May 2, 2023

Time for a Recession Reset: Why Advertisers Can’t Afford to Overlook Audio Anymore

Audio combines a massive reach with flexible ad formatting up and down the funnel, enviable levels of audience engagement, and memorability, all while efficiently driving impact.

Ad expenditure is a reliable bellwether for overall economic health. Budgets inevitably swell during bull markets as companies take advantage of booming consumer confidence and spending, and the opposite is true during times of recession or economic uncertainty.

The current situation is murky at best. Although unemployment remains low, the thorny issues of inflation and rock-bottom consumer confidence are still posing problems. Consequently, advertising is inhabiting an awkward halfway point where brands aren’t really cutting back, but with no plans to spend with reckless abandon either. Faced with the reality of the economic situation, predictions for growth in the industry have been slashed to just 5.9 percent growth and 4.8 percent growth.

On the ground, this translates into a pervading sense of conservatism, with advertisers looking to spend in more results-driven ways. Awareness campaigns are secondary to the more immediate need to drive sales and make conversions. Strategies will change, and so too will the types of channels favored by advertisers seeking to stretch their ad budget further.

In this climate, audio is poised to emerge as a leading channel for advertisers and marketers. The past few years have been a period of rebirth for audio advertising. Rather than a relic from a bygone era, audio combines a massive reach with flexible ad formatting up and down the funnel, enviable levels of audience engagement, and memorability, all while efficiently driving impact.

A Built-In Audience

According to the Infinite Dial 2023 study published by Edison Research, approximately 75% of Americans 12 and up listened to online audio in some form in the past month—that number jumps to 89% of 12 to 34-year-olds and 85% of 35 to 54-year-olds. Before you think this has cannibalized radio, however, think again: US radio still reaches approximately 83% of adults on a weekly basis, and 87% of Sirius XM users, for example, listen to ads, viewing it as an equal trade for the content they get.

That reach has been boosted by the proliferation of new listening devices like connected cars and smart speakers. These internet-enabled devices provide new opportunities for brands to experiment with advertising formats, further expanding brand-building options.

Dynamic, Real-time Brand Building

Whatever the device, audio connects with listeners through sound, voice, jingles, or other musical accompaniment, a sonic logo (think McDonald’s “I’m lovin’ it” vocal jingle in all its forms), and more recent innovations, significantly reinforcing a brand and its message through multiple methods in a short amount of time. And with data provided by context like the date and time, metadata, genre, or analysis of previous content through machine learning, dynamic creative advertising is a perfect match for audio.

A pharmacy chain could, for example, identify where the user is in relation to a particular branch and deliver an advertisement that informs the listener about the quantity and brand of Covid vaccinations available. A campaign for a fast food chain, meanwhile, could serve ads for breakfast or dinner based on the time of download. With the ability to offer the best prices or deals in real time, dynamic creative connects with price-conscious consumers more than ever, driving them to stores and resulting in key ROI.

Ads can also take the form of a dialogue between the brand and the listener, enabled by smart speakers and other technologies. This format is relatively new, but already offers promise, with one study showing an 11% increase in memorability and a 24% increase in positive emotional response. With 75% of US households expected to own at least one smart speaker by 2025, this approach is sure to grow in popularity over the coming years.

For brands, this flexibility translates into a stronger return on investment. According to one 2020 report from Podsights, podcast ads deliver an average Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) of $2.42. A separate study from Nielsen showed that audio ads for a soft drink campaign delivered over the Pandora streaming service had the highest ROAS of any channel, beating other mediums like print, video, and out-of-home.

More Bang for the Buck

And for those worried about where their money is going, on top of audio’s reach, ads are simply considered part of the experience and can lead to stronger conversion or sale rates at just fractions of the cost. Per Infinite Dial, respondents were most likely to find ads unintrusive on AM/FM radio (48%) and podcasts (46%), with online-only audio not far behind (37%). Podcasts and AM/FM radio were the mediums least likely to have their ads ranked as very intrusive at 17% and 22%, respectively.

According to Edison’s 2021 Super Listeners report, over half of podcast listeners pay more attention to podcast ads, and 56% are more likely to buy a product if it’s advertised to them on a podcast. Radio outperforms as well— a recent study found that radio ads are 92% as effective as TV, with just a quarter of the cost per thousand impressions, or CPM. A 2022 study from Nielsen showed a radio Spring campaign increased a store chain’s sales by 10%, expanded the customer base by 17%, and grew the retailer’s category spend share by 15%. The end result across all audio formats is decreased waste and comparable efficacy as other mediums.

With the global economy mired in uncertainty, brands are rightfully making hard decisions about how much they’re prepared to spend on advertising going forward and how to allocate their precious budget. Audio offers a valuable combination of reach, relevance, and listener affinity — and it’s this combination that will drive sales and brand awareness going forward.

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