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  • Writer's pictureRon Jaworski

What makes a winning audio ad?

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

The growth in programmatic audio has allowed brands and advertisers to get a footing in a new, yet familiar channel that can both engage their audiences and build a new revenue stream. There is virtually an audio ad format for every conceivable use case so advertisers can offer a fine-tuned ad experience that matches the environment it’s in (podcasts, audio articles, streaming audio, etc.). In turn, this allows for a more personalized connection and greater impact.

Yet, a medium itself, combined with the programmatic magic to target the right listeners, cannot carry the brunt of the engagement. In order to drive results and attract attention, the creative matters – a lot. Mastering digital audio ads means leaning on various tips and tricks to generate a high ad recall, something we at Trinity Audio learned for the past 3 years when dealing with a number of great ads.

Let’s first take care of the formalities:

Mind the content limitations

You’ll find these in every ad vendor’s ad guidelines, from technical guidelines to specific content requirements and categories. These are put in place and enforced strictly to ensure that the advertising products and solutions in question deliver the best possible value to both advertisers and listeners.

Some of the foundational policies you have to be wary of are:

  1. Audio file size;

  2. Prohibited and restricted content categories such as ‘Adult and Sexual Content’ or ‘Unauthorized and/or Unlawfully Distributed Copyrighted Works’ (the usual stuff) but also more tricky ones like ‘Confusing Websites’ or ‘Age-Restricted Content’;

  3. General content requirements such as false, misleading, fraudulent and inaccurate content, content that violates the intellectual property rights of a third party, and so on;

  4. Linking to a competing streaming platform or a 404 page;

  5. Containing a destination URL that uses a URL shortener service such as Bitly or TinyURL;

and so on. Make sure you read all the necessary guidelines so that your ads pass the compulsory auditing process.

Determine the length

The majority of audio ad inventory consists of 15- and 30-second spots so right off the bat, you want to keep things short and sweet. That’s not to say you can’t produce a one-minute ad and use the “extra” time to showcase the extrinsic benefits or values as plenty of platforms allow those as well.

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However, short(er) ads perform well in audio considering a large part of the audience are people on the go, thus having a bigger impact – particularly on Gen Z who have basically grown up with a smartphone in their hands and are largely accustomed to short-form content.

Once you figure out the optimal length, it’s on to fine-tuning, and that means:

Develop a clear message

The ad’s length will control what and how much information you include or exclude out of your creative. Generally speaking, short ads increase awareness, drive home key messages, and also convey brand voice. It’s important that your creative is delivered in a clear and simple language that highlights your ad’s value proposition as early as possible (or when it makes sense) for your script. Communicate benefits like a promotional code or an exclusive deal.

Don’t get caught up trying to cram as much information as possible such as testimonials or skits. People have limited, fairly short attention spans and they will quickly be off to the next song, news bit, ad, and else. Saying too much will only fatigue the listeners – get to the point in the first few seconds and keep the focus on the most important point you want your audience to walk away with.

Opt for a conversational tone

If there is one universal truth in audio advertising, it’s that every good audio ad campaign immediately resonates with the target audience. The most rudimental way of connecting with audiences through audio advertising is by using a conversational tone. Why? Because a familiar voice, casual in nature, creates a sense of comfort brand-wise and smoothes the transition from the audio stream to advertising.

That way, the message feels more like a personal conversation, making it more effective. It shows that you know your listeners. The point of audio advertising is to add value to the existing experience, not draw away from it.

Keep your brand voice in mind

While the conversational tone is usually best suited for audio ads, do note that the exact tone depends on the audience of your ad. Speaking to a more mature base of listeners requires a somewhat different approach compared to speaking to a young(er) crowd where you can use informal phrasing, be more tongue-in-cheek, and so on. Whatever you go for in terms of wording and tone, remember the purpose of your ad and match it to your brand voice – it will make it more authentic in the ears of your target audience.

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Explore the soundscape

When I say ‘explore the soundscape’, I mean using sounds, music, and voices in two key ways:

  1. to create a mood;

  2. to form an emotional connection.

From my experience (sadly, I can’t back it up with data), the majority of audio ads are heard through headphones, in situations where people are concentrating on the listening itself. Hence, you don’t really need amped-up effects or catchy jingles and sound bites to compete for user attention.

Still, there needs to be some added detail to the creative to grab a listener’s attention, just like visuals add to the overall message of a display ad. The sound draws the audience’s imagination into the brand story. If the ad is about an outdoor trail, for instance, then the sounds of nature are highly relevant and associative. Promoting a soft drink? Add the sounds of cracking open a can and/or the resulting fizziness as subtle background noise to convey the mood and setting.

Sometimes, the voice(s) you use will play a role in forming an emotional connection, especially if it’s a familiar one. Other times, the voice-over will be minimal whereas the music’s emotional resonance will “take over”, matching that of the ad’s story. In an environment where there is only one stimulus and an absence of any visual cues, think about your brand’s sonic identity and how all these audio pieces can leave a lasting impression. They can have a profound impact on consumer responses to brands.

Create for the environment

The main thing to consider here is the listening experience. Thanks to programmatic technology, your ad(s) will be heard across a variety of devices and types of content. The key is to fit into the moment your listener is in.

Take political ads as an example. While those in no way represent an endorsement of any kind on the platform’s part (regardless of how frequently those ads might appear), they still fall in the ‘sensitive ground’ territory in terms of listening experience.

If you’re advertising on a music streaming platform via a smart speaker, it’s more likely that such an ad will interrupt the joy of the music the user is listening to, not to mention disrupt its purpose if the idea is to relax and escape the everyday noise, for instance. If you’re advertising on a podcast that typically has a more intimate atmosphere, those ads might work if the content is that of a political nature – otherwise, no go.

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Use a call-to-action (CTA)

A call-to-action is mandatory in all audio ads and directs the listener to do something. Consider it as your finishing touch, and it’s important that it’s as specific as possible. What is it the next step you want your audience to take – visit a website maybe? Fill in a promo code? Download a coupon? As an incentive, incorporate a CTA that inspires action. Once again, go for a conversational tone and keep it simple and straightforward.

Don’t forget about your display ad

In cases where it’s applicable, don’t make the mistake of underestimating the power of the companion display banner (the visual creative that supplements what should be a compelling and informative audio ad). I’m all about the audio but there is a reason why we have these: they make it possible to extend an advertising campaign and drive traffic to a specific URL. If listeners like what they hear and they want to learn more, your static banner is the only thing now that stands between them and that much-desired click.

Be thoughtful when choosing your visual creative and do not let it get lost in your excitement about your audio ad.

Pro tips

Here are some of the additional tips I’ve gathered from working and talking with industry experts:

  1. As a general rule of thumb, the more information the message contains, the less the listeners will remember.

  2. When the voice-over is playing, lower the volume level of the background music and sounds so that every word is heard clearly.

  3. If you opt for background music, consider using similar music to your audience’s listening preferences.

  4. Be sure you are legally permitted to use whatever sounds and music you insert into your ad.

  5. Multiple voices can be confusing so avoid using too many.

  6. To keep a consistent tempo, aim for 55 to 75 words in a 30-second ad, and stick to an even pace throughout.

  7. Finally, treat audio as its own canvas instead of trying to adapt a commercial into an audio story.

Final thoughts

Year after year, it’s a known fact that people are listening and spending more time absorbing through their ears than ever before. As a result, many advertisers have flocked to the audio advertising landscape, intrigued about the possibilities of providing engaging content that is contextual and seamless, yielding a high engagement rate.

Even social media is slowly giving away to the audio revolution. Twitter has recently debuted a new way for users to post their thoughts and ideas to the platform beyond the traditional 140 characters – via voice tweets. It’s arguably the first step to not only proliferating audio content on social media (and adopting more exciting voicetech developments, if we’re looking at the big picture) but also to another stream of revenue with massive potential, given the viral element of Twitter.

Audio advertising’s ability to provide a wide array of creative opportunities is what attracted advertisers looking to deliver a more relevant and personalized experience. Hopefully, by using the tips and tricks mentioned here, you can do just that.

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