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By Jenni Baker, Senior Editor

July 11, 2023 | 8 min read

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The Drum’s opinion editor John McCarthy gathered industry experts to take a detailed walk through the burgeoning world of digital audio to understand why advertiser interest doesn’t yet match consumer habits.

AdsWizz and Audio - catch up from Cannes

AdsWizz and Audio - catch up from Cannes

With the increasing popularity of podcasts, digital radio, and audio streaming, there’s been a boom of new ways to come to market. A heated debate in the Cannes sun with AdsWizz, Soundcloud, Octave Audio and Havas Media Group laid out exactly how advertisers can use the medium as a wonderful canvas (or vinyl?).

A big part is conveying to clients the power of the medium. Scott Walker, senior vice-president ad platform at AdsWizz and SXM Media, has helped develop a very interesting way of pitching it to brands.

“We’ve done seminars with creative agencies and folks where we literally put blindfold folds on the team, and have them put headphones on and go through the journey of what is possible through the theater of the mind, your imagination, and how it can move you emotionally and intellectually in all these different ways. And we all know the power of it. But when you actually get them to sit in the seat and focus, they get it to right away.“

The scale of digital audio

On the agency side, Lizzie Nolan, executive vice-president, managing director strategy and insights, at Havas Media Group, has been part of these discussions over the years. She’s almost as into audio advertising as she is metal music, she says, before setting the record straight on the scale of digital audio.

In the UK alone, 20 million people listen to podcasts weekly, accounting for 68 million podcast hours. Furthermore, Spotify has gained traction with 22 million weekly listeners, while traditional radio still attracts 50 million weekly listeners. The diverse representation of podcasts has also contributed to its growth, appealing to younger demographics and fostering an environment for the creation of more content.

Despite its inarguable scale, an education piece definitely has to be done with younger planners. “We’ve been through a period of data equals distribution. So the art of planning has been lost, we’re trying to sort of re-engage with younger planners in the agency to get them to really enjoy it. People need to consider the relationship they have with it because it is personal and sort of applying some of that thinking to it.“

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A personal opportunity

Walker brings up AI, it was only a matter of time, it was one of the hot topics at Cannes, and it felt like it had more substance than the previous year’s metaverse fanaticism. But with audio being such a personal, in-the-ear experience, AI does open up an opportunity for personalization.

“Generative AI is going to help break down barriers. Instead of spending four or five days to create a brief and a number of examples of audio creative, we can use synthetic voice and generative AI to create new versions and quicken the turnaround time between brief and actual audio creation.“

Next, Drew Wilson, chief operating and financial officer at SoundCloud, talks up the importance of reaching these audiences. The streamer is using the tech to improve discovery and curation from content through to the ads. From the advertising perspective, it offers numerous opportunities from pre-produced voice ads, live reads, branded content and shows, and even thinking about creators and podcasters as micro-influencers within their own right. He says: “If done in an authentic way, it really resonates and can earn media potential.“

With the help of AdsWizz, it’s helping brands reach young Gen Z and millennial who are notoriously hard to reach in TV and beyond. He adds: “You need diverse voices. [This generation] has a certain set of values. And so when you put that together, that is a targeted connection that creates real action on the consumer side when they connect with those brands. And that’s the value I think that is not ultimately seen in audio quite yet.“

The best of all worlds

Walker claims that 75% of adults aged 12 and above in the US consume digital audio on a monthly basis. Podcasting, in particular, has been a catalyst for growth, reaching 42% of all adults, and the time spent and engagement with podcasts continue to rise. But here’s the kicker, and the point of the above panel, despite all that, digital audio advertising only accounts for 3% of ad spend in the US. Despite all the talk of the boom, as yet, it remains fairly untapped.

To fully realize the potential of digital audio advertising, panelists emphasized the need for standardization and collaboration across the industry.

Walker discusses the importance of aggregating the fragmented podcast ecosystem through unified technology standards and protocols. This collaborative approach allows for effective programmatic advertising, understanding episode context, and scaling investments.

Meanwhile, Charlie Brookes, chief revenue officer of digital audio, Bauer Media Group, adds that by combining the best of both broadcast and digital audio, marketers can extend their reach and leverage the unique personal connection that audio ads offer.

Closing off the panel, Brooks talks up a platform quality that may be difficult to quantify. “It’s easy to forget because we work in the broadcast world, but that 30 seconds in someone's ear, that personal moment, whether it’s podcasts or music is quite unique. That digital display ad, or social scroll that is in view for half a second, it’s a very different thing, having somebody's time for 30 seconds.“

For more insights from the panel covering the listening habits, huge diversity of content creators and how deep the niches in audio really go, visit here.

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