2021 Will Be The Year Of Audio Advertising Innovation

Zack Zalon, CEO & co-founder, Super Hi-Fi

Data-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Zack Zalon, CEO and co-founder of Super Hi-Fi.

Audio advertising is stuck in a time warp.

There have been no meaningful changes to speak of over the past ten years. In fact, one could argue that audio ads have been effectively the same since the 1970s – an experiential relic of how most audio entertainment was consumed at the time.

The question is, why? Why, in an era of unprecedented and accelerating digital innovation, are audio services still serving up dinosaurs of revenue generation?

Audio vs. video

While audio has stayed stagnant, video has seen consistent innovation that has helped create a rich digital ecosystem of marketing and revenue opportunities. Think of the skippable video ad that YouTube pioneered a decade ago, providing advertisers with an entirely new form of storytelling and the ability to drive commensurate advancements in targeting, retargeting and bidding.

At the time this seemed like a bold, risky move. But the byproduct was to create a marketplace of new incentives. If your creative didn’t hook a consumer in the first three seconds, then you lost out.

As a result, advertisers today have no choice but to generate more compelling creative, consumers are thereby fed a steady diet of more interesting and entertaining ads – and an entirely new cycle of value has been born.

It’s time for audio services to start innovating in a similar way, and early indications point to the fact that we’re finally on the cusp in 2021.

The ingredients are all there. YouTube recently announced a 15-second audio ad unit. SXM/Pandora, which now owns AdsWizz, would benefit greatly from new and compelling ad units. And Spotify has indicated publicly that there is a huge growth opportunity in the conversion of broadcast radio revenue into music streaming. All of these and more are hints at where things may go as the coming year unfolds.

Old-school inspiration

That said, there is still a question as to what these innovations need to look like, and I’d suggest that the smartest thing to do isn’t to emulate the past 10 years of online video, but to look farther back to the very medium from which today’s audio ads are derived: old fashioned radio.

No matter your opinion of the state of broadcast radio today, it’s still a powerful driver of audio entertainment. Hundreds of millions of Americans still tune in every week, and even during the pandemic there are signs that overall listening has grown.

Great radio is recognizable, compelling, and designed to keep a listener’s attention and interest. This is not to say that radio’s approach to advertising is perfect, in fact far from it. Nobody loves a multi-minute ad break chock full of insurance commercials. But there’s so much more to audio advertising than this one aspect of radio.

Think of the quick sponsorship reads that are subtle, but still noticeable. Think of a contextual ad, perhaps an announcement that a music group is coming to town right before the DJ plays one of the band’s songs. Think of a NPR station, where the sponsor is proudly announced prior to a program kicking off.

These are all audio ads, they’re just contextually more appropriate than what we’re used to in digital. They’re also shorter, tighter and less annoying by far.

Sounds like innovation

Now add in some of the benefits of being online. We can target ads much more effectively, so a short and punchy ad has a better chance of resonating with a consumer.

We also can serve up some interactivity, so that listeners can “click in” for a deeper experience, and to learn more. And we can provide a leave-behind so that even if an ad moves by quickly, consumers have numerous opportunities to connect with the brand after the fact.

In short, there is nothing stopping the industry from moving in this direction and triggering the next generation of audio advertising.

Realistically, though, it will take everyone in the value chain to make this happen. Brands, agencies, service providers and platforms will all have to adopt a new approach.

But the end benefit will be more effective ads, which lend themselves to better listening experiences, which are likely to drive significant improvements in consumer response –and in turn generate more revenue for the industry.

This is the semi-moonshot challenge I hope the industry accepts: Let’s make 2021 the year we commit to keeping people listening longer by bringing innovation to the audio ad space.

Follow Super Hi-Fi (@SuperHi_Fi) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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  1. This is absolutely incorrect. There is so much going on in the world of audio in terms of innovation and has been for the last couple of years. You now have companies such as A million ads offering dynamic audio which enables you to personalise audio ads with name, time, date, region, product and weather at an enormous scale. You have podcast companies such as Acast launching key word targeting around audio ads, which enables advertisors to be placed around content which specifically mentions words important to their campaigns/ads. You have Smart speakers launching innovative ways to click straight through to purchase after you have heard an ad. Not to mention the ever expanding portfollio of audio. Audio is no longer just airtime, you have Spotify, DAX, Youtube Music and Amazon to name but a few who are smashing and jumping on the music streaming game. Podcasts now have 9.1 million people listening in the UK alone. The innovation that has come with podcasts is astounding, from brands being able to do branded sessions, to talent read audio ads. To say that audio has been stuck in a time warp is completely misinformed and incorrect.

  2. Agree with Emily here. There have been huge advancements over the past few years. There are now even voice ads — ads you interact with by talking — on Pandora.

  3. Peter Hottenstein

    I agree with both Emily and Nils. Audio has grown much more sophisticated over the past few years and Emily did a great job of highlighting some advancements above but left out one (and perhaps the most) important feature; attribution. There are companies like Entercom’s RADIO.COM that are able to track consumers that were exposed to a digital audio ad and report back to the advertiser how many of them visited a site and converted into a new customer thus qualifying digital audio as a performance-marketing platform. Advertisers receive detailed reporting showing, to-the-dollar, all important metrics including CPA, cost per site visit & RoAS. Attribution along with skill building for smart speakers are the two features changing digital audio I would add to Emily’s list.

  4. I think the article was talking more about the creative than audio advertising, however, there is no doubt that audio is changing for the better, clubhouse and Co will drive awareness for sure. Adtones is a new audio medium that replaces the ring tone with an audio advert that terminates upon connection. Users subscribe and say what kind of ads would be of interest so very targeted and links can be sent via SMS as a call to action. Again the creative will be critical for success even with such a targeted media something many companies have not yet created.