News & Insights

Sonic Science: Understanding your brain on sound

New research reveals that Spotify digital audio is more engaging than radio, TV, and social media.

There’s something special about sound. Sometimes, it feels like magic that can’t be explained: the wonder of hearing a favorite song for the first time, the gripping climax of a riveting podcast, the hypnotic hum of white noise. But the unique power of sound actually can be explained—with science, of course.

We’ve partnered with the research team at Neuro-Insight, a leading firm in the field of cognitive research, to break down why sound—specifically, digital audio—has such a distinct impact. What we found, through both survey data and Neuro-Insight’s Steady State Topography technology that measures brain activity in real-time, is that digital audio is uniquely powerful thanks to its interactivity and personalization.1 For advertisers, that means there’s a huge opportunity to have all ears on you.

How sound works: The medium has a distinct neurological impact.

Let’s take a step back to understand how sound works. After it travels from our ears into our auditory cortex, different processing centers extract elements of the sound—the pitch, rhythm, timbre, and volume—then bring it all back together just 30 milliseconds later. Recent advances in neuroscience show us that sounds actually impact us through every key center of the brain—affecting the emotional, memory, and engagement centers alike.

To understand our cognitive processing of audio signals, Neuro-Insight uses four proprietary metrics: Engagement (the relatability and relevance of the ad), Emotional Intensity (the strength of the emotions tied to the ad), Long-Term Memory for Global Features (memories, feelings, and themes associated with the ad), and Long-Term Memory for Details (the specific message and details of the ad). Together, these metrics paint a full picture of our ability to retain information and how we connect emotion to those memories.

Theater of the mind: Digital audio is significantly more impactful than radio.

It’s clear that sounds impact the brain, but our research with Neuro-Insight found that some types have a stronger impact than others. Their technology showed 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. Unlike traditional radio, digital audio lets people tailor what they’re hearing so it connects directly to their specific interests and the moment they’re in. The research found that this interactive ability to self-select content increases engagement, and it also fuels personalized experiences on digital audio platforms. As a result, people turn to music and podcasts throughout key moments of their daily lives, using audio to enhance their experiences. And in today’s media landscape, that’s important: 66% of participants said there’s too much visual stimulation, and that audio provides a nice escape from it.2

Listening on Spotify takes this engagement to the next level, with deeper personalization.

In our research, we found 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.3

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Spotify’s extensive product features are built for interactivity and personalization, and Neuro-Insight attributes the boost in engagement metrics found in the research to these qualities. But it turns out, those qualities didn’t just lift Spotify above other audio formats. Neuro-Insight’s research found that the Spotify experience drove higher engagement than TV, digital video, and social media as well. That’s a testament to the power of audio: Spotify’s deeply personalized platform seems to create a more engaging experience than watching a TV show on the couch or passively scrolling through social feeds.

All ears on you: What it means for brands

In today’s crowded media landscape, advertisers are finding it increasingly difficult to break through. But through the Spotify Advertising experience, fusing the power of personalized audio and interactivity, advertisers have the chance to connect with their audience in a meaningful context while they’re deeply immersed in what they’re listening to.

Spotify’s impact on the brain, measured by Neuro-Insight, can result in a significant impact on Ad Memorability and Brand Impact alike. Our research showed that 93% of the brain’s engagement with the content transferred directly into ad engagement as the listener moved from their music and podcasts to the ad. As a result, the ads saw 19% higher Brand Impact on Spotify compared to all other media.

For more information on our research and the power of advertising with Spotify, download the one-sheet below or get in touch with our sales team. And stay tuned for more insights from the Spotify Advertising team.

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Methodology: Spotify and Neuro-Insight conducted the largest audio study of its kind with over 600 participants, studying both music and podcasts. The research studied the impact of Spotify and its strengths against terrestrial audio, video, digital streaming and social media platforms to provide the most comprehensive analysis of the brand, the platform and its role in creating brand breakthrough for advertisers.

The research leverages Neuro-Insight’s Steady State Topography (SST) which is a proprietary technology that measures neural processing speed at the scalp in order to build a second-by-second picture of activity in the brain. It has been validated by research and used in scientific and clinical research applications for over fifteen years before becoming a neuromarketing tool. This technology is unique in that it can focus in on our decisions making processes in the brain to help us get a deeper understanding of why we consume and buy content.

1 Sonic Science research, part one, Neuro-Insight and Spotify, June 2021 2 Neuro-Insight Post SST Survey, June 2021, Podcast N-316, Music N=273, % people agree with the statement 3 Sonic Science research, part one, Neuro-Insight and Spotify, June 2021

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