Just as audio ads were starting to go the way of the dinosaur, streaming services like Spotify and Pandora have brought them back in a big way. But while these ads are shown to be effective in boosting retention, are they worth harshing the vibes of your target audiences?

Just a few years ago, audio advertising was a sinking ship that everyone in the industry was rushing to abandon. Advertisers decided radio was another dying form of traditional media (though there’s little evidence to support that idea), and started diverting their audio budgets into digital channels like email, display, and search.

Everything changed with the arrival of music streaming platforms. Today, brands can use audio ads to reach huge and largely mobile userships, and because platforms like Spotify and Soundcloud have started offering inventory on demand-side platforms (DSPs) and larger ad exchanges, they can do so with incredible precision.

The only problem? Listeners have a laundry list of issues with the way that ads on these platforms are delivered — or, to put it more precisely, a BuzzFeed listicle of issues. Given this ireful response, brands are left to wonder: will Spotify audio ads bring you closer to the platform’s music lovers, or will they create negative experiences that only push users farther away?

Pardon the Interruption

Of course, music streaming is far from being the only digital media experience that asks its users to consume ads. Video streaming services like Hulu, for example, ask users who don’t want to pay the full cost of a subscription to watch advertisements throughout their viewing experience. But while most people are used to having their favorite TV shows interrupted by the occasional ad, music listeners may find it a bit more jarring to hear an audio spot in the middle of their favorite album.

As annoying as some listeners may find streaming audio ads, the numbers suggest that they work. A 2017 Nielsen study found that audio ads increase retention 24% better than display ads. That’s likely because of audio’s inherent ability to engage users: if you’re already listening to the music piping in through your headphones, you’re not going to disengage just to avoid hearing an ad. There’s no “audio deafness” analogue to the phenomenon of banner blindness, where users train themselves to ignore space on a webpage they expect to be occupied by ads.

Reaching Exactly the Right Audiences

While traditional radio ads limited advertisers’ ability to target specific audiences and measure their success in reaching them, programmatic audio is another thing entirely. Spotify, Google Play, and SoundCloud have introduced their inventory to popular DSPs, allowing advertisers to buy their audiences on the impression level with incredible precision.

Radio advertisers understand that when they buy airtime on a particular channel, they are buying access to radio listeners in that area — beyond that, their information on users is scarce. By contrast, advertisers on these streaming platforms can target users according to their demographic, their taste in music, and the platform from which they’re streaming, whether it’s desktop, mobile, or tablet. Programmatic audio campaigns are also far easier to optimize, as these targeting capabilities can be added and adjusted on a moment-to-moment basis.

There are obviously risks to jumping headlong into a new channel without considering users’ expectations, but given the proven benefits of ads on services like Spotify, there’s no good reason to discount this ad type entirely. Advertisers looking to reach young, engaged audiences should consider blowing the dust off their old audio playbook and delivering their brand’s message to today’s music listeners.

Author Ryan Mach

As his title suggests, Ryan is L&T’s top creative mind and voice, supervising editorial quality and the on-boarding of new content experts and brand journalists. He’s also responsible for the production of high-profile content initiatives, ranging from industry white papers to expert commentaries for top digital publications like Inc and TechCrunch. Also a graduate of Kenyon College, Ryan previously served on the editorial board of the political magazine, the Kenyon Observer, and co-founded the Fabulist, an undergraduate literary publication.

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