Sep 6 2022
Ben Larrison

Why Audio is Digital Advertising’s Fastest Growing Category


“Did you hear the one about audio advertising? The conversion rates will be music to your ears!”

...OK, so terrible puns aside, there’s no denying that digital audio—and digital audio advertising—is having a moment. More people are listening than ever before, and advertisers are rushing to join in on the fun.

The numbers behind this phenomenon are fairly remarkable: the percentage of Americans who consume streaming audio has more than doubled since 2012. Fifty-six percent of millennials and Gen Z say audio provides them with an escape from too much visual stimulation. The number of US digital audio listeners is projected to hit 239 million by 2026—more than 2/3 of the entire population. And yes, you heard right: the majority of all daily audio listening is now happening on digital devices.

The rise of podcasts, smart speakers, and connected cars highlights how nimbly digital audio serves as a companion for our routines and an integral part of our daily lives. Audio is flexible, ubiquitous, and unique in its ability to follow a user throughout their day. Watching videos and scrolling through social feeds lock us to our screens, but we can listen to music or a podcast while going for a jog, doing the dishes, riding the bus, or focusing on work. And for digital marketers, audio enhances screenless experiences and offers more moments for advertisers to intentionally connect with their audiences.

Yes, audio is everywhere—and the opportunities are seemingly endless. Audio is digital advertising’s fastest growing category, and annual US digital audio ad spend is expected to top $8 billion by 2025. 

So, what makes audio so unique, why is the category booming, and why should digital audio advertising be a larger part of your media conversations? Let’s take a look at just a few of the reasons.

Digital Audio is Having a Moment

Audio content is surging, audio ad tech is maturing, and just about everyone is listening. 

In 2022, listeners will spend an average of 97 minutes per day with digital audio—nearly a half hour more than they’ll spend on social media.

Listeners have embraced audio in some key ways since the start of the pandemic, and advertisers are taking notice: 

  • Engagement: 30% of Americans say they are listening to more music since the onset of COVID-19.
  • Relevance: Listening to music is the most popular daily internet activity, with 59% of Americans doing so every day.
  • Intent: 74% of those listening to more music say they intend to keep up with their increased music consumption, even post-pandemic.

People gravitate toward audio because it affects mood, triggers emotional reactions, and invokes the imagination in ways no other medium can. In 2020, as COVID-19 disrupted nearly every aspect of our day-to-day lives, listeners turned to audio as a mood enhancer (82%), a welcome distraction (67%), and a way to find necessary companionship (34%). 

Podcasts, in particular, have been booming, seeing 200% growth over the past five years alone. What’s more, listeners build trusted and long-standing relationships with their favorite podcasts, so it make sense that in a poll of Stitcher/Midroll listeners, 86% said they had taken action due to a podcast ad.

As for who’s turning in? Well, in short: it's pretty much everybody. Audio listeners range across the board—from Gen Z and millennials to boomers and seniors; men, women, and non-binary individuals; and people of all geographic and ethnic backgrounds—but some of the most promising and exciting developments in the digital audio space pertain to younger listeners.

Gen Z, Millennials, and Audio

Digital audio is proving especially popular among millennials and Gen Z listeners.

More than half of adults ages 18 to 29 are listening to streaming music every day. Zoomers and millennials listen to an average of 18+ hours of audio a week, with much of that coming from streaming audio and podcasts. In the US, Gen Z accounts for nearly 1/4 of all podcast consumption. What’s more, 27.8 million zoomers listen to at least one podcast per month, and that number is expected to surpass 40 million by 2024.

And streaming audio means more to young adults than just background noise. A Spotify study found that 73% of Gen Z and millennial Americans use audio to cope with stress and anxiety. And 54% of zoomers say they’ve started listening to more podcasts to help stay informed and entertained.

With younger generations so invested in digital audio, it’s no surprise that advertisers are investing there as well.

Programmatic Audio Advertising

To connect with this growing listener base, advertisers are pouring money into audio. And, much like the rest of the digital advertising world, audio advertising is growing increasingly programmatic. US programmatic digital audio ad spent surpassed $1 billion in 2021 and is projected to grow to $1.84 billion by 2024, continuing a trend of double-digital year-over-year growth. Programmatic podcast spend in the US is also booming, with experts anticipating those numbers to double in the next two years to $237.9 million. As programmatic audio inventory increases—and as programmatic continues to cements its place as the dominant digital media buying method—so too will those numbers.

Get the Guide on Digital Audio Advertising

Want to learn more about digital audio advertising strategies and better understand how it can impact your media plan? Check out our Audio Advertising Guide.