Recent audio advertising trends indicate much promise for businesses wanting to promote their products and brand. Tapping into both digital and radio formats, audio advertising offers flexibility in terms of reach, target audience and personalization. As a sector, the audio industry has seen growth in its listenership. Advertising spending in this sector has also increased in recent years. With the development of programmatic technology, customization and high quality, affordable advertisements are now a reality for many businesses and brands.

So what is the promise held by audio advertising trends?

And is there a way to get on board and ride the wave?

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This post was updated in May 2021

What is audio advertising?

Audio advertising is all advertising that takes place in an audio format only. It’s audible – advertising that you hear – not that you view, see or read.  It includes the steadfast giant of traditional radio advertising, as well as the more contemporary pathway of digital audio advertising.

Radio advertising

Traditional radio advertising is the original audio advertising format. Broadcast over terrestrial networks, radio advertising takes place within a sphere of genre, demographic and timeslots. It’s dictated by radio stations. Listeners can select when and how they tune in but the programmed content is driven by the stations.

Digital audio advertising

Digital audio advertising, as its name suggests, is all advertising that takes place in both a digital and audio format. It’s the kind of advertising that is used on streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify, as well as podcasts and radio streaming services. It also includes advertising via smart speakers. This a market that has emerged with the increased uptake of this technology. Listeners are in complete control of what they listen to and when.

What are the trends in audio advertising?

When looking at the trends in audio advertising, there are three main areas to focus on: listenership, spending, and efficacy. We explore these in more detail below.

Audio media listenership

An in-depth analysis of digital audio advertising by eMarketer in mid-2019 looked at what percentage of the population listen to various forms of audio media.  Their data indicates that:

  • traditional radio holds strong at a steady 91.5% listenership over the last three years,
  • the trend for growth is within the digital sector

Digital audio listeners have grown from 60.1% of the population in 2017 to 62% in 2019.  This trend is expected to continue over the upcoming years. 63.1% of the population are expected to be digital audio listeners by 2021. Of particular interest is the growth of podcast listeners. 20.7% of the population identified with having listened to podcasts at least once per month in 2017. This grew to 23.1% in 2019 and is projected to reach 24.3% in 2021.


The spending trend – who’s buying into audio advertising?

Spending on audio advertising has seen a 2.4% increase in the first half of 2019, according to MAGNA’s fall 2019 report. This was on the tail-end of stable figures for 2017 and 2018.  Business and brand adoption of the growing audio media audience is likely the cause of this growth.

Indeed, the 2019 Podcast Revenue Report by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PwC, suggests that audio advertising via podcasts is the key driver of this spending trend. The report predicts that spending on audio advertising via podcasts will see a 53% increase from 2017 figures by 2021.

The IAB Internet Advertising Revenue Report 2018 also shows positive movement for audio advertising trends. The report states that audio ad spending in 2018 increased by 22.9% from 2017. Although audio media only made up 2% of total digital ad spending, it’s clear that digital audio is beginning to make its mark on the advertising landscape.

Return on investment – does audio advertising work?

For some, the awareness that the audio sector is in a period of growth is enough to justify spending advertising dollars in this medium. But for others, the assumption that this will translate into sales is not enough.

A study conducted by Radiocentre in the UK in 2016 suggests audio advertising can complement television advertising. Using audio advertising can improve the cost-effectiveness of an advertising campaign by over 20%. This is in part to increasing the “share of mind” of a particular brand, product or business.

Network research by Westwood One and Nielsen Catalina Solutions also suggests that there can be up to a $12 return on every $1 invested into radio advertising.

Looking for the perfect audio ad? Get started here!

But what about the trends in more recent audio advertising formats?

A study conducted in the UK by Acast suggested that over three-quarters of podcast listeners followed up on an ad or sponsored message from the show. While this might not result in sales, it does achieve one of the goals of advertising – that is to make a connection with the customer and begin building a relationship.

Smart speakers are also yielding promising statistics. According to the 2019 eMarketer report, 40% of smart speaker users have shopped at least once in the preceding calendar year. Shopping includes researching or adding an item to their shopping cart via voice command, with or without purchase. More significantly, 27% have made at least one purchase using voice command in the preceding year. Listening to an ad over the speaker and being able to directly purchase via audio command has great potential for businesses and brands.

How are people tuning in?

Audio media can be portable and used at the same time as doing something else. Consumers can listen in their homes, at work, travelling, shopping, dining and even while exercising. With the advent of mobile devices, people can take their audio listening habits anywhere.

In 2016, the average US adult listened to 86.5 minutes of radio and 60.3 minutes of digital audio per day. By 2019, this gap had closed. Radio took up less air time (80.4 minutes) and digital audio increased its share to 79.6 minutes.  Digital audio is expected to outstrip traditional radio for listener usage by 8.1 minutes by 2021, sitting pretty at 86.9 minutes of listening per day.

Laptop/desktop devices contribute to the listenership in a significant way, but it is mobile devices that are the true driver of audio growth trends. If we take a look at podcast listeners specifically, mobile and portable devices were the device of choice for 65% of listeners. Only one quarter chose a desktop/laptop. This data, taken from a poll by Edison Research and Triton Digital, also suggested that smart speakers were gaining a leg-hold in the market. 10% of listeners identified smart speakers as their device of choice.

A future in programmatic advertising

The benefits of radio advertising are well known. Sales will result because of the broad population reach and mass exposure. There is a level of programmatic detail in this form, such as broadcasting times and which station to use. However, these are vast sweeps and not catered to the individual.

With the advent of smart technology and digital audio advertising, data is king. Streaming and podcast services have the ability to collect specific information about their listener’s demographics and habits. This can pinpoint right down to what mood they might be in. Businesses and brands can use this information to target-in on individual customers. They can structure their advertising campaigns to follow suit.

More discussion on the difference between traditional radio advertising and digital audio advertising can be found here.


The trust factor

Recent audio advertising trends suggest that businesses and brands are investing more and more into the goldmine of audio listeners. By incorporating audio advertising into their campaigns, both radio and digital, they have potential for:

  • population-wide reach and brand exposure
  •  developing specific and individual advertising material matched to consumers

Historically, the consumer holds radio advertising at a high level of trust. Listeners build rapport with their chosen radio host. This forms positive associations with the products and brands advertised during that time.

This level of trust is less likely to develop in a streaming situation. Music is on-demand and played without interaction with a host, so there is no opportunity for relationship development.

Podcasting – the best of both worlds

Podcasts offer the best of both worlds – a digital format that can utilize the latest programmatic technologies but also allows a connection to develop between the podcast host and listener. This, in turn, builds a trust association between the listener and brands and businesses advertised in this format.

And while many users of podcast and streaming services may pay for ad-free subscriptions, approximately half of all listeners prefer to utilize free, ad-supported versions.

Factoring in sponsored messages in subscription services, radio streaming, and traditional radio, the sky is the limit for savvy business and brand owners to advertise through the audio medium.

Get started with audio advertising

Gone are the days of the cheesy jingle and excessive, repetitive calls to action when it comes to audio advertising. Consumers have become more demanding in what they expect from an advertisement, and audio advertising is not immune to this. While these approaches may still suit some businesses and brands, there are other options for those wanting to produce a high-quality audio advertisement.

Advertising agencies still offer a professional and quality service, but this may be out of the price range for many brands and businesses. It also may not offer the creative flexibility that business owners want when sharing their vision and products to the world.

Along with the growing trend in audio advertising, there has also been growth in businesses and brands utilizing in-housing for their advertising needs. In-housing is when a business or brand develops its own advertising material and campaign, either in its entirety or by working in part with an external partner. A report on programmatic in-housing by IAB suggests many businesses already work with an external partner or would prefer to be doing so.

With the rise of digital audio recording and voice over services, such as Bunny Studio, it is easier than ever for businesses and brands to partner with creative specialists and create their own audio advertising content.

Need help with the perfect audio ad? Submit a project here and get started within minutes!

Get on board

It’s clear to see why businesses and brands are beginning to invest more of their advertising budget into audio advertising. The trends over recent years show, at worst, stability, and at best, significant growth in this market.

The listenership of audio mediums is growing. More and more businesses and brands are buying into audio advertising. And most importantly, there are real outcomes as far as engagement, product and brand awareness and sales are concerned.

As technology advances, the sky is the limit for how audio media can be used as an advertising platform. Traditional radio and digital audio can complement one another in population reach and personalized advertising. The use of online services for audio advertisement development makes it easy for businesses and brands to retain creative control of their campaign while still ending with a professional product.

Radio, digital or both – the trends are clear. Audio advertising holds much promise for businesses and brands so get on board and ride the sound waves today.