· 4 min read
There are three chimes that, when you hear them, immediately bring NBC to mind. Similarly, five specific notes are instantly recognizable as the McDonald’s jingle.
Examples of successful sonic branding have been around for ages, but not every brand out there has a distinct sound. But in recent years, with the explosion of audio as a medium for content and advertising, brands are increasingly trying to establish their sounds and distinguish themselves, sonically, from the herd.
That was the subject of a session at Advertising Week New York on Tuesday. Reps from Spotify, Twitter, Facebook, SXM Media, and healthcare marketing agency CMI Media Group discussed audio branding and how companies can approach emerging areas in audio.
Ahead of the panel, Mark Pappas, SVP of innovation at CMI Media Group, spoke to Marketing Brew about three areas shaping audio branding: music streaming apps, podcasts, and social audio platforms like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces.
As part of his job, Pappas is tasked with giving clients presentations about marketing possibilities with emerging technologies like AR and VR. But he says clients have been especially intrigued by audio opportunities.
“In the past 10 years, I have never seen the amount of interest around a subject as I’ve had recently with audio. It’s one of the things that clients right now cannot get enough of,” Pappas said.
Data backs him up. A report from eMarketer predicts that US marketers will spend $5.59 billion on digital audio ads this year, which includes podcast ads and audio streaming ads. That’s a 16% jump from last year, and it’s expected to hit nearly $8 billion by 2025.
Finding the right wavelength
CMI Media focuses on healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors, so Pappas said clients have to deal with regulatory complexities that often trickle down to advertising. For instance, content about consumer-facing products has to go through legal reviews to make sure it will hold up to scrutiny from regulators like the FDA. But Pappas said the agency pushes for flexibility with clients for more abstract things, like what a brand sounds like.
“We’ve been having those conversations where, if it’s just sound, that’s one thing. Usually we can get that pushed through. But the second there’s a vocal component to that, where there’s actual content, that’s where everything has to get approved through the regulatory reviews,” he said. “It’s fun times.”
A report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau study found that the pharmaceutical industry made up 9% of ad revenue in podcasting last year, more than doubling its share from 2019.
Social audio platforms like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces present a new way for brands to establish themselves in the audio world. Brands can have experts participate in or host conversations as a way of direct engagement with their target audiences, Pappas explained.
“If you’re an oncology brand, you could have one of your key opinion leaders host a group chat there about a new indication,” Pappas said, using a medical term for a symptom that warrants examination or treatment. “You can find a support group on there for basically any type of condition you can think of. If you went on Clubhouse today and you search for ‘cancer’ or ‘diabetes,’ there’s already groups out there that are made up on the fly.”
Test of time
Pappas thinks it’s important for brands to remain tonally consistent throughout their audio presence. That can come down to things like intro music related to the brand before the speakers begin a Clubhouse chat, for example. The app last week introduced “Music Mode” to let creators edge up the music quality in their broadcasts.
It’s still not clear if social audio will become a mainstream medium. Clubhouse created buzz in its early days when big names like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk would drop in on the app. It had nearly 10 million iOS downloads in February, according to Sensor Tower data cited by Business Insider, but the number dropped to around 2.5 million the following month. Another big surge came in June when it dropped on the Google Play store. And apps in this space continue to add new features, like Twitter’s Ticketed Spaces for Android users.
For Pappas, another indication of the opportunity for brands in audio is the sheer ubiquity of audio outputs around us. He pointed to smart-speaker use on the rise and the fact that AirPods have become one of Apple’s biggest products.
“If you bought a car in the past year or two, chances are it came with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. So now your streaming platform of choice is basically what you listen to in the car,” Pappas said. “So you can reach [consumers] across any device, anywhere they are at any point of their day.”
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