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  • Writer's pictureRon Jaworski

What you need to know about native audio advertising

Updated: Nov 29, 2021

Native advertising has been around for some time, but what happens when you throw audio into the mix?

You get a channel for brands to reach their target audience in a contextually relevant and non-intrusive way, off-screen.

At least, that’s how I perceive native audio advertising – as a means to amplify valuable content and deliver consistent brand messaging throughout the funnel. The skyrocketing popularity of audio media such as podcasts and streaming music, along with the proliferation of publishers offering audio versions of their content and the rise of smart speakers and other audio-friendly devices, have opened up new avenues for brands to reach out to highly-engaged audiences.

From an advertising perspective, it looks like audio is one of the least talked about native formats. I aim to remedy that with this post and present a world of opportunities and potential in this new age of audio.

A new, yet familiar way to advertise

A world of constant connectivity has yielded a highly beneficial development for brands and businesses: the ability to gather unique data at virtually every consumer touchpoint and engage with targeted audience segments in any place and at any time. As a result, digital audio advertising rose in prominence in media budgets, largely driven by programmatic audio and its ability to furnish granular targeting based on a variety of data points: demographics, user behavior, geolocation, interests, and so on.

Red Carpet Hello GIF by Target

What welcoming advertisers to audio is like.

To put it differently: with screen fatigue and visual oversaturation, audio advertising allows every interested party to evolve their marketing and advertising strategies in a natural way. And what feels more natural than native advertising?

Hence, native audio advertising today plays an important role in delivering a unique brand experience, as well as reinforcing its message across the digital medium landscape.

It does so through native audio ads – an umbrella term for different native audio ad formats. Native audio ads are typically associated with podcasts in the form of sponsorships where a host narrates a prewritten ad copy, sometimes accompanied by a recorded/static ad or a sound bite. These ads are essentially part of the content and are permanently integrated. Add to the fact that these sponsorship ads are read by the host – a familiar voice the listener already trusts and is accustomed to – and the odds of skipping ads dramatically decrease.

Outside podcasts, native audio ads slightly differ when implemented in other audio environments, notably those that are streamed. As content and ad delivery are handled differently (e.g. you can download and/or stream podcasts), advancements in AdTech have provided an ability to dynamically insert ads at the time of playback with precise targeting. Dynamic ad insertion or DAI is a server-side audio ad technology that enables advertisers to serve audio inventory both into linear programming, whether it’s live or recorded, and on-demand audio content.

With three basic placements: pre-roll (before audio content), mid-roll (during a section), and post-roll (after), as well as more advanced time-based insertion, advertisers have plenty of options to serve the best ad to the listener at the best time. In other words, native audio ads can be inserted contextually into audio articles that feature a relevant topic, for example, thus reaching a listener at the right time and place, and in the right context. You can sample the end result here and hear for yourself how the process works.

The scope of opportunity

A major advantage of native audio is its seamless integration into any digital audio environment.

By default, native advertising is less intrusive than its counterparts because it’s integrated into the user’s content experience. With audio in the fold, you could say that the medium embodies the feel of the media that contains it, as opposed to its visual equivalent that replicates the look of it.

Right now, more than two-thirds of the U.S. population (an estimated 192 million people) is listening to online audio on a monthly basis. Every week, more than 15 hours on average are spent listening, while monthly podcast consumers grew by 16% year-over-year to an estimated 104 million listeners – first time ever the 100 million mark was broken. The increased amount of consumption highlights the opportunity for brands to leverage time and space and advertise via audio content (be it informational, salesy, humorous, inspirational, etc.) that is consumed based on various moods and situations.

From a content perspective, the big story is the continued growth of digital audio. From an advertising angle, the main story is the ability to reach massive audiences via programmatic audio. What’s more, audio content is widely consumed across different age groups, with a particularly strong presence among the young(er) generations, as expected. It provides particularly easy access to people on the go, and they are less likely to stop what they’re doing and mute a 15- or 30-second native ad compared to a display advertising experience.

It’s worth noting that one understated aspect of audio advertising is its ability to effortlessly optimize for a variety of scenarios. As a medium, audio is a one-size-fits-all advertising channel with no worries whatsoever about how it will translate to different devices and platforms. As a bonus, it’s a lot harder to block audio ads than a display ad, as well as to develop an ad-blocking tool due to the native element – it’s difficult for such an AI-powered tool to discern what is an ad and what is the meat of the content.

For advertisers interested in gaining access to huge audiences and the ability to align their brand messaging even more closely with audio niches, native audio should be an avenue worth exploring due to its multichannel targeting and seamless campaigns (e.g. native ads can even be suggested as sponsored content to listen to next).

What the future brings

If there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic showed, it’s digital audio advertising’s extraordinary ability to quickly change a brand’s messaging so it adapts to the current climate and doesn’t come off as tone-deaf.

Donald Trump Whatever GIF by Mashable

With native audio advertising, we’ll see a lot more brands turning to storytelling in an effort to create a genuine connection with a listener by telling contextually relevant stories. As native is in the ear of the beholder in this case, brand perception is largely formed by how a listener feels about it. Given the personal, one-on-one connection audio facilitates, it can be a very powerful way to influence those feelings through elements of personalization and curation.

A future of native audio ads that are enjoyable and relevant for listeners is similar to what Gimlet is doing right now. The company’s narrative and empathy-oriented approach to promoting sponsored content is as innovative as it is inspiring, creating a story-within-a-story feeling with its audio ads.

The impact of storytelling in advertising is well known but what Gimlet does is work directly with advertisers. It shapes the creative direction, thus generating a better user experience and a more-attuned campaign for the advertiser. Ads are naturally placed and engaging with just a short intro to distinguish it from the actual episode content. And as a podcast listener, you don’t feel targeted, which is a huge plus when compared to a display ad that promptly pops up when you Google something.

It’s a recipe for success I fully expect more advertisers to embrace. For dynamically inserted ads to achieve the same level of nativeness and rapport, the industry will need to figure out how to better optimize the transition between pre- and mid-roll ads on one side and genuine content on the other. It will require smoothing out the differences between ad creatives and audio content in question, all the while making sure listeners aren’t misled with what they hear.

Making ad creatives matter for listeners is key. It should be good news for brands who are aiming to take their digital marketing to the next level, especially when it comes to reaching a loyal and engaged audience in a meaningful and impactful way. Audio’s omnipresence offers a unique way to fill previously untouchable voids in the user’s buying journey, and its nativeness can ease the entry, so to speak.

Final thoughts

Digital audio advertising offers a number of benefits that should make it a universally accepted tool for advertisers. The digital audio market is the least cluttered space in all of advertising, all the while offering deep targeting capabilities. Specific to the medium, native audio ads are always “above the fold” and rarely avoided by listeners, which makes them a uniquely capable and measurable part of the advertising mix.

Native audio advertising is a continuation of a digital advertising concept that strives to deliver ads that are coherent with the content, blended into the design, and consistent with the environment so that the listener feels they belong there. The main takeaway for advertisers is that consumption of digital audio is continually increasing and that we’ve come to a point where it’s actually changing people’s habits. As such, it’s an important place for brands to have a presence. One could even say necessary in today’s content landscape.

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