The Hottest Ad Format of 2020 Is Radio-Like Audio Ads

Everything old is new again

Consumers say audio ads are more engaging and relevant. Kacy Burdette; Courtesy of Apple; Google; Harmon
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

As U.S. consumers sheltered in place between April and July, they not only used their smart speakers more—they heard more ads on them. And get this: They liked it.

That’s according to a new survey from Adobe, which looked into how consumers engaged with their smart speakers during quarantine.

Compared to the same period in 2019, Adobe found 46% of consumers who own smart speakers used their voice assistants more often, and 51% heard ads on them. That’s up from just 25% in May 2019. Of the consumers who heard ads, 85% said they hear ads at least weekly. 

And, according to Adobe, these consumers don’t mind at all. In fact, 58% said they find smart speaker ads to be less intrusive than other formats (TV, print, online and social), which is up from 43% last year. Another 52% said they actually find smart speaker ads to be more engaging, which is up from 42% in 2019—and 57% said the ads are more relevant.

Vivek Pandya, lead analyst at Adobe Digital Insights, called this revelation “the biggest eye opener of the report.”

More good news for advertisers: 51% find it easier to recall the brands in smart speaker ads, and 53% said a smart speaker ad has spurred them to make a purchase, which is up from 39% last year.

And, Pandya said, brands should really pay attention.

“We think one driving factor is the unique ability for audio ads to leverage familiar voices,” he added. “Keeping up on the news, for instance, remains a top activity, and certain podcasts deliver ads through the voice of their hosts. It is an effective strategy for brand advertisers to continue or consider.”

Consumer affinity could also be in part because they are familiar with hearing ads on the radio, he noted.

As a result, brands may find an opportunity in using a well-known voice or in thinking about how to have a two-way dialogue with listeners, which he said is “an area currently being experimented with.”

But Pandya also noted consumers have high expectations for ads on their smart speakers, so marketers will have to “lead with the platform in mind.”

“Humor and storytelling work well in this regard, so that listeners do not feel like they are being bombarded with promotions and marketing messages,” he added.

But the opportunity here is genuine.

“It is clear that in an increasingly saturated advertising environment, audio could help [brands and marketers] break through—especially as consumers are coming around to these kinds of experiences,” Pandya said.  

Despite increase in usage, Adobe found ownership levels and interactions have not really changed much this year. For instance, 39% of respondents said they own a smart speaker, which is up only slightly from 36% in February 2019.

And consumers still mostly do the same things with their smart speakers. Listening to music, for example, remains the most popular activity (60%), followed by asking for the weather (55%), asking fun questions (46%), confirming information (39%), and setting reminders and alarms (39%). Voice-enabled commerce still hasn’t made the list.


@lisalacy lisa.lacy@adweek.com Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.
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