Audio Advertisers Sidestep Privacy Issues by Targeting Segments, Rather Than Individuals

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One of the oldest broadcasting mediums is finding new life in the digital era — and advertisers are taking notice. More than a hundred years after the voices of radio personalities like Orson Welles became household names, and decades after transistor radios made audio content portable and widely-accessible for the first time, audio news is experiencing a resurgence, together with audio advertisers.

Terrestrial radio and digital formats, including online audio and podcasting, reach a large portion of the U.S. population, even as traditional news readership declines. As of 2023, 42% of Americans ages 12 and older have listened to a podcast in the past month, and 31% have listened in the past week.

While video formats get the lion’s share of attention and innovation, audio and podcasting still outstrip many other channels, including connected TV, by some metrics. A recent study of audio advertising across three major formats found that audio ads performed better than video in grabbing attention and generating brand recall. 

Those figures are no surprise to Andy Houstoun, chief commercial officer at the global digital marketing firm Crimtan and a 20-year veteran in the programmatic industry. Houstoun says the resurgence of audio formats is being driven by the massive increase in the use of music streaming services and podcasting platforms.

“Spotify launched its ability to sell audio spots back in 2016 in near real-time, and other music streaming services like Pandora have also jumped in on this opportunity to buy slots in real-time,” Houstoun says. “This shift to opening up real-time bidding slots through programmatic exchanges has meant that many advertisers have been able to take the audio assets used in video inventory, and leverage these elements for very targeted audio slots, as programmatic audio uses the same asset formats as video.”

While ad spending on connected TV is stagnating by some measures, audio and podcasting continue to rise. According to a 2023 survey by Comscore’s programmatic division Proximic, audio and podcast advertising saw record growth in 2022, with the largest year-over-year gains compared to other channels from last year. According to IAB, podcast ad revenue was up 26% year-over-year in 2022.

“Programmatic ad buying is all about driving efficiency. By giving advertisers the ability to target specific customer segments based on their musical, podcast or digital radio preferences alongside temporal elements—time, date, geo, and even weather, and more—they can make the same marketing or advertising spend work twice as hard towards a more focused customer segment, ultimately driving better engagement and returns,” Houstoun says. “This is a big distance away from more traditional audio, which was always more of ‘spray and pray’ tactic.”

Houstoun says the ability to target in this manner also allows advertisers to be specific about their verbal messaging towards particular target personas and segments, rather than individuals. 

“This ability means that, as well as buying efficiency, there are performance gains by delivering better relevancy in talking to prospects with language that is relevant to them,” he says. “In audio you are targeting a context rather than an individual, as you are putting ads in front of customers that are listening to specific genres, not the customers themselves.” 

That difference — targeting personas or cohorts rather than individuals — is an important one from a privacy perspective.

In terms of privacy, Houstoun says there’s zero need to use any personal data with programmatic audio, because advertisers are targeting context rather than individuals, and that means advertisers can be exempt from data subject privacy regulations in certain contexts.

“If advertisers have not already explored programmatic advertising as a more efficient way to deliver relevant messaging to specific target segments, they should,” he says. “This is by far and away the best way to leverage the growing audio formats available.”

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.