Radio is “a tale of two cities,” according to iHeartMedia chairman and CEO Bob Pittman.
“There is the consumer side, and then there is what the advertising agency and community thinks of it, and the consumer loves it,” Pittman said. “There has been no degradation of radio since I got in the business in 1970s as a teenage disc jockey in Brookhaven, Mississippi. What we haven’t done well as an industry is work with our advertising agency partners to keep them up to date with what’s going on with this with the consumer.”
During an event yesterday at iHeartMedia’s headquarters in midtown Manhattan, Pittman and other executives preached the gospel of radio to dozens of media buyers and planners, explaining that while streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora get a lot of the buzz when it comes to the latest resurgence of sound, broadcast radio has maintained its reach. (According to a 2016 report from Nielsen, radio reached 93 percent of adult consumers, while TV reached just 87 percent.)
But while it has the scale of 270 million on-air listeners, along with 96 million registered digital users and 85 million social media followers, radio hasn’t kept up with the data-heavy audience targeting of its competitors like Pandora and Spotify, which continue to roll out programmatic offerings.
To change that, iHeartRadio is debuting a suite of programmatic advertising products to combine the scale of broadcast with the precision of digital marketing. At its SoundFronts event on Wednesday evening, iHeartMedia debuted SmartAudio, a data-centric advertising product that lets advertisers buy media across iHeart’s 850 broadcast stations while also targeting around 700 audience segments.
SmartAudio will also let advertisers use their own CRM data if they don’t want any of the audiences within iHeart’s own categories. And while SmartAudio officially debuts this week, dozens of brands have begun running targeted campaigns with SmartAudio, according to iHeartMedia.
SmartAudio isn’t the first step iHeartMedia has taken with programmatic. Last year, it announced a new deal with programmatic partner Jelli to streamline and automate ad buying for broadcast.
IHeartMedia has also been getting more into neuroscience testing, following a trend of other tech companies and agencies that are trying to better understand how the brain reacts to ads of various shapes, types and sizes across multiple platforms. Earlier this month, Pandora released the results of its own neuroscience study, which found that audio-advertising performed better than television or display ads because it was more strongly associated with long-term memory. In its own study, iHeartMedia found that people had better engagement with a human voice than they did with sound effects from an action movie.
“We are social beings,” said iHeartMedia CMO Gayle Troberman. “We lean in to other people when they talk to us. And that is an amazingly powerful tool for audio creative.”