Programmatic audio ads: the next big thing in digital media?

The audio buzz

People always have and always will listen to music. Popularity of audio services such as radio remain strong, reaching 89% of adults, but just like everything else, music has gone digital. Audio services such as music streaming from Spotify and Apple Music have grown massively over the years, accounting for 8% of audio listening with further growth inevitable. For the first time in 2017, music streaming sales exceeded that of physical music sales, highlighting a significant shift in consumer behaviour.

The boom of audio ads

Given this increasing popularity of audio streaming, it was inevitable that platforms such as Spotify would turn to advertising as a way of monetising their services and with 23% of adults listening to music streaming services each week, there is a clear marketing opportunity for advertisers to reach consumers where no other marketing channel can. This coupled with the fact that programmatic is also enjoying phenomenal growth – by 2019 it’s estimated that the most advanced display markets (the UK included) will be 90% programmatic – it’s no wonder that audio and programmatic would become the perfect pairing.

Following this logic, Spotify launched ads on their platform, allowing advertisers to target consumers through audio ads. Served to users of the free Spotify account, ads are played between songs across desktop and mobile platforms, targeting audio consumers who cannot necessarily be targeted by visual ads during tasks such as travelling to work or even when taking their morning shower.

While audio ads on the likes of Spotify and Soundcloud have been around for a while, they’ve sparked fresh discussion in industry press recently due to developments in their programmatic capabilities and a recent partnership with DoubleClick. Advertisers and agencies can now use DoubleClick Bid Manager to access global inventory from many of the major streaming services but what does this mean for brands, advertisers and agencies? We’ve put down some of our thoughts.

Things to think about


Spotify currently has 180 million active users, of which approximately half have a free account and can be targeted by audio ads. To create audience segments, Spotify has all the usual targeting capabilities we’d expect including, gender, age and geographic, but where audio targeting really stands out as unique is when it comes to tapping into a user’s behaviour e.g. targeting users based on the genre of music and artists they like and the playlists they’re listening to.

As an example, with over half of those aged between 15 and 24 using Spotify, there’s a big opportunity to get the attention of this audience via programmatic audio ads. Retail clients especially could benefit from this by targeting users by age and layering on more sophisticated criteria such as ‘fans of’ a particular artist that fits the profile of the brand.


DoubleClick is a core tool for Equator that allows us to build, optimise and report on digital media campaigns. DoubleClick’s recent partnership with streaming services such as Spotify, the standard measurements including impressions and clicks can be measured as you’d expect. But with this new set up, it’s important to think about the broader measurement opportunities that are created. For example, advertisers and agencies need to be looking at metrics such as how much of the audio ad was consumed? Was it paused? Was the audio ad muted or turned down? All of these will give us a deeper understanding of how our programmatic audio campaigns are really performing.

Testing and optimising:

One of the main benefits of programmatic is the ability to test and optimise in real time, at scale, over variables including creative and targeting. With programmatic audio ads, we have much more opportunity to test and optimise audio campaigns quickly and easily over similar criteria. For example, testing different audio ads for different audiences or testing between various routes of audio creative and up-weighting delivery towards the best performing will result in a more efficient and effective use of media spend.

Integration with a wider campaign:

With integration so critical to a campaign’s overall success, how can we integrate programmatic audio ads into a client’s strategy and tie in with other channels such as social, search and other forms of media?

Let’s take our hotel clients as an example. Some of them have gyms that they’re keen to promote memberships. With programmatic audio ads over Spotify, we could start by targeting users aged 18-40 within 10 miles of the gym but layer on additional audio-based targeting such as those listening to gym playlists specifically. An extension of this campaign would be for the gym to create its own Spotify gym playlist, encouraging its social followers to suggest songs they’d like added. Another idea might be to run a digital out-of-home campaign targeting the same locations and users, promoting the gym’s presence on Spotify to drive awareness, engagement and ultimately memberships.

Time to press play on audio ads