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Sonic Science: Spotify may drive more visual attention than other media

According to research conducted in partnership with Neuro-Insight, Spotify content and ads don’t only engage our ears—they grab our visual attention too, maybe even more effectively than visual media. Read on to find out how.

In 2021, Spotify partnered with Neuro-Insight—a leading firm in the field of cognitive research—to conduct a largest-of-its-kind study in the world of marketing: Sonic Science. Using Neuro-Insight’s Steady State Topography technology that measures brain activity in real-time, we set out to find out why sound—specifically, digital audio—has such a distinct impact on memory, mood, and emotion, and what that means for advertisers.

We already knew that sounds impact us through every key center of the brain—affecting the emotional, memory, and engagement centers alike.

So, in order to conduct our study as effectively as possible, we used these key centers as metrics to paint a full picture of our ability to retain information, and how we connect emotion to those memories.

Note: Spotify has paid and commissioned Neuro-Insight to perform this research.


What did Sonic Science reveal?

The results of Sonic Science provided some fascinating insights: we found that the listening experience for digital audio was significantly elevated across all metrics compared to radio—leading to higher memorability, engagement, and emotional intensity. Neuro-Insight believes this boost is directly tied to digital audio’s inherent qualities—specifically, personalization and interactivity.

What’s more, the research revealed that the power of digital audio is amplified even further on Spotify. When Neuro-Insight measured the brain activity of users listening to different types of audio, it was clear that Spotify provided the most engaging audio experience.

And the biggest boon for advertisers? We found that 93% of the brain’s engagement with Spotify content transferred directly into ad engagement, resulting in a 19% higher brand impact on Spotify compared to other media.1


All ears (and eyes) on you

Next month, we’ll be lifting the lid on volume two of our Sonic Science report—another wave of groundbreaking audio reception analysis and insights to fuel your marketing plans.

To whet the appetite, we wanted to share another finding recently uncovered by Neuro-Insight: Spotify drives very high levels of visual attention compared to Neuro-Insight's benchmarks for all media formats.2

Let that sink in a moment.

It may seem unlikely, but that’s the implication of Neuro-Insight’s research, which spanned two markets (US, AU), two audio formats (music and podcasts), 250+ participants (50% male; 50% female), four industries, and 24 advertisements.

To be more specific, the study found that Spotify content drives 38% more visual attention than the Neuro-Insight all-media benchmark, while Spotify ads drive 27% more visual attention.3*

Understandably, you might be wondering how. We sat down with Richard Silberstein, Ph.D, of Neuro-Insight, to find out.


The science of vision

Q: In the context of this research, what is meant by “visual attention”? And how was it measured?

“To understand visual attention, you have to first consider the nature of attention in general. Essentially, attention is the behavioral and cognitive process of selectively concentrating on a discrete aspect of information, while ignoring everything else. For example, if you’re focusing your attention on a faint sound, you’ll pay less attention to visual inputs, and maybe even close your eyes to give that sound as much of your attention as possible. Basically, you can focus your attention on any sense—touch, smell, taste, sound, or sight—as well as your internal thoughts, like when people practice mindfulness meditation.

We use a ‘Visual Attention Measure’ to indicate the level of attention that’s directed to visual objects or your visual field. This focus is reflected in the level of activity within the visual cortex—or the occipital lobes found at the back of the brain.

The occipital lobes play a critical function in the reception and stimulation of sensory stimuli coming from the eyes. In other words, they are the main regions where visual stimuli are processed.”

Q: So how does Spotify, a form of audio media, drive such high levels of visual attention—according to your research?

“Here’s the thing: most of the neural processes that underlie visual perception are also used in the creation of imagery. So, imagery—imagining or visualizing your own image—can stand in for a perceptual stimulus and create the same activity within the brain that focusing your attention on a literal object does.

To take it one step further, we also know that mental imagery occurs when perceptual information is accessed from memory—essentially, we draw from our memories to create an image most relevant to us.

In our study, participants who heard audio ads scored highly on Visual Attention, which tells us that they may have been drawing from their memories and creating mental imagery based on their personal experiences or associations with that particular brand.”

Q: And so what does this mean for brands advertising on Spotify?

“Well, knowing that audio-induced imagery allows us to create our own version of an image, brands advertising on Spotify have a distinct and non-invasive opportunity to reach listeners.”

Curious to find out more about the science of sound? Download our first Sonic Science report today, and sign up to be the first to know when our second report is published.

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  1. Sonic Science, Neuro-Insight x Spotify. June 2021 (“Other media” = TV, radio, digital audio, digital video, and social media)
  2. Spotify x Neuro-Insight Sonic Science, 2022 (“All media formats” = TV, radio, digital audio, digital video and social media)
  3. Spotify x Neuro-Insight Sonic Science, 2022
    • The Neuro-Insight benchmark is based on all other forms of media ever measured through Steady State Topography technology.

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