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Audio: New Era, New Challenges

9 min read.

Fiona Field, Deputy MD

by Fiona Field, Deputy MD


The next decade presents countless exciting opportunities for audio and all signs point to the transformation of its role in the media landscape. While we are not yet an audio-first society, a booming audio landscape awaits us.

Since the arrival of Apple, brands have largely focussed on visual identities in a multi-screen- dominated era. The next trend will be the science of sound with a distinct focus on sonic identities.  An interesting question to consider now is not what your brand looks like, but what does your brand sound like?  Consumer behaviour is changing at an unprecedented rate, and as ‘voice search’ grows stronger, brands must optimise all touchpoints.

Today, Ireland continues its love affair with audio, with 3.15 million adult listeners (81%) tuning into radio on a typical weekday.1 Even amongst the more volatile and harder-to-reach 15-34-year-old market, 71% listen daily.2 However, even with these strong audience figures, it is fair to say that radio, or audio as we now know it, doesn’t command enough attention in the marketing mix.

If we take radio in isolation, these are important statistics, which demonstrate that even in a market with so many emerging and growing media platforms, traditional media can still command audience attention.



Investing in the creative process is an absolute must for radio advertising to achieve its potential. This can only be achieved by playing to the strengths of the medium by using the right story, sound and production elements.

It is fair to say that while video is certainly not killing the radio star, the continued domination of ‘terms and conditions’ in advertising and below-standard production values have cast a shadow over the power and potential of radio, particularly in terms of creativity.

Radio ranks as the second most powerful medium in terms of its ability to trigger a positive emotional response, and an opportunity exists to unlock this potential through creativity.3



If the last decade was dominated by visual identity, the next decade will place a large focus on audio strategies and sonic identity, not least because of the growing part music plays in the lives of our Gen Z consumers, the rise in voice search and the power of audio. The smart brands will pay attention to their sonic identity and how this scales across every touchpoint, from their call centres to their radio ads to their branded audio content.

Mastercard is a case in point; having dropped the word ‘Mastercard’ from its logo, it has since unveiled a new sonic brand identity to leverage the connection between the brand and the consumer. HSBC has done the same; it commissioned Jean-Michel Jarre to create a new melody that would make the bank’s communications instantly recognisable. Furthermore, BMW paid Oscar-winning film composer Hans Zimmer to design the sound of its otherwise silent electric vehicles.



More technology, more targeting opportunities and more personal connections all point to a growing need to devote more attention to leverage how people listen, with a message that fits the environment. Too often, advertisers apply a one-size-fits-all approach to audio, and they risk irritating their audience. A US study in 2019 showed that audio ads on music streaming services or podcasts ranked as the third most annoying element with 47% agreeing.4

Advertisers must pay attention to how and where the consumer listens and serve audio that is complimentary rather than disruptive, paying particular attention to the frequency at which it is delivered.



While the number of podcasts available continues to grow, audiences remain relatively low compared to other audio formats and the research varies. In 2019, JNLR (Joint National Listenership Research) reported that 9.3% of adults in Ireland ‘listened to any music/audio from a podcast in the last week.’5

Like other digital platforms, there are significant challenges in relation to measurement of digital audio. Most platforms now allow third party verification of advertising, but marketers are unable to independently verify actual listens to sponsored audio or video content. All platforms sit behind walls, meaning they self-report their audience numbers. This contrasts with the radio industry, which has the JNLR to verify listenership across all stations.

Digital is rife with controversies around self-reporting, so, for this industry to grow, an independent body or tool needs to be created to address the lack of trust that currently exists.



Pushing the boundaries of radio is exciting and is now starting to gain traction. 2FM’s first live breakfast broadcast simultaneously shown on the RTÉ player was evidence of this, and the magic truly happens when the media owner, client and agency collaborate. But what next?

As the audio market changes, we must consider how digital audio ads should evolve.  One such innovation is the ShakeMe™ format, which invites listeners to shake their phones in order to pursue an action requested in the audio ad (such as a coupon, test drive, further content). Clever technology such as this enables consumers to engage easily with a positive experience.  Other emerging audio formats now have the functionality to marry advertising with the person’s individual music preferences.


Audio is undergoing an interesting transformation, and while we must embrace new technologies and continue to test and learn, we must also remember those large audiences that radio stations continue to deliver.

We must consider how people interact with digital audio and use complementary methods to engage, rather than disrupt (and possibly irritate) listeners.

As audio continues to evolve, this transformation presents new opportunities for brands to capitalise on their power and develop audio strategies and content that play to the emotional impact of the medium.



1. JNLR January – December 2019
2. Ibid
3. Re-evaluating Media, Ebiquity, 2018
4. Bizrate Insights, eMarketer, July 2019
5. JNLR January – December 2019
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