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The Sound of Gen-Z: A Deep Dive into Branded Audio

Written by Carolyn Lok, Maddie Kidd and Martin Soto, Illustration by Bryce Chan

Get in loser, we’re streaming a podcast. Seriously. The latest episode just came out and I need to know what happens next.

The emergence of new media and audio streaming platforms have provided companies an opportunity to optimize their brand communication and experience to reach new consumer groups, like millennials and Gen-Z. A study conducted by Edison Research found these groups spend more than 18 hours each week and 2.6 hours or more each day listening to audio.

According to International Sound Awards, audio branding can be defined as “the process of brand development and brand management by use of audible elements within the framework of brand communication.” 

We’ll be looking at how branded audio has played a role in some of the biggest companies’ brand perception, the opportunities for growth in branded podcasts and how Gen-Z has incorporated branded audio in everyday life.

 

How is audio being used by brands?

The first global audit into the world’s best audio brands was launched by AMP agency in 2019. Using a rigorous analytical process, AMP quantified audio brand performance against a range of criteria such as trust, recognition, engagement and efficiency.

The analysis looked into the top 100 brands to see how they were extending their audio presence beyond advertising, sonic logos or jingles. McDonald’s, Disney, Intel, Apple and Coca-Cola were ranked as the best audio brands.

While these companies are top performers in the Audio Brand Index, their audio investment (efficiency) score was low. While a single sound asset has served these brands well over the last decade, new media has made these assets unsustainable in today’s environment.

Sorry, Mickey D’s, “I’m Lovin It” isn’t cuttin’ it. 

Spotify

Spotify has been one of the biggest proponents for amplifying the need for brands to leverage the power of audio. As one of the leading audio streaming services, it has given brands an outlet to create targeted ad experiences to extend a campaign or drive traffic to a URL destination.

Spotify offers brands three ways to create an ad experience on its platform: audio, video and display. Its “Audio Everywhere” package allows brands to reach their target audience on any device, in any environment, during any moment of the day. The company currently has 217 million monthly active users worldwide, with more than half of them as free, ad-listening subscribers.  

In an era where storytelling speaks volumes, brands have a unique opportunity to tell their story in a different light. In 2016, the company introduced Branded Moments, a first-to-market native solution that helps brands reach their audience in real-time moments using Spotify’s streaming intelligence. Spotify has created an opportunity for brands like Gatorade, Bacardi and Bose to create new conversations and build brand interest through the power of audio. 

Here are a few examples of how brands utilize Spotify’s audio ad experience: 

  • Fox used a branded playlist on Spotify to promote its new TV show, Star. In addition to sharing the stories behind the show’s music, it included commentary by the cast between songs.

  • Gatorade launched its Amplify campaign, which focused on the user’s workout experience. With Spotify’s API, it drove its audience to an interactive site where they could pick the length of their workout session and generate a personalized playlist.

(Retrieved from https://www.hydric.fm/gatorade-amplify)

  •  BACARDÍ® used Spotify’s Branded Moments to own the “Party” moment. Marketing director Nadine Iacocca at Bacardi Rums told AdAge Bacardi is sponsoring party moments to hit consumers when they’re either “pre-gaming” or in the Uber on the way to a night out.  This was rooted in the idea that “he who controls the playlist, controls the universe.”

(Retrieved from https://www.spotifyforbrands.com/en-US/ad-experiences/branded-moments/)

Gimlet and Podcasts

Spotify’s recent acquisition of podcast platforms Gimlet and Anchor indicate the growing presence of a different form of branded audio: podcasts. 

The deal currently sets Spotify up to be the leading audio platform, providing its users access to award-winning podcasts from Gimlet and democratizing the creation of podcasts with Anchor. In total, Spotify set aside $500 million for podcast acquisitions throughout the 2019 year. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek projects “more than 20 percent of all Spotify content will be non-music content.”

Podcasting as a form of branded media should not be understated. According to a study from Edison, 54 percent of podcast consumers say they are more likely to consider the brands they hear on advertised podcasts. NPR stated 82 percent of podcast listeners have taken action in response to a sponsorship announcement. 

So, how did podcasts become so popular?  There is a low barrier to entry and high potential to get a brand’s message out in front of a large audience. Podcasts allow brands to situate themselves as thought leaders in the industry and tell captivating stories that can help win over their audience. Brands also become more approachable by providing listeners a behind-the-scenes look into the company. Podcasts also have an advantage over video as they are more easily consumable and ideal for on-the-go situations, such as driving or working out.

Eight-hour car ride? There’s a true-crime podcast series for that.

Gimlet is a vehicle for businesses to produce and promote these types of branded podcasts. Featured clients include Facebook, Netflix, Google, Nike, Toyota and other notable brands. Take a look at some of the ways Gimlet has been used to share brand stories: 

  • Lyft created a “Pick Me Up” podcast series through Gimlet Creative telling the stories of five drivers. It explains where they came from, where they are going, and why they got behind the wheel. The podcast gives listeners an inside glance into the company, as well as a profound appreciation for its drivers. 

(Retrieved from https://creative.gimletmedia.com/shows/pick-me-up/episodes#show-tab-picker)

  • Microsoft launched its “.future” podcast exploring current trends that will have a large impact on future decades. It focuses on the idea that humans have the choice to shape their own futures through their choices. The podcast is a great example of how a company can establish itself as a thought leader. 

(Retrieved from https://creative.gimletmedia.com/shows/future/j4hk3v/trailer)

  • “Flipping the Game” is a podcast series introduced by Reebok about women pushing the boundaries to fight their way into the male-dominated sneaker industry. The podcast captures a niche audience that otherwise may not have been interested in Reebok’s brand. 

(Retrieved from https://creative.gimletmedia.com/shows/flipping-the-game#show-tab-picker). 

 

Impacts on Gen-Z

The role of audio in our lives

Audio has changed the game for Gen-Z. If you are on a bus, train or walk to class, you would probably notice how many people have their headphones plugged in. Audio helps fill the silence and ease the overwhelming feeling of being in a crowded area. Podcasts are particularly popular amongst Gen-Z. In fact, 60% of Gen Z listen to podcasts that are at least 26 minutes in length compared to 42% of older generations.

Members of Gen-Z find podcasts make it feel as though they are immersed in a conversation. Although it isn’t face-to-face, it provides the illusion we’re in the same room as the hosts. We’re retaining information, laughing along to jokes, nodding when we agree, etc. The hosts feel more like friends and the storytelling is entertaining. A bond is created between the listener and the host, which makes branded audio an effective strategy to reach this specific consumer group.

Favorite branded podcasts

To better understand how audio has impacted the lives of Gen-Z, we decided to poll members of The Agency to find out their favorite branded podcasts. 

So, what is Gen-Z listening to?

Stephanie Strickland, operations manager at The Agency, enjoys listening to “Kalyn’s Coffee Talk” because it touches upon spirituality, productivity and motivation. Some brands that are featured in this podcast are Squarespace and SkillShare. Stephanie says the host, Kalyn Nicholson, is genuine, relatable and authentic – positive qualities that can be found in a friend.

When Kalyn is sharing sponsored content, Stephanie believes this ad is more of a recommendation from a friend rather than an interruption. The sponsorships flow with the content because these brands match Kalyn’s personal brand. Furthermore, Stephanie is aware these sponsorships benefit Kalyn. It goes back to the notion that podcast hosts and listeners share a bond.

Alexa Padron, copywriter, enjoys listening to “How I Built This with Guy Raz,” an NPR podcast about the world’s best-known companies and sponsored by American Express. Brandan Birsic, a fourth-year economics student, listens to “Pod Save America,” a comedic and political podcast that is sponsored by Zip Recruiter. Kaylee Weber, account supervisor, listens to “Goal Digger,” an informative podcast sponsored by Weebly.

Whether it is an informative or entertaining podcast, Gen-Z is flocking to this form of audio. There are specific brands featured like HelloFresh and SquareSpace that are targeting this specific consumer group to make skills like cooking and building a website easy and accessible. The students expressed their appreciation for authenticity from hosts because it builds trust and loyalty. Companies are noticing these popular podcasts and want their brand to be associated.

Final Thoughts & Implications

The rapid emergence of new media has given rise to branded audio as a medium for companies to reach target audiences in a completely different way. For decades, companies have been putting money toward the development of visual branding. While it remains a dominant force in brand recognition, being able to adapt a brand strategy to new platforms will serve as a competitive edge for companies.

Major brands like McDonald’s and Disney became the audio pioneers of this industry, amplifying their brand through a strong, recognizable audio asset. However, if your brand is looking to be heard above the industry noise, a simple jingle is no longer enough.

Podcasts have also grown as a major investment for companies to connect with consumers. Spotify has led the charge with the acquisition of Gimlet and Anchor to support brands’ need to create audio experiences for their publics.

When trying to target Gen-Z consumers, brands must understand how much audio has impacted our lives. Growing up through the digital revolution, audio has evolved into a medium allowing us to break away from the enormous amount of visual content we are bombarded with. Being able to “hear” our favorite brands helps to build loyalty and solidify a relationship that couldn’t have happened in any other way.

Branded podcasts and digital streaming services are just the beginning. Brands not only need to understand what type of content they need to produce but also the context of how they choose to promote it. 

Here at The Agency, we are committed to uncovering and adapting to emerging trends that tap into our consumer demographic. We recently launched the first episode of our newly branded podcast Comment, giving the Gen-Z perspective on what’s happening in the communications industry.

Listen to it here:

Anchor

Spotify

Apple Music (Coming soon)