Audio has never been particularly exciting to media buyers — except, of course, when it was the only electronic broadcast medium (radio). But recently, audio is looking interesting again, because new distribution channels for talk and music are being adopted wholesale by consumers.
In parallel, advertisers are looking for new channels, as ad -upported TV wanes at the hands of streaming, “supply chain” issues taint open web advertising, and governments put walled gardens under scrutiny.
Last year, out of the blue, Procter & Gamble became the top buyer of radio. Maybe they know something? According to Insideradio.com, “Network radio is on fire.” Now add streaming music. Now add Internet radio. Now add podcasts.
For comparison, the Nielsen Household Universe is 119 million, while podcasting fans live in half of U.S. households. That makes podcasting, by itself, big-reach media.
Add it all up and audio is crushing it, but why? Why audio, and why now?
Try this on for size.
In a world of multitasking (busy) people, it’s easy to do other stuff (e.g., drive, do dishes, walk) while listening, and dangerous while watching a screen.
A second possibility might have to do with media overload. Maybe the media universe has grabbed too much of our attention, so we are fighting back. It’s whiplash from ubiquitous screens, or maybe some sort of clawback for mental bandwidth. The visual system, after all, is the most energy-consumptive system in the brain by far.
It’s easy to see the rise of audio as a response to the explosion of pixels in our lives, but advertisers will want to know how and when to use audio effectively. Because audio is an established advertising medium, there is a lot of info out there on what works. However, the stew of possibilities is now so rich we might want to reframe rather than act out of rote.
Our brains are deeply connected to our ears. Sounds are part of how emotions are hard-wired to the most primitive parts of your brain. The theatre of the mind has a pit orchestra, and it’s in every little AI speaker in your life.
In audio, we have a sensory input that can adapt to any distribution channel, communicate any idea, and is deeply connected to emotion. And no line of sight is required. When neuroscience looks at the role of sound in advertising, it explains the power with terms like arousal, semantic memory, and associative memory.
Rethink the Role of Audio?
All these factors make audio wildly appropriate for advertising, and fodder for creativity. However, creative directors, despite a general charter to tell a memorable story, seem always to make pixels the center of the plan, leaving the audio budget with leftovers.
That’s too bad, because if a story is associated with an audio meme, it gets into heads, and there’s no stopping it. There’s a reason “I can’t get that song out of my head” is a thing.
Despite this, the soundtrack, once a star, now seems like a bit player. The jingle, once a fixture of advertising, and visceral connection to brand equity, is pretty much dead. The use of iconic music in advertising is rare, too. The opportunity to associate a popular song with a brand (creating associative memory) is rarely exploited.
Similarly, last year a chocolate company exec told me that a music streaming service had offered him the opportunity to advertise next to music that goes with chocolate. Now that’s creative.
So, audio distribution is having a renaissance, and audio creative will not be far behind. There are four new Cannes Lions categories for Audio Innovation.
The opportunity is to break through the clutter, surfing sounds into the subconscious, any time, and any place. It’s true that listening and clicking don’t go together naturally, but as our audio world begins to listen to us, that problem will go away (and be replaced by a worse problem).
Throw all that into a Super Bowl and stir. What we have is a chance to reinvent and rethink across a huge swath of advertising communication.