Despite strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of audio advertising, many brands appear unwilling to invest in the medium, writes Alex Brownsell.

You do not need to be an expert in human psychology to know that people differ from algorithms. Input does not always affect output; facts do not necessarily influence an individual’s decision-making. Just look at the rise of political populism in Western democracies.

The same, it seems, can be said of advertisers. New research from consultancy Ebiquity finds that major gaps exist between marketers’ perceptions of media attributes and their actual effectiveness. Crucially, this is the second ‘Re-evaluating Media’ study by Ebiquity – the first having been released in 2018 – but there is scant evidence to suggest marketers have been absorbing the vast quantities of industry research at their disposal.

Having been carried out in partnership with Radiocentre, the UK’s body for commercial radio, the report unsurprisingly highlights the under-utilisation of radio media for extending reach, building brand salience and optimising ROI. (It’s also worth pointing out that the study only considers broadcast radio; other forms of audio, including podcasts and streaming services, are disregarded.)

For instance, radio ranks in first place against the objective of targeting the right people in the right place at the right time, ahead of paid social and TV media. Yet from an advertiser and agency perception standpoint it languishes in equal bottom spot, alongside newspapers.

Source: Ebiquity

This is the very topic that Radiocentre addressed in its 2020 research into the role of radio advertising in “building shelf awareness” and reaching grocery shoppers on their way to stores. It’s clearly a message that marketers are yet to fully digest.

Falling on deaf ears

Audio ought to be well-positioned to prosper in today’s media market. The medium has a strong track record of innovation in recent years, and boasts major improvements in addressability, made possible by programmatic advertising via digital radio and streaming services. Audio advertisers benefit from the avoidance of visual clutter, and can engage listeners in an intimate, personal setting. Developments in voice technology promise greater interactivity and shoppability.

Yet, despite these inherent attributes, many advertisers appear to be pulling back from audio advertising.

According to WARC’s The Marketer’s Toolkit 2021, only 16% of advertisers globally plan to increase investment in audio in the coming 12 months; in comparison, 23% said they expect to cut audio ad budgets. The only silver lining is the continued growth of podcast advertising, with 38% planning to boost spend in 2021.

Source: WARC, The Marketer’s Toolkit 2021

After suffering an 18.4% drop in global ad investment in 2020, WARC Data forecasts that radio will only partially recover this year with 4.6% year-on-year growth.

A change of tune

Why is this? Well, the COVID-factor should not be underestimated. Marketers will have been spooked by data showing the apparent death of the commute to and from workplaces, a moment traditionally dominated by radio and audio. Even the school run has been curtailed in more severe lockdowns, as currently being experienced in much of Western Europe.

Moreover, it is also possible that radio’s strong reputation for brand-building is proving harmful in a recessionary environment, at a time when marketers are under pressure to deliver short-term results at the expense of longer-term ambitions.

Plenty of evidence shows that audio media remains an effective channel at delivering business outcomes. Newer audio formats are being honed to deliver greater purchase intent.

Counter-intuitive as it may seem given everything the industry has learned about the importance of long-term brand health, to return to growth in 2021, audio media owners may need to focus on these performance-related attributes.

Rather than emphasising what their radio stations, podcasts and streaming services can do for brands tomorrow, this is a moment to dwell on the here-and-now.

Click here to download your free copy of The Marketer’s Toolkit 2021.