds on his personal journey.

1985 wasn’t the year I was born.

I’d already been around for over a decade by then, but it was the year I started listening to the world. Of course in a literal sense, we start hearing well before then, even before we’re born the ‘thump thump’ of our mother’s heartbeat is hugely reassuring. Those early years of childhood are preparing us for the world. Our parent’s voices introduce us to language and they also give us a personal sound to identifies us by. A sound we’ll react to more than any other sound for the rest of our lives….our name.

We’re quick to learn the significance of emotion in communicating with sound, you only have to witness the different ways a two-year-old toddler says ‘no!’ to realise the range of emotions that can be behind one, simple, short word. No, I’m talking about a moment when we fully, consciously understand the world of sound and specifically its significance to us as emotional creatures.

I was eleven years old and it was Live Aid.

It was a lovely summers day so we had the radio on outside and the tv on inside. My sisters sat glued to the tv all day while my elder brother and I were out playing cricket with it on as a soundtrack but the one moment that really caught our (and everyone’s) attention that day, was Freddie. At that moment I understood the connection between communication, voice, language, emotion and music. They’re one of the same.

 
 

It’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it.

A phrase that beautifully sums up the significance of sound, emotion and memory. If you wrote down what Freddie says it makes no sense and no elaborate use of adjectives can ever truly do justice to what you feel listening to it. It’s seared in my memory, in a way the Beatles or Hendrix did for the generation before and artists like Bieber and Adele are doing now. You will probably be thinking of the track, performance or artist that did it for you too. It’s no surprise music becomes so important through our teenage years, it’s the point we start working out what it means to be an emotional human being. The point we understand we can influence others and define who we truly are.

So we start listening to music, friends and media more and our parents less, because defining who you are means you need to start breaking away and learn independence. Back to the Future, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Mad Max also had significant impacts on me at that time. I started skateboarding, took an interest in DIY technology and aspired to ride a motorbike (which I’ve done ever since) and again the soundtracks are seared in my memory. However perhaps more significantly for my career is that brands understood the emotional connection sound can deliver.

We heard it through our speakers.

 

1985 was also the year of this iconic ad. The 50’s imagery is very powerful but it’s true impact came from the soundtrack, Marvin Gaye’s break-up song, ‘I heard it through the grapevine’. It began a decade of Levis’ ad soundtracks topping the charts and thus radio playlists, particularly those of the non-commercial but hugely influential, BBC. I heard the emotional values Levis wanted me to feel many more times than I saw them, they’re just blue jeans right! A brand using music to muscle its way into the soundtrack of my generation, whether we liked it or not.

 
 

So 1985 was the year I started listening, taking an interest in the way sound, music, culture and brands mix. Most people don’t analyse it in any depth, but subconsciously it is as much a part of us as our DNA. This was the first step on a personal journey that has led me to Creative Development at A Million Ads and this blog post. In future posts, I will explore and explain how and why personally relevant sound is so powerful with reference to research, theories and campaigns from the past, the present and with an ear on the future.

Sam Crowther, Head of Creative Development

The Sound of Personalisation

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The world is personal

Personalisation is everywhere. Emails, web pages, social feeds, music recommendations, Coke bottles.  And for the most part we accept that brands and companies can talk to us like they know us.

Some brands have more ‘permission’ than others – like Starbucks. We are used to walking into their stores and giving our name (though we may be a little more wary when it comes to PPI claims companies or government agencies).

In fact, our minds are tuned to react more favourably to messages that appear to be for us. We like familiarity and familiar people, so marketing that looks like it’s for us is instinctively more attractive (as long as it’s not delivered in a threatening or creepy way).

This is borne out in the performance of personalised campaigns. The conversion rate on a personalised email campaign for a UK retailer was 8% compared with just 1% on a less targeted campaign; an outdoor clothing retailer used weather-related imagery and changed the product selection based on the current weather and got a 5x uplift in CTR; and, an email campaign that used personalisation beat every KPI record: The number of active customers increased by 20% and open rates were up by 75%.

Dynamic Creative

To deliver these personal, context-aware messages and ads, we use “Dynamic Creative” tools.  Instead of delivering one generalised creative treatment to everyone, these tools deliver customised creative treatments to specific audiences (individuals or groups) that are more likely to be relevant to them.

This is normally done by creating a template, and using data about the recipient (viewer, listener, user) to fill it in. The killer feature of Dynamic Creative is the ability to do this at speed and at scale, efficiently creating millions of versions of ads.

Below is a Dynamic Creative display advert for Vodafone, where the text, language, background picture and product offer are selected dynamically based on where the viewer of the ad is located and whether they are an iPhone or Android user.

Picture credit:  Sizmek .

Picture credit: Sizmek.

Where’s Audio in all of this?

Until recently, marketeers have not been able to use audio as a platform for personalisation. Broadcast audio (radio by another name) cannot be personalised due to its one-to-many nature. But digital audio (audio delivered to a connected device) can be. Given that over 65% of all listening to digital audio is on headphones it is a brilliantly personal medium: right into people’s brains with singular messages, not like a webpage where there can be many different commercial messages in view at once. Sound has infinitely more power than text because it is how we express and receive the majority of our personal, emotional information throughout our lives.

This is why I founded A Million Ads: to create a technology solution and – importantly – develop the creative know-how to deliver effective personalisation and dynamic creative for digital audio.

Imagine the audio ads that you hear on your favourite music streaming, internet radio or podcast service being personalised with data about you, such as your name, age, location, favourite music, weather where you are… and changing the actual audio that you hear based on this. We can do this in real time as the ad is played for every user.

And it works: effectiveness and engagement increase significantly as a result. We recently conducted a 2,000 participant survey of digital audio listeners in the UK and demonstrated a 52% uplift in recall and a 49% uplift in engagement in comparison to regular, non-personalised campaigns.

Responsible personalisation

With the ability to talk one-to-one at scale comes responsibility: shouting someone’s name in every advert is going to burn very quickly. Plus robotic voices or edits that are not perfect will be spotted a mile off and kill the credibility of the format. At A Million Ads we take this responsibility very seriously and endeavour to set the standard for personalisation, not only with regards to technology and creative execution, but also appropriate and audience-friendly use of data and overall respect for privacy.

If you are an advertiser or agency currently using digital audio and want to add the personal touch to your campaigns, give me a shout.