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New Study Illuminates Role Ad Frequency Plays In Audience Engagement.

How many times does a spot need to run to deliver the client’s desired objective? And when does an audio commercial wear out? To get the answers to these and other questions, ad agency Spark Foundry and Audacy worked with research agency Alter Agents on a neuroscience study to show how listener brains experience content peaks and erosion in audio. Released Tuesday, the study found that ad engagement climbs with each audio exposure across advertiser categories, audio platforms and genres.

In what’s being called a groundbreaking study, Alter Agents used smartwatches to capture the participants’ variable heart rate, which is the distance between heartbeats. That was used to measure emotional engagement and responsiveness, also known as immersion.

Spark Foundry provided samples of its clients’ audio spots in the retail, financial services, and quick-serve restaurant categories. A national sample of persons 18-54 was exposed for a week to a randomized rotation of audio content and ads up to 15 times. The ads received an Immersion Score, with higher scores said to indicate a greater likelihood of future action and peak moments corresponding with long-term recall.

Among the chief takeaways: exposing audiences to audio messages consistently offers major benefits in brand equity and sales.

“What this tells us is that frequency in and of itself can be an important tool in helping to understand what an audio plan can do,” Adam Weiler, Executive VP of Data, Technology, Analytics and Insights at Spark Foundry, said Tuesday during a webinar to discuss the study’s findings.

“Exposing audiences to messages consistently and frequently offers real resounding benefits, both in terms of brand equity growth and sales – top of funnel to bottom funnel,” said Audacy Chief Marketing Officer Paul Suchman. “Audio advertising has a unique ability to grab our attention, to hold our attention, and to drive us to action.”

The study produced a somewhat counterintuitive finding, namely that people are immersed in advertising messages. And that as frequency increases, so does immersion. “The more you expose people to an audio ad, the more attentive they become, the more engrained they become in the content,” said Audacy Senior VP of Research and Insights Idil Cakim. This trend held up across ad categories and audio platforms, including over the air radio, streaming and podcasting.

Weiler said that “speaks to the effectiveness of audio as a strategy… Even if your heaviest listeners are being exposed at a higher rate, we don't necessarily see any significant drop off,” Weiler added. “In fact, we see continued engagement as frequency grows.”

Immersion levels for the spots tested, on average, clocked in at 59-60 on a scale of zero to 100 where the higher the score, the more immersed the participants are in the content. That’s significantly higher than the average for the advertising industry which is 53.

The study also found that as immersion increases with additional ad exposures, so do purchase consideration and positive brand opinion.

Using a follow-up survey, the researchers then measured key performance indicators for the brands studied, such as brand opinion and intention to purchase.

“I think that there's just some terrific learnings for advertisers in this,” said Devora Rogers, Chief Innovation Officer of Alter Agents. “There's really an opportunity to keep people engaged over a period of time that may be longer than what had been anticipated.”

Weiler pointed out that the study’s findings don’t mean that media planners shouldn’t pay attention to other variables, such as audience targeting, context, the ad category and media channels. “This is simply some directional findings that help us to understand that emotional engagement can increase with increased frequency,” he said.

Weiler also noted that the study doesn’t directly prove that radio drives sales. “What this does do is help us to understand that radio is very effective at moving people through [the purchase funnel] and advancing your potential targets on their journey,” he said. “Audio is an important aspect that has the capability to drive consumers through the funnel and pull them closer to the point of purchase.”

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