What a dynamic year 2021 has been for audio.
Spoken word audio scored touchdowns left and right, social media burst onto the scene, podcasts continued their reign, short-form audio had quite a few moments, and to top it all off - audio AI listening was through the roof.
And brands - well, they were ready for most of it. In fact, more and more of them recognized audio’s potential and started devoting more attention to audio ads in their marketing strategies.
Last year, I made a mission to uncover amazing advertisements and campaigns that delighted and continue to delight ears across the globe. 2020 produced a wide array of creative efforts that resulted in some truly memorable ads.
I feel like 2021 topped it - by a great deal too.
Out of hundreds I’ve listened to over the past year, here are the audio ads that impressed me the most. Enjoy!
One of my top picks last year was Subaru’s ad for its new Forester SUV that successfully presented the power of minimalistic narration that’s been slightly reworked each time to accentuate a different feature.
It seems car manufacturers have a knack for audio ads as Honda’s advertisement for the new Honda e absolutely delights. The Japanese car giant introduced the company’s electric car and its accompanying features as what the world desperately needs right now in an ingenious way: using different car horn sounds to communicate what different cities around the world need.
Communicating through a car horn? Because why not. The best part? It works beautifully.
I’m a sucker for minimalist sounds and Uber hit the spot with its ad for its ride-hailing service. It opens with keyboard sounds that get intertwined with music and the various sounds of nightlife that entices the user to join in. What better way to start your night than by calling an Uber to get you there, right?
The ad concludes with a simple, yet persuasive “Your night awaits. Your Uber awaits.”, which provides all the necessary information and acts as a powerful CTA.
The company also issued a slightly different version, so I’m adding both of them.
The famous beverage company went out of its way to make a fun interactive audio ad that intrigues and actively involves the listener.
The enthusiastic voice of a person supposedly working at Pepsi on making new flavors sprinkles humor and storytelling all over the invitation for listeners to pick their own Pepsi flavor. In addition, they can have it delivered to a Target of their choosing, which is a neat bonus.
Audio ads getting more interactive are fairly normal in this day and age. Still, credit where credit is due as Pepsi does a great job of making listeners pay attention to the ad and engage with it by talking back and possibly even tapping their screens.
This is a textbook example of how to make a brand that is, with all due respect to Salesforce, boring in terms of what it does, stand out.
A soothing woman’s voice, supported by equally soothing sound effects, tells the listener to take a little break, relax, and meditate, which is certainly an interesting concept coming from a B2B SaaS platform. In fact, it is Salesforce’s product Customer 360 that allows you to relax as it takes care of all the stressful details of your work.
And you know what? The entire experience really did make me feel more relaxed and even trigger some basic purchase intent.
A good jingle never gets old and the ad for the online supermarket chain Ocado proves it.
As part of adopting a brand new look in 2021, the company introduced a catchy, but still informative enough little song you continue humming for the rest of the day. The element of repetition can sometimes go against the brand and the point of the ad, but here, it works like a charm. Now that’s what I call effective.
How do you know that an ad does its job, and then some? Because it makes you chuckle and yearn for whatever it’s selling. At least, that’s how I’d measure Little Caesars’ effort.
With its memorable tag “Pizza Pizza”, sonic branding is something that the multinational pizza chain truly excels in. This audio ad is only an extension of it: it's funny, interesting, unforgettable, and I never got bored hearing it. Plus, I’m vegan and I crave pizza every time I hear it. That says something.
In what can be considered the biggest Sky Glass ad campaign to date, the streaming company hasn’t forgotten to devote special attention to visualizing its new TV device through the use of audio.
For starters, no expenses were spared. Helena Bonham Carter provides an enchanting narration, spiced with a clever copy and a piece of background music. The combination makes for a recipe that just screams an enjoyable audio ad, if nothing else.
Samsung Galaxy Buds
When it comes to headphones, I’m a JBL man myself but there’s no denying this ad about the tech giant’s Galaxy Buds 2 rocks.
It’s a simple premise: if your ears could talk, what would they say about the choice of headphones you imposed on them? This is exactly the approach that Samsung took to audio advertise its earbuds. The ad also uses binaural sound to make it feel like your ears are actually talking to you. Imaginative and effective - and the heavy British (I want to say London but not sure) accent only adds to the charm for me.
When it comes to cleaning products, it’s rare these are advertised sonically. After all, what better way to prove that something cleans than to have it sparkle on a screen?
Yet, the cleaning supplies brand Cif took a totally different route to what you’d expect from such a brand and created a series of 60-second audio commercials in the form of tiny love stories.
The series is called “Love stories on the radio” and in each one, the love interest turns out to be an object that needed cleaning. One example is a story about a woman fed up with her partner of 20 years who she wants to get rid of. However, in a surprising twist, it is revealed that the partner is actually a dirty motorcycle that shines with a new light thanks to Cif.
You can listen to this very imaginative campaign here. Here’s my favorite:
For decades, the fast-food titan significantly relied on humor in its advertising to consistently remain at the top of the fast-food market. This UK-oriented ad continues in that tradition, using a cheeky, totally British-like joke to drive the point home.
The ad opens with a funny dialogue that quickly makes you realize it doesn’t have much to do with food. But then, it suddenly draws a parallel with its pound saver menu and there you have it: simple and effective.
Running under the campaign “like getting your money’s worth”, the ad is funny because it actually makes a lot of sense - especially if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a call you don’t want to have at that moment.
Another UK-centered ad, which I heard in a number of places - and for good reason, as you’ll soon hear.
I have to admit I haven’t heard of the recipe-box brand Gousto before, and while I have never put their product to the test, they do know how to make a catchy audio ad.
Assigning different melodies to eating habits, the ad makes you dance in your seat and actually slightly peckish. It’s part of the campaign that encourages foodies to “give it some” by making cooking sound exciting. Mission accomplished, I’d say.
As fate would have it, while discovering the ad for Gousto, I also stumbled upon the offering from this major British wi-fi hotspot network. I loved it because it’s so straightforward and relatable.
Introducing the concept of “broadband rage”, BT Wifi goes the extra mile to explain why its hybrid broadband with the EE mobile network is the perfect solution in the time when internet issues can make us go into a fit of rage. Extra points for the visualization power - I’d sign up based on the ad alone.
Notable mention: Barilla
Some things are hard to classify in the audio ads category, even though they nail down the advertising part.
What Barilla did deserves an honorable mention due to its highly inventive way of using audio content - one that I’m quick to praise any time I speak about various content formats and delivery options.
Specifically, the pasta brand joined forces with Spotify and created eight carefully timed playlists for cooking pasta. If you ever cooked pasta, then you know that timing is everything in making sure the texture is exactly how you want it.
The playlists run between nine and 11 minutes, depending on the type of pasta you’re cooking so you can prepare the meal to your liking. To maximize the fun, playlists include catchy titles such as Moody Day Linguine, Mixtape Spaghetti, and Boom Bap Fusilli. Plus, there are different genres of music so there’s something for everybody here.
Digital audio has made some great strides in the past year, making this inexpensive medium a preference for many brands to spread the word about their products or services.
What’s interesting is that there is still lots of room for growth here.
According to research by WARC a few months ago, audio captures 31% of media consumption but just 9% of ad spend. This is a huge gap and a missed opportunity.
Hence, this underinvestment in audio advertising is resulting in brands leaving a significant amount of reach and brand awareness on the table.
For advertising purposes, audio is inexpensive, which is what will further drive audio innovation and subsequently, brand adoption. Brands can freely experiment with delivering their creative efforts in a new, yet familiar way.
The medium’s intimate and immersive nature easily leverages storytelling so people don’t feel like they are being bombarded with promotional messages as is the case with other media.
And as we all heard now, it’s highly effective.