Digital Transformation Media Planning and Buying

Are 3D audio ads a sound medium for marketers investing in podcasts?


By John McCarthy | Media editor

May 18, 2021 | 8 min read

Popchips and Starcom are running 3D binaural ads in sponsored reads and branded segments of podcasts to help drive a greater impact with listeners. With spend flooding into the digital audio segment, The Drum explores how much traction this ad format will gain.

3D binaural

Binaural 3D audio makes an already intimate in-the-head experience even more personal

Popchips is running the ‘pop of positivity’ campaign in Acast platforms. The KP Snacks-owned brand is setting a ‘positivity challenge’ for listeners and to raise awareness of the brand – its first big campaign.

Working with Acast’s Creative ad solutions team, it developed binaural 3D ads that crunched Popchips in the 360 space around headphone-wearing listeners to further envelop them in the ad. The campaign ran across five top podcasts, including Romesh Ranganathan’s ‘Hip Hop Saved my Life’ and Katherine Ryan’s ‘Telling Everybody Everything’, with five-minute branded segments and ads with immersive audio.

Try it out below with your headphones on.

What is binaural 3D audio?

Generally, audio is recorded in mono (one microphone) or in stereo (two mics offering a left and right field).

Binaural goes one step further and implants both those two mics in a rubber head to replicate human hearing (which you can see in the image illustrating this article).

Listeners hear the sounds directionally relative to where the sound was made near the mic. A bang behind the rubber head will sound off behind the listener’s head. A car can zoom from right to left. Or monsters can prowl through the bushes at every imaginable angle to create the impression one is surrounded.

It’s an attempt to create immersive audio. Due to the mic set-up soundwaves take slightly longer to reach the further away mic and will be slightly quieter – just like the real thing.

This approach is receiving more attention due to virtual reality needing 3D audio to be passable. For advertisers, it makes an already intimate in-the-head experience even more personal.

The Interactive Bureau of Advertising UK (IAB) says in 2020 that the digital audio market grew by 17% year-on-year to a total of £103.7m. Podcast spend was up 43%. These mediums are increasingly traded programmatically.

Can binaural 3D sound be the next battleground of podcast advertising?

Popchip’s campaign

Zoe Cashin-Howe, marketing controller at KP Snacks, says: “Our product pushes the boundaries so from a brand point of view we need to do things new and a bit differently too.”

The low-fat crisp brand was acquired in 2018 by KP Snacks, and over the last year had a packaging refresh and its first TV advert. Now it has reached its first ‘true campaign’ beyond sampling and some ‘cool initiatives’.

Nicole Allen, account director, Starcom, outlined that the campaign was aimed at millennials who like their social and their podcasts. “We wanted to really utilize that intimate setting and create really distinctive assets that allow us to cut through and separate us from the other advertisers on other podcasts.”

There’s the multi-sensory pleasure one might take from snacking to emulate too, she says.

“There are so many sounds that you can relate to different products, you can really immerse somebody into your world. Most mediums are quite flat so it’s hard to create any emotion or feeling with just a 2D approach. We’re always thinking of ways to bring people into the journey.”

What Acast says

Podcasting company Acast helped deliver the Popchips campaign.

Jack Preston, director of Acast Creative UK & US, helps distribute ads across some 28,000 podcasts, which generated 872 million listens in the last quarter. Brands can inject ads into podcasts, they can have sponsored reads (more expensive), sponsored+ reads (that go into other podcasts) and sponsored stories, a new product allowing brands a bigger slot.

He says: “It’s our job to work out the best podcast strategy for our clients, and then decide how to bring that to life in a way that sounds amazing. It could be a collaboration with an existing podcast – like a supermarket creating long-form branded content with the Table Manners podcast, or launching an original podcast for a brand.”

30 UK brands have launched original podcasts from BMW to Now TV to Barclays – that’s up 100% year-on-year. He claims branded podcasts on Acast clock in at an average listening time of 28 minutes, attention brands would struggle to acquire in other mediums.

Preston says the spend in branded content is up, and partners are preferring that to just sponsoring existing entities. In 2020 creative campaigns made up 24% of Acast’s total revenue in the UK, up more than 70% year-on-year.

That’s big money compared to what 3D audio can offer. That’s more about added value and choice. Preston says: “It is not a differentiator for audio, but it’s definitely a differentiator for podcasting.

“It only works if you’re in a setting which has surround sound, such as a cinema, or are using a pair of headphones. For radio and streaming services the numbers of people listening via headphones are much smaller, which means podcasting is really the only medium where it makes sense to make that investment.”

It’s a ‘regular’ tool used by the podcast group in ads, original series and Sponsored Stories products. “It’s important to not overuse it and to avoid putting forward a gimmicky execution ... people want to hear clever uses of 3D audio that add value to the listening experience and complement the spoken word.”

Podcasting is winning because of its simplicity – does the 3D effect add something? In the video, PlayStation 5 has been using it in its trailers, again to drive immersion. It also has applications in music, adding extra intimacy to performances.

James Bishop, founder of fully-serviced podcast company OneFinePlay, says the tech of the business is “constantly changing” and 3D binaural spots are just one advancement to be aware of.

Instead of getting caught up in tech, look to build a relationship more directly with the creator. “Remember audio advertising is more of a brand build than a sale, don’t do it to shift units, it’s something you need to commit to over a period of months, so don’t get too bogged down by initial investment, it’s a long-term game.”

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