Ad Tech & Programmatic

Interactive audio ads could make it easier for marketers to see what's working

From clickable ads on Spotify to ones you can talk to on Pandora.
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Francis Scialabba

· 5 min read

Audio ads are getting more interactive, asking listeners not only to pay attention during ad breaks from their music or podcasts, but also to engage with ads by clicking their screens—or even talking back.

The developments aren’t exactly new, but they’re picking up steam. Pandora, for instance, tested interactive audio ads for brands such as Doritos and Wendy’s in 2019. The next year, Pandora expanded the format into wider public testing after internal data showed almost three-quarters of about 500 listeners reported that “voice ads were easy to engage with.” These ads are currently in open beta, the company told Marketing Brew.

This month, Spotify announced an interactive audio ad format as well: call-to-action cards that appear on the app when a podcast ad starts playing and reoccur while the user has the app open, prompting listeners to click through to the website of the brand they’re hearing about (as opposed to having to remember a promo code or vanity URL). The company started testing interactive podcast ads a few years earlier, and in 2020, it debuted a feature that enabled sponsors to embed links to their sites on a podcast’s episode page.

As advertisers funnel more dollars into podcasting and other audio platforms, the demand for more innovative formats has increased.

Chris Record, SVP of ad product, technology, and operations at SXM Media—which includes SiriusXM, Pandora, and Stitcher—told Marketing Brew interactive audio ads drive results and engagement. “With voice, you get a real-time signal around whether the creative is resonating.”

Tell an ad you love it…or hate it

That’s part of the value proposition offered by Instreamatic, a voice-advertising company that uses AI to facilitate conversations between listeners and audio ads. The company works primarily with music streaming apps such as Pandora, to which it licensed its tech.

For example, luxury car brand Infiniti ran a campaign with Instreamatic a few years ago asking listeners if they were interested in a test drive. Those who said no heard an immediate reply, then another ad a week later, asking if they’d like to visit Infiniti’s website instead.

According to Instreamatic, more than 5% of the group who declined the offer in the original ad changed their mind and said yes to checking out the website, Stas Tushinskiy, Instreamatic’s CEO and co-founder, pointed out to us. Once a listener expresses interest in the website, the ad is programmed to automatically open the advertiser’s site in their browser.

For those who say a more emphatic no the first time around (maybe they use profanity in their response, for instance), they won’t hear from that campaign again, reducing waste in ad spending.

Responses are sorted into categories—such as those who expressed interest—as opposed to showing advertisers who said what, in order to preserve user privacy. And interactive ads that run on Pandora, for instance, require listeners to opt in to being listened to by the service, Record said.

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The ads can also respond to silence. Ikea was the first brand to leverage this option with Instreamatic, Tushinskiy said. While promoting its mattresses, it injected levity into a campaign by creating a response along the lines of, “Bet you’re already sleeping on one of our mattresses,” for those who didn’t engage with its ad.

For marketers, it's often a mystery as to why the majority of people don't click on ads, Tushinskiy said, noting that interactive audio ads make it easier for brands to learn about people who aren't interested.

Smart speaker ads are chatty, too

Smart speakers offer another opportunity for voice interactivity in advertising.

At Amazon’s UnBoxed event last year, the company introduced a feature for Alexa–enabled devices playing Amazon Music, allowing listeners to respond to ads they hear by asking the voice assistant for more information about a product or adding it to their cart.

Smart-speaker makers, including Amazon and Google, don’t typically run ads directly on their devices, but brands have another workaround in the form of voice apps, known as Skills on Alexa.

Say It Now, a London–based company that creates what CEO and co-founder Charlie Cadbury calls “actionable audio ads” targeted toward smart speaker listeners for brands including Diageo and Unilever, is betting that interactivity will help provide insights advertisers need to increase their spending on audio.

Last month, media agency GroupM UK chose Say It Now as its official voice partner following a six-month RFP process.

Interacting with an audio ad is the equivalent of clicking one online, according to Cadbury, essentially offering real-time information about not only what creative is most effective, but also when it’s most effective. If audiences are engaging most on a Thursday, for instance, a brand might want to increase its media spend that day.

“The way that the industry works right now is that you run a campaign for weeks, then get post-campaign analysis,” Cadbury said. “Then, you optimize your campaign and you run it again, so it’s a slow and relatively analog process.”

That doesn’t cut it for many marketers, who often expect campaign insights within days, even hours. As a result, companies seem to be seeking innovation around interactivity to bring measurement options more in line with other digital mediums.

“You can imagine a world at some point in the future where every ad on our platform is interactive,” SXM Media’s Record said. “You don’t always have to interact with it, but that option is always there. Much like you can always click on a display banner, why shouldn’t all audio be able to be interacted with?”

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