Programmatic audio is booming!

This article was orginally published on The Drum in May 2022

Programmatic Audio is booming WHY NOW?

Audio streaming services are enjoying their heyday right now, but what are marketers doing to capture new audiences in creative, effective ways? Get ready, the UK’s programmatic audio advertising scene is about to take flight. Here’s what you need to know.

What is programmatic audio advertising?

Nowadays, most digital audio platforms can support the automated buying and selling of ad inventory. That’s programmatic audio advertising. When we talk about digital audio platforms, we mean services like:

  • Music streaming apps
  • Podcasts
  • Online radio stations
  • Digital broadcasts from traditional AM/FM stations

Regardless of what device your audience uses to listen, any IP-delivered screenless experience is fair game for programmatic audio.

Why invest in audio advertising?

Audio reaches people in ways other mediums don’t, and its audience are eager to listen. Programmatic audio gives brands:

  • A receptive, growing audience
  • The freedom to connect with listeners on the move
  • Opportunities for deeper emotional connections

Podcast fans: A demographic goldmine

Recent years have seen a wealth of research taking place into the behaviours and motives of digital audio’s growing audience. Podcast listeners have formed the backbone of these studies, and it’s all good news for marketers looking to get into programmatic audio.

There’s a positive relationship between podcast audiences and other audio services like music streaming. It’s likely you’ll be able to reach these people at multiple different points across the audio landscape. Better yet, podcast listeners show strong loyalty to their favourite shows and hosts; they’re a reliable source of engaged ears.

According to Ofcom, these audiences are also prime marketing targets. They’re aged 16-44, educated and from middle or higher-earning socio-economic groups. They’re also committed listeners; men aged 25-54, for example, could listen to six or seven episodes every week.

It’s also worth exploring why people get into podcasts. 61% say they simply want to be entertained, but a significant 52% also say they listen in order to learn new things or improve their understanding of a topic. If an ad can connect with this desire for self-improvement, you’ll catch your audience in a warm, receptive frame of mind.

The many perks of the platform

Audio is a very different experience to what you get from other media. Those points of difference open up fresh creative options based on where and how your audience is listening. It’s a screenless experience, which makes a big impact. According to Nielsen, 35% of listening happens while people travel and 50% happens at home.

Being able to consume content without a screen means you’re catching people as they commute to work or do chores around the house. No other programmatic ad format can reliably do that at this kind of scale.

That also means that audio ads tend to follow users from device to device. A typical hour-long podcast might be split up between a phone, a set of home smart speakers and a car’s onboard audio system. Multiple listening formats translate to multiple opportunities for people to hear your message.

Audio content also unlocks targeting options which other formats don’t offer in the same way. Podcasts are meticulously broken down by niche and subject matter. Music can be matched to different moods and activities; sportswear brands would do well to target gym playlists, for example. The data these services use to find their audiences is data you can use to refine your ad targeting. 

Striking an emotional chord is easy

Sound affects us at a primal level. We all feel a certain way when we catch a few notes of a favourite childhood song, music is extremely evocative. Other audio formats like podcasts and radio talk shows emulate the experience of chatting with friends about subjects close to our hearts.

Now, consider this stat from Edison Research: Of those who listen to podcasts at least monthly, 70% say they don’t do anything else while they listen. The shows they love – and the ads that accompany each show – receive the listener’s undivided attention. What better time to forge a connection with your brand?

The biggest businesses on Earth are busy pouring serious resources into sonic branding because they understand the strength of this connection. McDonald’s bah-dah-bah-bah-baah jingle is so iconic that you probably just sang it in your head without waiting for me to type, ‘I’m lovin’ it’. That’s the prime example of what a brand can achieve with audio.

The future of programmatic audio in the UK

This all sounds great, but what makes now the right time for a UK brand to start getting into programmatic audio? Well, similar to connected TV (CTV), we can make some confident predictions based on what we’ve seen happen elsewhere.

The audio landscape here is more or less dominated by Spotify and Global Media’s DAX right now. But if we look to the US, where things are more sophisticated and mature, we can see the shape of what’s on the horizon.

In short, a boom in audience numbers will bring more stations offering local opportunities. These will be supported by more advanced analytics and targeting capabilities. In the US, 2021 saw a 17% year-on-year increase in podcast listenership and a 30% increase in ad-supported Spotify users.

Some feared this was a by-product of the pandemic and listenership would start to drop off once people resumed their normal routines. Those fears were unfounded. In fact, people returning to the daily commute are consuming more audio than before. As a result, the States is enjoying an advanced, stable audio ad ecosystem.

In the UK, podcast listenership went from 8.9 million in 2017 to 19.1 million in 2021. By 2025, that number is expected to hit 27 million. Post-pandemic music streaming is also holding steady here, with a modest but satisfying 5.7% annual increase in individual audio streams; Brits listened to a total of 147 billion songs in 2021.

The demand is there, the data is already being crunched. Advertisers who start thinking about audio now are going to wield a significant advantage when the UK market hits full maturity in the very near future.

Partner with pros for your audio ad campaign

We’ve followed the UK and global audio ad landscapes from day one, and we think it’s a good time to start having that conversation. When aligned with other media channels, audio can be a powerful accompaniment to your wider marketing efforts.

Because we use anonymous mobile network data for targeting, those combined efforts are going to be finely targeted to reach people in the right moments. Because rising listenership in the UK is currently outpacing the programmatic audio ad market, there’s significant headroom for building brand awareness at scale.

That is, of course, if you act fast.

Talk to us about including audio in your programmatic campaign