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Brands Like Coca-Cola Are Not Thinking “Why Audio”. They’re Discussing “How Audio.”

Coca-Cola is one of radio’s longest-running advertisers, dating back decades. But as the audio medium finds new resonance among marketers, the soft drink brand is taking a fresh look at how it fits into the media plan. “Audio is something that is becoming more and more important versus someone is in a car and will listen to it,” said Jeff Hagen, Group Director Connections Planning & Investment at The Coca-Cola Company. “It’s more the headphones are always in and there’s always an opportunity to reach consumers,” he told the IAB Reach Conference this month.

For Coke, the main objective isn’t to speak at audio consumers but to add value to their listening experience. “If you’re not adding value to it, and you just show up in the middle of a pod, it doesn’t do any good,” said Hagen. “We’re re-evaluating how we show up in audio versus just saying this is a 60-second spot – that’s the evolution that we’re taking.”

As audio has come back into vogue, in part because of podcasting, Mindshare Executive Director Ritu Trivedi said her retail clients are embracing the national and local capabilities, especially when it comes to store grand openings. Buyers no longer have “why audio” but “how audio” conversations as they look at ways to make it part of a media plan, she said.

“There’s something so immersive when it comes to audio,” said Trivedi. “It’s a different form of storytelling which is so intuitive to us that it opens up some new possibilities with creative and how we approach that customer who is in a different mindset than when they are streaming video.” Trivedi said her agency is also embracing audio as a way to find the “lost” television reach, seeing it as a “unique possibility” for some clients.

Radio’s Gain Is TV’s Lost Reach

Working in audio’s favor is the fact that more people are leaving pay television services for ad-free services like Netflix, Amazon and Disney+. The latest eMarketer estimates show by the end of this year, 31.2 million U.S. households will have cut the cable TV cord. And by 2024, that number is expected to climb to more than one-third of U.S. households. At the same time Nielsen says 91% of Americans aged 18 and older listen to broadcast radio each week.

Pandora Senior VP Alan Schanzer said that has created a “reach challenge” for marketers who can no longer rely on television to find targeted consumers. “TV is no longer the only answer,” he said. “Linear TV is incredibly important, but digital and streaming audio is exploding and needs to be part of today’s media plan.”

Trivedi said as advertisers respond to these changes, they have to start by looking at media plans holistically. “In the past, a lot of the times there would be the TV upfront conversation – then you talk about everything else,” she said. But this year’s anemic television upfront has set the table for that move to cross-media planning, something that should benefit audio. “That has accelerated the conversations to be more even-field when we can talk about all of these channels at the same time,” said Trivedi.

Podcasts Becomes Part Of The Mix

The latest Edison Research data shows 55% of Americans have now listened to a podcast and that is attracting more attention from marketers. Trivedi said there are some Mindshare brands where podcast host-read ads have already demonstrated they work “very well,” but there are others that will never get close to a podcast. “It’s part of the holistic communications strategy. It is not necessarily going in and thinking about audio specifically,” she said.

Trivedi also said the decision to add podcasting, streaming audio or broadcast radio to the plan typically comes as part of a larger game plan for the client to connect with its target consumer. “This medium tends to have the added burden of how do the messaging and creative come across because of the immersive nature, and of such loyal followers who are listening to it,” added Trivedi.

Coca-Cola views podcast ads as a way to potentially connect with its consumer in an authentic way by putting itself in the consumer’s mind as they listen to a podcast and ensure their ad comes across as authentic to the style and tone of the show.

“There’s a lot of potential there, but we need to be authentic and we have to make sure that we are not just showing up,” Hagen said. That could mean podcasting gets onto the media plan before television or streaming radio.

And as the podcast industry grows, Trivedi also said there is a growing concern among her buying teams about the fragmentation of the podcast market. “The discovery and scale is being a little bit of an issue, but at the same time the creative burden is the one that keeps us up most at night when we do look at audio as a possibility for our media plans,” she said.

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