Digital audio advertising 101 with AdsWizz

Kate Gerwe, VP Marketing at AdsWizz, takes a deep dive into digital audio advertising.

Digital audio listening is on the rise. According to the IAB, in the UK 29.6m people listen to digital audio each week*. RAJAR, the body that measures radio audiences in the UK, reports similar data stating that 49m people tune in to digital audio and radio each week, and that 59 per cent of all radio listening is digital.

In the United States, an estimated 169m people listen to digital audio every week.** And if anything, these figures have been boosted even further by the current COVID-19 pandemic. AdsWizz data suggests that digital audio listening rose by 11 per cent over Q2 2020, as the world went into lockdown, while some podcast publishers have seen their listening figures rise by as much as 30 per cent over the past few months.

The growth in digital audio listening has led more brands to evaluate the potential of digital audio as an advertising channel. But how does digital audio advertising work? How is the inventory traded and how effective is it as an advertising channel? As a company solely focused on digital audio advertising, these are some of the key questions we hope to address in this digital audio advertising 101 primer.

What is digital audio?
When we talk about digital audio, this includes experiences we have every day, listening to streaming music (for example Pandora, Spotify, Deezer), digital radio stations (where people listen to a traditional radio station via their website or an app), connected cars, smart speakers, and podcasts. In the US, according to eMarketer, digital radio listening overtook traditional forms of radio listening for the first time this year. Podcast is the fastest-growing audio channel in the audio space, with 68m podcast listeners each week in the US, and nearly 8m in the UK.***

From an advertising perspective, digital audio is more effective than traditional analogue audio in many ways. Targeting is one of the most important ways. With traditional radio listening, advertisers typically buy a window of time – drive-time in the late afternoon for example – with the promise that their ad will reach people during their commute. As a targeting mechanism, it has its limitations, primarily around understanding precisely how many people heard your ad, and who they were.

With digital audio advertising, the targeting options are much more sophisticated. Advertisers can target via non-personally identifiable logged-in data, including age, gender, listening habits, and the device they are listening on – a smart speaker, as opposed to a phone, for example.

But it goes much deeper than that. For people who listen to digital audio via their phone, advertisers can tap into a sea of data around places that device has visited in order to get a better understanding of the listener’s interests. They can even target an ad to be heard only by people listening on headphones, as McDonald’s did to great effect and with great results, in a campaign which ran on our platform last year.

And, similar to radio, advertisers can always target listeners based on the type of programme they are listening to. So, someone listening to a country music radio station, for example, is likely to have an interest in that genre of music. Someone listening to a podcast about baseball clearly has an interest in baseball.

When it comes to the addressable audience for digital audio advertising, there is a slight skew towards the younger demographic, but in reality, people of all ages and with all sorts of interests listen to digital audio, so whatever audience a brand is trying to reach, digital audio can deliver it. One other key benefit of digital audio advertising is the ability to reach people with an ad when you know they are engaged in an activity, whether that’s running, cooking or working out.

Because of the sophisticated targeting capabilities, digital audio advertising is incredibly effective, with listen-through rates in excess of 90 per cent. Many of our advertiser clients see it primarily as a channel to drive brand awareness, but it can also work as a direct response mechanism, to drive app downloads, store visits and sales.

So how do I buy digital audio inventory?
At AdsWizz, our solutions facilitate digital audio advertising programmatically. Our platform for advertisers and agencies is called AudioMatic. It’s a self-service platform, enabling agencies and brands to set targeting parameters, choose where they would like their ads to appear if they wish, set the price they are willing to pay to reach listeners, and schedule the campaign. The platform also delivers real-time insights on how the campaign is performing, enabling advertisers to adjust campaigns mid-flight. On the publisher side, our ad serving platform, AudioServe, gives publishers similar capabilities to sell their valuable audio inventory in an efficient way.

The fact that we deal with both advertisers and publishers makes our platform incredibly robust, and enables us to build rich digital audio ad experiences that are relevant to the user and, therefore, perform better. Of course, digital audio does not exist in a vacuum. Listening to music or a podcast lends itself naturally to doing something else at the same time. So, we have designed our platform to integrate digital audio advertising with other marketing and advertising channels. In situations where someone is listening to digital audio on one device – a mobile phone or smart speaker perhaps – and we detect a second device – say a tablet or a PC – on the same IP address, we can serve a banner ad to the second device, complementing the audio ad the listener just heard. When we do this, advertisers often see 4x the usual level of engagement with the display ad.

In developing our platform, we always put ourselves in the listener’s position. So, we appreciate that there may be times when someone hears an audio ad that they are not able to respond to a traditional call-to-action by clicking on a link. They could be jogging or cooking, or just trying to get to their next meeting, and don’t want to have to stop, pull their phone out of the pocket, unlock it and interact with the ad. So, we developed a patented audio ad format called ShakeMe, which enables a listener to respond to a call-to-action simply by shaking their phone. The shake can trigger whatever action the advertiser pre-sets. ShakeMe campaigns typically deliver 5-7x the engagement rate of a traditional call-to-action, but for something like a coupon download, advertisers have seen as much as 40x the usual engagement rate.

We see our platform as a journey of innovation, rather than a destination, where we constantly listen and respond to the needs of the market. Currently, we are focusing a lot of development effort on building better measurement and attribution capabilities into the platform, dropping a pixel onto the phone the listener hears an ad on so that we can see whether the ad drove an app download, a store visit, or whatever the desired outcome was.

A word about podcasts
Podcasts are seeing unprecedented growth. It’s estimated that the market for advertising within podcasts will be worth $1bn by 2021****. It’s not hard to understand why. When people listen to a podcast, they are incredibly engaged, so the ads tend to perform very well. Add to that, the audience for podcasts is much sought-after, skewing well-educated and affluent. And the podcast advertising format, in which the ad is typically read by the podcast host (also known as ‘host-read’), builds real trust with the advertiser brand.

With podcasts, it’s important that the advertising (or sponsorship) fits within the context of the podcast. However, having host-read ads during each podcast they record will not scale. We currently have a feature in beta that automates the delivery of pre-recorded host-read ads. We supply podcast hosts with scripts from several different advertisers. The host pre-records each ad, then we deliver the most appropriate ad for each unique listener, based on the advertiser’s targeting preferences. So, five people listening to the same podcast could hear five different ads from five different advertisers, each personalized to them, at the same time.

Advertisers are sometimes hesitant when buying podcast advertising programmatically, since they are uncertain about the type of content their ad will be heard in. All they have to guide them is the title of the podcast. Last year we launched a product called PodScribe. We worked with comScore on speech-to-text transcription of thousands of podcasts, so that advertisers can more easily search the content by keyword to identify podcasts that are safe for them advertise in.

The future
The current COVID-19 pandemic has hit businesses around the world hard, but some are faring better than others. We have seen increased activity on our platform from companies in the online education, food delivery and eCommerce sectors, among others. As the world emerges from this current crisis, we expect those who have experimented with digital audio advertising for the first time to stick with it. We also expect to see more brands that have shied away from it in the past adding it to their media plans. Perhaps in a small way to begin with, putting more budget behind it as the results come in, and they see for themselves the power and impact of digital audio advertising.


IAB 2019 Digital Audio Buyers Guide.

** Edison Research, Infinite Dial 2020 Report

*** IAB UK and Edison Research, Infinite Dial 2020 Report.

**** IAB Podcast Revenue Study