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New study by Spotify and WPP illuminates how listeners engage with digital audio

New data from Spotify, WPP, and Neuro-Insight reveals how listeners engage with digital audio—and how brands can create more effective music and podcast ads.

Knowledge is power. That old adage still rings true in today's modern world—and the more you know about how people engage with your advertising, the more powerful your marketing campaign's potential.

In 2021, Spotify conducted the largest study of its kind on digital audio advertising, leveraging Neuro-Insight's proprietary technology to measure voluntary participants' brain activity when listening to pre-recorded music and podcasts featuring ads. We found that advertising on Spotify is 29% more engaging, 20% more memorable, and delivers 19% higher brand breakthrough than all other U.S. media.1

Now, in collaboration with the world’s largest marketing and communications company, WPP, and their top clients, we've expanded that study across the U.S. and UK markets to gain deeper insight into the level of listener engagement with real audio ads. Using the same methodology as Sonic Science Volume 1, we used Steady State Topography (SST) headsets to measure participating listeners' subconscious reactions to ads while engaging with Spotify playlists and podcasts. This allowed us to analyze their neuro-responses—including Engagement, Memorability for Detail, Long-Term Memory for Narrative, and Emotional Intensity.

What we discovered this time around is game-changing. Here's a rundown of the data and how it can benefit your brand.

Spotify: Great listening meets great advertising

On Spotify, content is king—and the results of this study prove it, with playlists and podcasts generating increased Engagement (+14%), Global Memory (+17%), Detail Memory (+18%), and Emotional Intensity (+11%), compared with global benchmarks across all media.2

But in addition to its extensive library of hit podcasts and curated playlists, Spotify is a place where advertisers can get real results, too. According to the study, Spotify ads are similarly strong across core metrics when compared to global all-media benchmarks,2 indicating:
- +17% Engagement
- +17% Global Memory
- +21% Detail Memory
- +12% Emotional Intensity

[US, UK, CA, AU] Spotify x WPP x Neuro-Insight Report // N&I // Inline 1.1

These aren't the only areas where Spotify shines. Compared with all media norms, there's 103% transference from content engagement to ad engagement on the Spotify platform, and brand breakthrough is 14% higher.3

4 principles for creating stand-out digital audio ads

Armed with these thought-starting insights, brands can begin to create more engaging, memorable, and effective digital audio ads. Our research uncovered four guiding principles for advertisers seeking to make the most of their campaigns*:

1. Listeners like hearing multiple voices in ads

[US, UK, CA, AU] Spotify x WPP x Neuro-Insight Report // N&I // Inline 2 Our listeners want variety. We found that ads with multiple characters can increase Brand Impact by up to 26%.4 What's more, featuring voices of multiple genders can boost Brand Impact by 24%.5

2. Information trumps entertainment

[US, UK, CA, AU] Spotify x WPP x Neuro-Insight Report // N&I // Inline 3 Entertaining your audience is an admirable goal—but our data shows that delivering useful information is actually more memorable (+21%) and engaging (+20%).6

3. Offers and promos impact engagement

[US, UK, CA, AU] Spotify x WPP x Neuro-Insight Report // N&I // Inline 4 Everyone loves a deal, right? That seems to be the case among Spotify listeners, anyway. Providing offers and promotions can make your ads 30% more memorable and 34% more engaging.7

4. The five-second rule reigns supreme

[US, UK, CA, AU] Spotify x WPP x Neuro-Insight Report // N&I // Inline 5 No, we don't care what food you dropped on the floor. In the context of digital audio, this golden rule means something else entirely. Naming your brand within the first five seconds—instead of keeping listeners guessing—can make your ad 17% more engaging.8

Best practices for music vs. podcast ads

While music playlists and podcasts are both forms of digital audio, listeners experience them differently. To help you strategize your next digital audio campaign, we've broken down the four key tactics mentioned above into more detail based on the format—and we've thrown in a few bonus best practices, too.

Give your audience something to noodle on—in the form of useful info

When listeners are engaged with a podcast, their brains are already in a detail-oriented state—meaning they're primed to receive whatever information your brand's got to share. In fact, informational ads on podcasts garner 25% more Global Memory among audiences than entertaining ads do.9 When it comes to ads served in playlists, our data found that informational ads are around 23% more engaging than ads that are simply entertaining.10

Extend that informational approach to your CTA

Just as podcast listeners want more information about your brand, they also expect it from your call to action. Our research shows that "Learn More" CTAs outperform those encouraging users to "Buy Now" or visit a store.11

Tap into the power of familiar voices

If you've independently secured all the necessary rights to include the voice of a celebrity in your ad, use it to further engage Spotify listeners when they're enjoying their favorite artists on a music playlist. According to the report, this can increase Engagement by 18%.12 Celebrities excite podcast listeners, too, boosting the Emotional Intensity of their responses to ads by 21%.13

Give your brand a voice (or two, or three)

If your Rolodex of celebrities is thin, consider another tactic for forging connections with listeners—using multiple characters in your creative. In music ads, listeners are around 35% more engaged when an ad contains multiple voices versus a single narrator.14 In podcasts, having more than one character in an ad boosts Brand Impact by 28%.15

Get audiences to perk up and pay attention by highlighting promos

When you're advertising in a podcast, teasing an offer or promotion can boost Engagement by 33%, while also making the ad feel more personalized and relevant.16 By the same token, highlighting a promo in a music ad can lead to 34% higher Engagement and a lift of 56% in Emotional Intensity.17

Don't be shy—introduce yourself within the first five seconds

Letting podcast listeners know who you are right off the bat—in the first five seconds—can lead to a 28% increase in Brand Impact and a 16% boost in Detail Memory.18 In music environments, Engagement is 17% higher when advertisers abide by the five-second rule.19

When advertising in music playlists, play it cool

For brands advertising in a playlist environment, the Emotional Intensity of an ad can be 26% higher if you address the audience indirectly rather than taking a "hey listener" approach. Whereas podcast listeners might enjoy that kind of personalization and conversational tone, people listening to music may be in more of a solo state of mind—and therefore prefer a less direct message.20

Equipped with these best practices, brands can create ads that go above and beyond the norm—and potentially provide a better experience for listeners while also boosting campaign performance.

Want to learn more?

(See what we did there?) Get in touch to talk digital audio ads with Spotify, and meet your audience on a platform where they're highly engaged.

Sources: 1. Neuro-Insight Power of Audio Post—SST Survey, 2021, Podcast N=316, M N=273 2-20. Neuro-Insight Sonic Science Study, 2023, US, US N=135, UK N=132 (“All media formats" = TV, radio, digital audio, digital video and social media)

*These principles are to help brands get started with digital audio ad creation—advertisers should make sure their ads are their own and meet applicable legal requirements.

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