Mic check: A guide to audio advertising during COVID-19

Music and podcasts are the soundtrack of people’s lives, whether they’re listening while running, cooking, showering, trying to focus, or simply chilling. And while those moments are still happening, they’re definitely different. Working might be taking place at home, at a kitchen table while also juggling childcare. Cooking might be happening a lot more often (and for more people). And chilling? That moment is a whole lot more important now.

For digital marketers, reaching people in the right moment has always been top priority. But now that audiences’ routines and priorities are shifting quickly, brands need to update their ad creative to keep pace with those changes. In fact, 92% of Association of National Advertisers’ members say they’ve adjusted creative messaging for marketing since mid-March.

We’ve shared how Spotify listeners are turning to audio in new ways at home, from soundtracking quality time with family to focusing on wellness. Now, we’ve gathered creative recommendations for brands to land the right message as the world reacts to changes in how we live, work, and stay entertained and informed.

Context is everything

For brands on Spotify, context has always been key to resonating with listeners. Now that listening is mostly taking place at home, and reaching audiences in a time of uncertainty, context means more than just message and placement. It means make sure your message’s tone matches the moment.

Now that listening context has changed, it’s more important than ever to respect the mood. As a brand, ask yourself: How can we show up in useful, non-disruptive ways right now? As we mentioned above, be hyper-sensitive to how these moments are changing in real time. The message you send to your listeners when they were working out in a gym might not hit the same note when those listeners are getting in reps from the living room.

What brands can do: Let the moment drive the message

  • Use context to find the right format. Spotify’s streaming intelligence can identify when the screen is in view, or when audio is the star of the show. For example, an ad with a direct call-to-action is a great fit for when the screen is in view, while listening on desktop, tablet, or smartphone. For screen-free moments like cooking or working out, use the power of audio to tell a story and create a memorable impression for the listener.

Consider the cultural moment

The streaming generation is savvy, and they have a lot of opinions about culture, brands, and how the two intersect. They’re especially critical right now, as brands rush to weigh in on the current moment.

Being culturally relevant doesn’t just mean addressing the cultural zeitgeist. It's about tailoring messaging to personal, cultural moments that we can identify through music and podcasts. And what sounds clever one day can sound insensitive the next day, especially coming from brands.

What brands can do: Check and double-check phrasing

  • Carefully consider explicit references to COVID-19, and whether your brand is in a position to make them. Rethink other now-overused related phrases, like “in these uncertain times” — audiences have heard that a lot by now.
  • Steer clear of words or phrases that could have double meanings, like “heating up,” “sick beats,” and “going viral.”
  • Broad brand themes such as “togetherness, escapism and adventure” are best reserved for different times.

Humility, then utility

People are leaning on audio while social distancing to fill very specific needs: to stay informed, stay grounded, and occasionally stay entertained. Brands can play a role in filling those needs by easing up on the hard sell, and focusing on providing something useful. What information can you give that they’re looking for? What’s your brand doing differently right now to help people? What kind of practical wellness advice, home hacks, or parenting tips could your brand provide? Right now, listeners might not be in the mood to fill their shopping carts. They are in the mood to hear how brands are helping right now.

What brands can do: Be useful and open

  • Focus on brand-building messages that capture emotion and nuance.
  • If your brand has taken steps to pitch in and help during this crisis, bring that story to life on audio across multiple formats, like video, audio, and display.
  • Be transparent with your communications and your company's actions, but be mindful not to add to the overwhelming news cycle with yet another piece of brand commentary on COVID-19.

Take listeners somewhere new

People turn to audio for in-depth news and information about COVID-19. But they also listen to lift their mood and relieve stress. Streaming audio is an intimate platform that provides an escape for listeners, and vast storytelling opportunities for brands.

On Spotify, there’s plenty of opportunity beyond the classic radio spot. Brands can play with sound to create immersive experiences that take people beyond the here and now. For listeners, it can be an unexpected (and welcome) change from hearing 30 seconds of voiceover.

What brands can do: Experiment with new formats

  • Now is a good time to step back and consider non-traditional audio ad formats, like annotated playlists, 3D audio that mimics surround-sound, and ASMR of ambient sounds that help listeners relax.
  • Take your time. On Spotify, listeners know that their music will continue after the ad break. Most of them are less concerned with the length of the ad, and more concerned with whether it’s relevant for them. Make sure every word of voiceover is necessary to tell the story.

Audio is a uniquely flexible format that can be produced remotely and executed quickly. Spotify’s creative suite gives marketers and agencies of all sizes the tools to tell captivating stories with audio — stories that can be told from anywhere, and heard anywhere. Audio also provides a canvas to create rich, in-depth experiences for listeners adjusting to a changing world.

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