Technology is powering the rise in audio ads, from big data and earcons to interactive audio and smart speakers. Max De Lucia, co-founder of specialist music agency DLMDD, offers his predictions for the sonic branding sector for 2021.
2020 was the year in which sonic branding rose up the agenda for marketers across the world, with more and more brands recognising the importance of sound as part of their core architecture. Netflix bringing on legendary composer Hans Zimmer to amplify its famous ta-dum sound is perhaps the most prominent example of sonic branding brilliance from last year.
Against the backdrop of increasing numbers of people working from home and the rise of tech capabilities, audio has come to the fore like never before. The exponential growth of voice-assisted tech, the huge increase in music streaming, as well as podcast and radio listenership, all contributes to the important role that sound plays in our everyday lives.
people are consuming more audio content than ever before – in fact, digital audio currently commands just under 37 million listeners in the UK, with the average user consuming four hours of audio content every day. Furthermore, a recent report predicts an astonishing 84% growth in digital audio ad revenue for 2025 compared to 2019.
As we look ahead to the coming year, there will be one major driver in the growth of sonic branding, and that is technology. So, what will be the major trends to watch out for this year?
Joining up big data
The possibilities for customisation and localisation are expanding rapidly. Brands could target users with ads customised to their location, weather conditions, device or even name, using sophisticated stitching capabilities to create potentially infinite versions of a track, with the listener served only the version most relevant to them.
There are opportunities to engage audiences with audio ads that ensure the same ad is not served multiple times, but that a story is developed. Users can also be retargeted when in close proximity to a particular sales outlet, to help drive action, as well as awareness. These new creative possibilities of sound and data are set to become increasingly important over the next year.
In the same way that music producers used to take a copy of a record to listen to on their car speakers before signing off on a mix, we now need to be acutely aware that at present half of television and video is consumed through mobile devices, and this number is only set to grow. This means our sound needs to be tailored to these conditions: while it can be tempting to mix and master for lush home systems, this is simply not how most consumers will experience the ad. Optimizing audio content for mobile will be crucial in capturing consumer interest, as well as maintaining the brand’s credibility and premium experience.
In store and immersive
In the coming year we’ll not only see brands starting to prioritise audio in their digital experiences, but also being much more strategic in their use of audio in bricks-and-mortar stores to create full experiences. Audio is a highly emotive tool for connecting with customers across all environments.
Immersive sound tech will also become more widespread, with opportunities for brands to evoke emotion beyond the means of visual communication and language. More brands will develop signature sounds to build brand recognition and trust.
AI generated music has been around for several years but is yet to be harnessed for the needs of the advertising industry. In the same way that songs for ads can be commissioned to a strict brief, perhaps aping a current chart topper, AI could be used to create songs tailored to a recognisable style of a famous artist but at a fraction of the cost.
While songs written solely by AI are currently no match for human-created music, advances are constant and impressive, so this is certainly something to keep an eye on. It also opens up exciting possibilities for bespoke ad experiences, with songs adapted to user genre or mood preferences to increase brand connection.
With tech giants Apple, Google and Facebook creating earcons several years ago, we are seeing many more companies stake out their claims in this territory. These non-verbal audio bites that indicates a brand, event or notification to the user, are subsuming the place of more traditional sonic logos.
Earcons are most effective when combined with other designed elements, for instant and powerful brand recognition.
While podcasts offer great potential for brand advertising, it can be difficult to measure engagement. While downloads and play counts give us some idea, it lacks the concrete measurement of clicks or shares which can be useful when justifying ad spend. Spotify and Pandora have been simultaneously developing advertising options that ask for listener interaction, usually responding ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to questions such as ‘Would you like to hear more about X product?’
This has the potential to be developed into a much more conversational experience as users get familiar with this new kind of behaviour.
Adapting audio to smart speakers
22 per cent percent of digital audio listening is now done via smart speakers, and this is only set to rise. During 2020’s Covid-19 lockdowns in particular these devices have earned their place in our homes and embedded themselves into our daily routines.
Voice activated sales via smart speakers are set to rise in 2021: with 60 per cent of smart speaker owners already having purchased something with their devise, brands are going to want to make sure they are ready to capitalise on this important market, creating highly coordinated efforts across multiple channels to meet customers at their channel of choice.
Speak your brand
Understanding the innate qualities of the voice that best represents your brand is a fine art. With the rise in audio activated digital commerce, brands will need to make bolder choices in who they choose to represent them.
Savvy brands will invest in the creation of their own voice profile, perhaps for use via an AI chat bot, able to offer customer services, product information or to be used more creatively as an integral element of a brand world.
The span of voices used is set to diverge, as brands seek to differentiate themselves to further deepen engagement with consumers. Real human voices may be blended with synthetic elements, or completely AI generated voice avatars may be used.
These developments allow dynamic scripts to generate numerous versions of audio ads without having to record a corresponding number of individual voiceovers.
A successful example of this is Amazon Alexa: its Samuel L Jackson voice has been sampled and used to generate audio responses using neural text-to-speech technology mimicking the actor’s iconic voice. This can then be used as a voice assistant for any situation, rather than being restricted to pre-recorded content.
By Max De Lucia