How radio giant Global is expanding into digital audio

To capitalize on the growing popularity of digital audio, boosted by podcast advertising and people buying more smart speakers, media owner Global has had to staff up.

The media company Global, which owns radio stations like Capital, Heart and Classic FM, is set to hire 20 more staff to its digital audio platform Dax this year in order to manage the growing workload. The audio platform launched five years ago with a team of two, and now has 85 people. That number will top 100 by the end of the year across its three markets, adding roles in tech, engineering and business development in order to serve the 300 advertisers that currently use the platform.

Yet advertisers are still looking for ways to prove their ads work in this environment.

According to research carried out by Global, 78% of over 200 respondents from U.K. media agencies and advertisers said that they would increase spending on audio streaming over the next 12 months, while 75% will increase spend in podcasts.

Digital audio, and with it smart speakers and podcasts, make up a small amount of the U.K.’s digital advertising. With still no official figure from U.K. trade outfit, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Global estimates it will break the £100 million ($126 million) mark by the end of next year.

To keep ad budgets flowing into digital audio, Global is aiming to solve common problems in measurement and attribution in a number of ways: developing tagging tools and ramping up its post-campaign analysis studies.

“The role of audio is emerging much clearer,” said Oliver Deane, director of commercial digital at Global, adding that from the report two roles for audio stood out, reaching audiences on the go and at culturally relevant points.

“Advertisers are landing on the belief that audio is good to reach people with contextually relevant messaging. The challenge is there’s still work to do in how best to measure audio,” he said.

Global has made progress in proving the effectiveness of its digital audio campaigns in the last year, according to Deane. In that time it has delivered more granular input and delivery data into the econometric models of seven advertiser clients who requested it. These models calculate the effectiveness of marketing and communications channels. Deane was unable to share client details, but a retailer said that digital audio was the highest achieving channel in its own econometric model.

“This leads us to believe that [Global’s digital audio platform] Dax is now playing a bigger role in client’s econometrics studies,” he said. The previous year only one advertiser requested this data.

Global’s research of over 200 media agency executives and brand marketers shows an appetite for audio continues to grow. On average, more than 40% of advertising campaigns in the past 12 months had included digital audio, up from 33% the previous year. Also, 86% of U.K. media agencies see digital audio as an important part of most media strategies.

The media company is seeing this play out through the number of campaigns it runs on Dax. Around 50 campaigns a month use its tracking tool, Listener Insight ID, which uses tags to track what audiences do after an audio ad is served. For online estate agent Purplebricks, Dax targeted audiences who had searched online for properties with Purplebricks ads. The number of people visiting the Purplebricks site increased sevenfold after the ad was served, compared to the average, claimed Global.

Audio, and podcasts notably, attracted a lot of advertisers looking to drive direct response, like Purplebricks. As audio matures, more advertisers are looking to improve metrics like brand consideration and purchase intent, which Dax measures through post-campaign studies. According to Deane, Global’s research budget has doubled due to the number of post-campaign brand analysis studies it now runs.

In one instance, Global client Virgin Atlantic wanted to increase awareness of its new economy classes during the Easter period. Dax geo-fenced a 1-kilometer perimeter around Virgin Atlantic’s poster sites. During the campaign period, Virgin Atlantic saw a 20% increase in bookings and a 7% increase in brand preference.

Agencies agree that Dax offers more granularity and flexibility in overlaying data for targeting compared to other U.K. platforms.

“The capability in Dax is more,” said Lawrence Dodds, communications planning director at agency UM London. “I can target parents with kids between 0 and 3 years old, rather than just parents.”

Audio streaming on devices benefits from browser or app targeting but ad targeting on smart speakers is typically limited for now to contextual targeting by content verticals, like current affairs or news. Like with most new formats, getting advertisers to invest in the creative where the effectiveness is less proven means there are fewer players. Brands like HSBC and Mastercard have both been vocal about their audio identity.

Podcasts, however, have other tracking limitations.

“The most common barrier still faced by podcasting is that the majority of listening is done offline,” said Charlie Yeates, commercial trading, partner, at MediaCom. “Until more is done online and you have the ability to track that live stream, it’s hard to understand who is accessing when and how.”

Advertisers have been linking audio with out-of-home advertising. For Global, which acquired three of out-of-home ad companies in the last 12 months, it’s in a good position to make this more sophisticated than putting both channels on the media plans. How to best integrate these two channels is the next priority for Deane.

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