We all know sound and music impacts our mood, from the floor fillers that make us want to get up and dance to the tracks that stop us in our tracks. But Spotify wants to go considerably deeper than that. It has released a new study that explores how people interact with audio in their daily lives, how it impacts them physiologically and emotionally and how they use audio to help them with tasks from cooking to commuting.
Sonic Science 2.0 is a new study, created in collaboration with biometrics research company MindProber and Josh McDermott, PhD, who leads the Laboratory for Computational Audition at MIT. The findings show how audio affects listeners physically and strengthens their ability to recall memories.
By tracking electrodermal activity (aka arousal that is measured through the sympathetic nervous system, which, when activated, causes our bodies to produce sweat) while they streamed, the team were able to understand whether the audio content they heard caused emotional arousal - and what impact context played. Findings showed that 93% of the brain’s engagement with the content transferred directly into ad engagement and as a result, the ads saw 19% higher brand impact on Spotify compared to all other media.
Spotify’s EMEA head of sales Rak Patel caught up with Laura Swinton to chat through the surprising sonic science and what it means for marketers.
LBB> The idea that music and audio has this profound emotional impact on listeners and could have a positive effect for brands is something we can all get behind, but what motivated the team to get out there and actually get some scientific evidence with Sonic Science?
Rak> Sonic Science is really all about trying to understand the impact of digital audio. As the world’s most popular audio streaming service, we wanted to better understand why audio has such an effect on us physically and emotionally.
For Sonic Science 2.0, we partnered with biometric specialists, MindProber, to measure electrodermal activity (that’s sweating, to you and me) of Spotify listeners as they listened to audio throughout the day.
During these sessions, participants heard music, podcasts, and both real and mock ads. By measuring their electrodermal activity, we were able to determine whether the audio content they heard (including ads) caused emotional arousal - in other words, whether they were paying attention. Finally, listeners completed surveys before and after each session to capture their activity, mood, ad recall and purchase intent.
With this methodology, the findings from this study gave us an even richer understanding of how listeners engage with audio content, including ads.
LBB> But why does audio have such an effect on our hearts and minds?
Rak> Audio provokes intense feelings. We know this from personal experience as we tune into the same podcast every week, get excited about our favourite band’s new album, or get through a breakup by binging the same song for two weeks straight.
Listening to audio activates key parts of your brain, from your emotional response to memory storage to interest and engagement. On Spotify, that’s happening whether you’re listening to a song, a podcast, or an ad, which means you’re more highly engaged and are more likely to remember what you listened to.
So we know that listening makes for a fully mindful experience, and thanks to our latest Sonic Science report, we now know it also makes for a full body experience full of good vibes, too.
LBB> How does Sonic Science 2.0 move things on from the first outing?
Rak> Last year, we launched our first volume of Sonic Science, which focused on understanding your brain on sound. We looked at how Spotify’s deep levels of personalisation and interactivity make it a highly engaging, emotionally provoking, and memorable medium — more so than TV, digital video, and social media.
In Sonic Science Volume 2, we dive deeper to learn even more about digital audio’s impact on listeners’ bodies and minds. This first-of-its-kind biometric research demonstrates how audio content connects both emotionally and physically with listeners.
LBB> Were there any findings that particularly surprised you from an advertising perspective?
Rak> One of the most interesting aspects of digital audio is the way that it reaches listeners all day, every day - literally 24 hours a day. From walking and reading to cooking, studying and sleeping, 63% of study participants confirmed that Spotify is important to their daily routines.
We know that listeners tune into audio during ‘screenless moments’, when they either can’t — or prefer not to — engage with TV, movies, or video games. However, I was still surprised at the level of engagement we saw from listeners, as more than a third of study participants said they focus all their attention on the audio when they’re tuning in.
LBB> The study also shed light on more personal, behavioural insights about how people use music and audio in their lives and in relation to their moods and emotional states - what were the most meaningful insights?
Rak> In this study we found that listeners get a mood boost when they tune into Spotify, even when they’re streaming sad music. Additionally, many Sonic Science participants reported tuning in to Spotify with the goal of changing their mood. This is what our Sonic Science study participants shared after the majority of their Spotify listening sessions — regardless of when they listened, what they listened to, and what they were doing at the time. In fact, a third of study participants said they felt “happy” or “cheerful” after listening to Spotify, while a quarter described feeling “calm".
This mood boost our participants reported after their listening sessions really shows how positive their experience is on Spotify, and if ads are seamlessly integrated and feel personally relevant, it can be seen as additive to the experience.
LBB> The study really delved into how people listen to music in their real lives - why was it important to go outside of the lab setting?
Rak> We wanted to know how listeners use Spotify in their everyday lives. Sonic Science 2.0 is the largest study of how humans consume audio in daily life, and it enables an unprecedented glimpse of the role of audio in our lives. To achieve this, it was necessary to go outside of a lab setting.
As a result, we were able to see that Spotify is much more than a backdrop to people’s lives, it’s actually often centre stage.
LBB> How can agencies and brands use these findings to strategically target listeners?
Rak> With a deeply immersed and engaged global audience, Spotify is the place for advertisers to reach listeners. We know that the more impactful the audio content, the more impactful the subsequent ad will be. While data from this year’s study is based on electrodermal activity, it corroborates findings from Sonic Science Volume 1 that showed the brain’s response to Spotify content also continues into what ads listeners hear—meaning, advertisers benefit from an environment where both mind and body are engaged.
Sonic Science 2.0 unveiled that ad recall after a Spotify listening session was up to five times greater than the expected rate of recall, compared to a model based on chance - even when they’re performing other activities like driving, shopping and cooking.
However, Spotify listeners not only remember the ads they heard, they convert too. The key takeaway for agencies and brands is that the vast majority - 73% - of our listeners are opening to hearing ads. But, only if the tone fits what they are doing at the time.
The insights from Sonic Science 2.0 show that the opportunity for brands to get started with digital audio has never been greater.
LBB> The 'carry over' effect is fascinating - the more impactful the audio, the more impactful the following ad - so what do we mean by impactful audio and how can marketers/media buyers make sure their ads are next to that impactful stuff versus the less impactful?
Rak> It’s one thing to engage with the music and podcasts in your ears, and another to engage with advertisements. But our research found that Spotify listeners’ high level of engagement stays consistent while listening to audio ads. We found that 60% of listeners’ ad engagement carried over from the audio content heard immediately before, including music and podcasts.
And this transfer of engagement from audio content to ads will ultimately drive positive outcomes for brands. In fact, throughout this study we found that Spotify listeners remember the brands they hear about. Whether they were tuned into music or podcasts, Sonic Science study participants were able to recall the brands they heard very effectively. In fact, one in five study participants reported looking up a brand or product online after hearing about it in a Spotify ad, and when asked ‘how likely are you to purchase a product or service that you heard about on Spotify in the future?’ 30% said they were likely to purchase a product or service that they heard about on Spotify.
Last but not least, the mood boost our participants reported after their listening sessions really shows how positive their experience is, and if ads are seamlessly integrated and feel personally relevant, it can be seen as additive to the experience.
LBB> As well as identifying good times to advertise - engagement and recall seems to really go up while people are doing things like cooking, working out. studying, walking - the study does highlight that advertisers really need to think carefully about whether and how to show up in certain contexts. For example while socialising, anything that kills the mood is a real no-no - how should brands figure out whether and how to engage in those sorts of more delicate contexts?
Rak> Findings from this study provide concrete evidence of how listeners use Spotify to enhance key aspects of their daily lives—and how brands are able to connect with audiences in their most meaningful and immersed moments.
Here are some tips for advertisers on how to optimise their digital audio ads following this report:
● Context matters. Consider who will listen to your ad. The best ads consider if the listener is a runner, a food lover... or someone who is just trying to sleep. Make the message match the mood.
● Keep it conversational. Listeners should feel like they're hearing about a product from a friend. Try to infuse personality or humour where possible. Talk like a human, not like a brand.
● Stay on message. Focus on the single most important point of your ad. If there are multiple messages to communicate (for example: multiple product features), consider creating different spots to deliver one point at a time. Stick to one message per ad.
● Time is precious. A slow cadence and well-timed pauses help listeners absorb more information. Your script should have at most four or five lines of voiceover, with no more than 60 words for 30 seconds. Use as few words as possible to make your point.
● Show listeners the way. Give listeners a next step or destination. Whatever you want users to do—whether it's visiting a website, listening to a podcast, using an offer code, or visiting a store—say it clearly. End with a call to action.
LBB> Internally, how is Spotify combining this research with its first party listener data?
Rak> This latest study gave us a new and unique perspective on the types of music people choose to listen to and how it relates to what they’re doing. For example, we found that listeners were more likely to stream acoustic music when they were studying or relaxing. Whereas they streamed more danceable music while engaging in active or social activities: working out, housekeeping, etc. Danceability was also common during everyday routines like cooking and eating. So there are these correlations between what people listen to and what they are doing.
This depth around the context listeners are in when engaging with our platform can help advertisers deliver more relevant and contextually appropriate content, which in turn could keep listeners engaged and make the listening experience better. The ultimate goal of this research is to uncover the true impact of digital audio, but also create a set of best practices to guide advertisers on how to create and deliver their message in the most relevant way possible.
LBB> From a creative point of view, I'm curious about how Spotify ads are evolving more generally? What sort of creative trends are you seeing (er.. hearing?) from brands and agencies?
RA> Advertisers go where their audiences are. With one in four Brits listening to podcasts every month (source: eMarketer 2022), brands are taking note. At the same time, there are more ways for people to listen thanks to a high adoption of devices like smart speakers, phones, tablets and more. We also have more audio creators than ever which means listeners can find content for almost any niche interest. We’re seeing this all first hand at Spotify.
Digital audio ad spend has started to follow this increase in consumption. In fact, podcasts are on track to become a €1.5 billion ads business in Europe by the end of 2023, according to IAB Europe. But the opportunity for growth remains significant.
The key to unlocking this growth and creativity is making audio a true digital ad channel - just like video and social. We’re laser focused on this. By introducing better targeting with tools like Streaming Ad Insertion, helping advertisers reach podcast listeners at scale with the Spotify Audience Network, proving the impact of digital audio advertising with innovative measurement solutions like Podsights and innovating on the ad experience itself – this will lead to more advertiser investment and creativity. This isn’t just good for Spotify, but for advertisers and creators across the industry.
What’s more, we see interactivity as the next great frontier in audio. This is why we launched call-to-action (CTA) cards last year. With this new ad experience, we’re making podcast ads interactive for the first time, transforming the format from something that can only be heard, into an experience that you can also see — and, most importantly, click. This new ad format is the latest step in Spotify’s vision for the future of digital audio advertising as an interactive, multi-way experience.