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Sound may be an undervalued medium but that’s changing rapidly, according to a new panel discussion ‘Hear me out: The future of creative is sound’ from The Drum and podcasting platform Acast, part of The Drum’s Creative Transformation Festival.

“You can close your eyes but you can't close your ears - sound and audio is ever present and all around us,” asserted Jack Preston, director of Acast Creative in the UK and US.

“It’s undervalued compared to lots of visual mediums but I do think things are changing. Over the last decade, the proliferation of smart speakers, voice search and podcasts are making sound much, much more relevant. And brands are having to adapt to that.”

He and fellow panellist Dr. Rupy Aujla, from the Doctor’s Kitchen podcast (part of the Acast network), focused on the emergence of sonic branding, the changing habits of podcast listeners over lockdown, dynamic podcasting advertising and how brands should use audio branding and podcasting as part of their media mix.

Digitizing audio

Preston added that digital has allowed brands to get more from audio, not only because of an uptick in listening habits but because analytics make audio more accountable and monetizable.

“Digital has supercharged audio,” he said. Dynamic ad insertion, which Acast pioneered, allows relevant ads for different regions and personas, and so increases the revenue that creators can make from a single piece of content.

“For brands, it's really good because you can use different data points, such as time of day, location and weather to personalise creative,” Preston explained. “It makes the opportunities for innovation far, far greater. From a brand perspective, it's been really, really powerful.”

Aujla added that such an approach has also benefitted the listener: “As a creator, I want to make sure that the person who's donating their most valuable asset – their time – is being delivered as much value as possible. A more curated advertising depending on their geographical location or on their persona is a great thing.”

New branded format

The pair also spoke about the transition from advertising to branded content, citing their Sponsored Stories partnership with Sainsbury’s as an example. Sponsored Stories is a new format which runs for three to four minutes in the space where an advert or regular sponsored read would normally sit.

The campaign promotes the supermarket’s new range of barbecue foods and features recordings of different podcast hosts, including Aujla, having a barbecue.

“It's an amazing listening experience,” said Preston. “You can hear the food sizzling away, you can hear the wind in the trees, the birds tweeting, it feels like you're actually there. It’s a really nice experience compared to a standard voiceover ad. Those moments where brands take the time and the care to invest in creativity can really, really pay off.”

Strategize before entering

While brands should invest in sonic and audio branding as part of their media plan, both panellists issued a note of caution on diving into what is fast becoming a sophisticated marketplace.

“A lot of brands who are getting involved in the space initially were testing and learning as they went,” explained Preston. “That was fine initially but now there's so much high-quality content out there that brands must work out what their strategy is.”

Aujla said that it was important that brands trust the creators they partner with. “Brands must trust creators to come up with ideas that they know will suit their audience and deliver value,” he said. “This is something that Acast do really well.

“I know my audience quite intimately. I not only get feedback on the podcast but also on social media and via our newsletter. I know what kind of advert or what kind of piece of content will deliver value for both the sponsor and the audience member.”

The pair advised audiences to base their decision on which audio format to invest in on their strategic aims. While sponsoring a podcast or running an advert on a podcast is likely to sufficiently raise brand awareness, creating a podcast from scratch is ideal for changing perceptions around a brand given their high audience engagement and long listening times.

The average listening time to an episode of a branded podcast hosted by Acast is 28 minutes while an Acast-hosted podcast recently released by online marketplace Fiverr attracted a million listens.

“Twenty-eight minutes of undivided attention to a piece of branded content - you’d really struggle to get that anywhere else,” Preston said. “If you get it right, you can get big numbers as well as really long levels of engagement.”

Watch the full ‘Hear me out: the future of creative is sound’ session on-demand here.