Digital Audio - The Headphone Generation

In the last fortnight, two completely separate conferences - Radiodays Europe in Milan and Advertising Week Europe in London - have spent a serious amount of time talking about Digital Audio Advertising. To those of us who spent endless hours in 2004/2005 wondering whether this podcasting thing was ever going to take off, this is a huge relief.

Finally, this digital audio dimension is in a position to be properly monetised. It has the scale (17 millions people listen to digital audio every week in the UK) and thanks to innovations like DAX it has the relevant technology to make it easier and more accessible to advertisers. The potential is there to target listeners by age, gender, location etc and serve up audiences in ways that have never been previously possible through one-to-many broadcast radio.

So what does this mean for creative?

Thankfully, other people have done all the technical thinking behind this exciting evolution of the space, but for creative audio producers like us there are hugely exciting possibilities. RWS of Germany have carried out a fascinating study into "The Headphone Generation" - the audience who listen to audio through smartphones, regardless of the source of that audio - and what comes across most strongly is the increased intimacy of the user experience.

We've always known that radio listening is a one-to-one activity, but that's even more true when you've gone to the effort to download specific content to hear alone on your headphones.

It means that, no matter how smart the metrics are that allow you to target a digital audio listener, if a lazy agency then serves them up the same low-rent "TV without the pictures" radio ad they've produced for commercial radio they'll do far more harm than good. Creatives have to understand the context of their message more than ever, and allow the listener insight to drive higher quality, more personalised ads.

Get it right, and you'll create perfect matches between brands and content - See Mailchimp and "Serial" - that reflect the enjoyment and engagement of the listening experience onto the advertiser. Get it wrong, and the audience will feel you've invaded their space and pooed in their ears.

Working with the BBC, we've been doing this for years - building solus messages in a ultra-sensitive context where tonal fit is everything. It's about witty, intellegent writing, smart sound design, understanding the related content, and believing that your audience are listening intently rather than needing to be shouted at across the hairdresser's.

Now it's time to take that respect and love of audio into the digital space and make it work to the both the listener's and advertiser's advantage, with a new premium genre of commercial audio advertising.

Can you tell we're excited? Is it obvious?