Audio Advertising: All the Rage Without the Risk

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By Michal Marcinik, CEO, AdTonos

It’s official: video did not kill the audio star. In fact, with audio listening and advertising hitting an all-time high – absorbing the attention of up to 176 million Americans every week, reflected in a $16.8 bn in ad spend in 2021 – projections for the world of sound are positive. But as the audio industry benefits from new consumer behavior as a result of the pandemic, combined with a population back on the move, the risks of misinformation and other inappropriate content tarnishing a brand’s reputation are hot topics.

Where and when ads are placed have always been important factors for brands and in a programmatic world of endless content, “brand safety” has emerged as a practice to encourage positive and valuable associations with a brand’s message. In short: think “yes” to an ad about running shoes next to an interview with an athlete and “no” to a dating site ad next to an article about serious crime.

While traditionally considered a very brand safe environment – in fact, only 3% of media professionals consider digital audio to be especially vulnerable to ad fraud in the year ahead, despite the industry boom – fraud is still a factor within every digital advertising space, especially ones that are growing and evolving, expanding into new areas such as podcast and gaming platforms and where regulations are not yet the status quo.

Taking this into consideration, there are a few ways the audio advertising inherently mitigates this risk, as well as ways advertisers can ensure additional brand safety.

In the Beginning Was the Word

Speech recognition technology is everywhere. From Siri to Alexa and Google Voice, the industry has made leaps and bounds since the days of manual transcription. Artificial intelligence (AI) has brought transcription software a long way from whence it started: whereas before individual people were hired to painstakingly listen to every audio segment while simultaneously writing it all down, digital evolution has introduced automatization – and speed – into the process.

Other factors such as dwindling data storage costs that can amass, analyse and learn to recognize large quantities of speech patterns that can be up to 95% accurate. With a proliferating number of transcription technology providers, improving accuracy, extended language options and even specific “jargon” inclusion, advertisers will receive a much clearer and detailed idea of episode content, which not only guarantees safety but also furthers the potential for truly contextual targeting.

This creates a more favorable media environment where advertisers have the certainty and control to make wiser and more careful decisions. With a deeper understanding of the content available, they can make more precise evaluations around which topics or sub-topics to avoid and which to seek out. Similar to other media spheres, they can build specific inclusion or exclusion lists based on truly informed decisions.

The Power of Efficient Targeting

While the benefits of advertising on a powerfully popular channel such as YouTube are well known (especially when it comes to targeting), the video platform has also gained some notoriety for how its suggested feed algorithms can recommend related content to users, including the kind of content a brand would want to avoid. Recommendation algorithms are therefore often considered a double-edged sword: effective at showing users relevant media, yet also pushing sensitive content.

While not all audio platforms currently run such a feed, the sector is always evolving, with Spotify trialling a podcast news feed right now. What can reassure advertisers is that the giant is also establishing new measures to increase transparency and consistency, which means the potential to be shown alongside extreme content is severely reduced. This means that alongside a dynamic and growing transcription sector, a more precise labelling system will make it easier for brands to disregard specific podcast content. This combination of AI transcription technology and a specific “sensitive topics” category can help a brand steer clear of the “dirty dozen” categories classified as unsafe.

While it would not be advisable to jump to any conclusions as to what the market will definitely look like in the future, it seems as if the tools to create a safe environment are maturing in tandem with the features that keep the sector exciting. And while Spotify does not define the whole industry, we can be certain that any other platform or service will be fighting to keep up the pace the industry giant sets.

Getting Creative

Some advertisers might worry that being brand safe equates with being brand boring. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Smart speakers and voice assistants, as well as gaming – two pandemic-driven booming industries – are premium environments to both expand and build market share and credibility.

With the global number of smart speaker owners set to double from 320 million in 2020 to 640 million in 2024, we can see how smart speakers and voice assistants, as they become more integrated in consumer lifestyles, become a really promising avenue. Facilitating information and availability requests as well as bookings, these devices allow consumers to respond to immediate queries as soon as something piques their interest, streamlining the consumer’s journey from audio advertising to purchase.

Typical gaming stereotypes generally relegate the activity to young males but statistics reveal a much more interesting picture, with near gender parity and a wide age range both in the UK and the US. Not only does gaming present an inherently engaging and interactive channel, it also does not run the risk of being placed alongside potentially harmful, user-generated content and with up to 74% of users watching or listening to an ad if it comes with currency or other prizes, allows for the easy integration of in-app rewards as a great incentive.

With all these advantages, it’s easy to understand why up to 83% of media buyers are looking to up their in-game ad spend, especially when it promises to reach what is now an active audience of 3.1 billion. Having the right audio advertising partner is once again of importance here, as many games – and many well-known games – are known for having particularly unsafe context. Despite all the positives, it does not mean the area is without risk: it just means that advertisers need to make the right choice. Continuing to be informed about selection and establishing exclusive whitelists will be paramount to leveraging unprecedented reach without losing out on quality.

A Final Word

It is important for advertisers not to get too over-excited when considering the rapidly expanding audio industry, lest they fall prey to the same fraudulent tactics that emerge in channels experiencing rapid growth. You don’t want to be wasting money on poor quality inventory and invaluable traffic. Yes, the audio environment is safer and promises a truly engaged audience but it still pays to take precautions. Choosing your genres, using the right technology and working with trusted partners can open exciting doors into a world where an audience is engaged, receptive and open.