Spotify VP, global head of advertising sales: the audio renaissance and podcast revolution

Spotify VP Brian Benedik discusses how the world’s biggest streaming platform is riding the audio renaissance, how music taste influences ad responsiveness, where podcast advertising is headed and much more.

The big deal right now is audio. In all its forms, digital audio in particular has become the entertainment medium to fill in the cracks in a consumer’s daily life. And the advertisers have certainly noticed.

According to IAB Australia’s 2019 ‘Audio Advertising State of the Nation’ report, 87% of media buyers used streaming audio advertising in 2018, and a significant portion of those (60%) were ads in podcasts. IAB Australia also found that another 25% of agencies intend to use podcasts as an advertising channel in 2019 and programmatic advertising – in the audio space as a whole – is also expected to rise.

With that in mind, who better to speak with than the VP, global head of advertising sales at Spotify, Brian Benedik. Having spent more than six years at Spotify and with more than a decade’s experience in the commercial audio space, Benedik appears overwhelmed with excitement for where digital audio and advertising in streaming is headed. “It’s an incredible time to be in our business,” he says.

Here, Benedik tells Marketing how the world’s biggest streaming platform is riding the audio renaissance, how music tastes influence ad responsiveness, where podcast advertising is headed and much more.

Marketing: Audio content seems to have undergone a renaissance of sorts; to what do you attribute this? Was there a watershed moment for audio or has it been years in the making? How much of it is culturally- and technologically-induced?

Brian Benedik 150 BWBrian Benedik: The most obvious reason is the high adoption of connected devices like Google Home, voice, in-car technology, smart watches and more. Consumers are becoming more comfortable engaging with content without a screen throughout their days. Not just the radio.

We see this as our free Spotify users spend two and a half hours each day on Spotify across devices. That’s a lot of time. And we expect that in time – based on radio industry data – more than 20% of all Spotify listening will be non-music content, like podcasts. The increased popularity of podcasts globally is a major factor fuelling the audio renaissance.

It also goes in hand with many people actively reducing their screen time. Audio allows them to still be connected, informed and entertained while participating in the world around them.

Can you share some insight on the link between an individual’s music tastes and their responsiveness or reaction to ads on Spotify?

Since Spotify launched more than a decade ago, we’ve developed an incredible relationship with our users. One reason for that is we’ve gotten to know them so well based on how, when and what they stream, and use those insights to deliver a personalised, delightful experience.

Last year, we reimagined our ad-supported Spotify free experience, offering a more on-demand, personalised content experience – we’ve seen higher engagement on our platform as a result. We strongly believe a better user experience leads to a better experience for our advertising partners too.

Recently, we wanted to find out if the engagement people have with the content on Spotify impacts their engagement with ads on the platform, compared to some of our competitors. We worked with Nielsen’s Consumer Neuroscience division to get the answer using EEG and biometric tests that measured non-conscious responses to stimuli. That’s a fancy way of saying that we used science to measure people’s feelings, their gut reaction, when they heard music or ads – seen and heard – on Spotify and other services.

We found a few things:

  • The Spotify environment lifted emotional engagement and purchase intent compared to competitors

  • Spotify boosts emotional engagement with ads better than competitors (+15% audio and +14% video), and

  • people are 18% more likely to report purchase intent after seeing a video ad on Spotify versus other competitor entertainment platforms.

How do you see brand presence in the podcasting space evolving as this medium grows? Particularly in the case of programmatic advertising, how can marketers make this a more organic experience for the listener?

I’m excited about the possibilities for podcast advertising as more and more people spend their time with audio content and the industry puts power behind making it an essential element of every marketing plan.

We are very excited about the podcast space at Spotify and our three acquisitions over the last few months are an indication of that. We host over 200,000 podcasts on the platform and that number is growing daily.

As far as monetisation, we are exploring what that looks like. Today, brands are able to sponsor podcasts through host reads and we also develop original branded podcast series with advertisers. We are exploring what the future might hold as we reimagine the current marketplace and how marketers can participate at scale and receive valid measurement and attribution solutions.

Due to the intimate nature of podcast listening, with your favourite host right in your ear while you’re working out, commuting or cooking, podcast hosts have an incredible amount of influence with their audiences. Having a host talk about their experience and appreciation of a brand or a product works.

The numbers don’t lie. We did some research with CrowdDNA earlier this year and found that 52% of podcast listeners trust advertising more if the host endorses the brand. It’s all about trust, which is the Holy Grail for every advertiser.

What is currently exciting you most – from an advertising and consumer perspective – in the audio/screenless space?

I’m excited about so much. It’s an incredible time to be in our business. As an advertiser, I’m eager to find ways to re-establish consumer trust in what we do and provide a brand-safe environment for our partners. How can we use ad technology thoughtfully, respectfully and creatively to tell stories and deepen connections between brands and their audiences, all while delivering the impact that marketers and decision makers need? Streaming audio is uniquely positioned to do this as long as we keep putting the user experience first.

For consumers: voice and connected technology may change the in-car experience entirely, transforming it into a second living room. How will brands use audio to show up there while they have a captive audience? How can audio and video work even better together as technology continues to advance? These are the questions that keep me motivated every day.

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Image credit:Devon Divine

Josh Loh
BY Josh Loh ON 23 April 2019
Josh Loh is assistant editor at MarketingMag.com.au