August 6th, 2023

The rise of ambient sound and its marketing potential

You’ve heard of ambient lighting, but what about ambient sound? And why is it something marketeers should sit up and listen to, if you'll pardon the pun?

What is Immersive Audio?

Immersive audio is, in short, a multi-dimensional audio experience that surrounds the listener with a soundscape or audio track. In June earlier this year, Apple announced that it would be adding Spatial Audio through Dolby Atmos to its Apple Music streaming service. Apple described this as a way to ‘[give] artists the opportunity to create immersive audio experiences for their fans with true multidimensional sound and clarity’ using the technology of Dolby Atmos. It's essentially a system whereby the sound is not just produced using stereo channels, or even a model of 5.1 surround sound, but through the use of artificial intelligence, it creates a 360º soundscape, in which the listener is at the centre. 

When it comes to hardware, too, Apple released further support for immersive audio with their  AirPod Pro and AirPod Max lines, which use small inbuilt gyroscopes for ‘dynamic head tracking, [which] provides cinema-like sound that surrounds you from the film or video you're watching, so that it seems as if the sound is coming from all around you. The sound field stays mapped to the device, and the voice stays with the actor or action on screen.’

Why should marketeers be interested? 

A trend that’s been slowly growing over the past 18 months as people have been working from home is the demand for immersive soundscapes. These are usually marketed as escapist background listening or study aids. Whether based in the real world (a charming woodland cottage) or a fictional world (Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter soundscapes are some of the most popular) their notoriety is growing. Other incredibly popular pieces of content include generic office ambient soundscapes, crackling fireplaces or even coffee shops in the rain. 

This content is hugely popular. Garnering tens of millions of views, it presents a problem for anybody creating paid ads (especially on YouTube). With the advent of the ‘Skip after 5 seconds’ button, YouTube ads have had to frontload a lot of excitement and ‘hook’ to get people to keep watching. But where content creators are now monetising their channels (and rightfully so), mid-roll ads that interrupt this flow are not only ineffective, but quite an irritation which comes at a cost to the brand’s reputation. 

Reaching users was once the main milestone, and serving them the right message was the next. Now, however, with users used to the interruption the way those ads are served is more crucial than ever. Particularly as the ability to target users becomes that much more accurate.

Technology such as Dolby Atmos and spatial audio, means that creatives and marketeers have the ability not just to reach users, but to engage them in immersive adverts that consumers may well want to continue listening to. With the rise of TikTok, the rate of media consumption is arguably higher than ever before, but good quality audio marketing is, I believe, still some way behind. 

How can we use immersive audio?

So how can brands get in on the shift towards immersive audio? Why not think about how users could interact with your brand if they aren’t able to see your brand? Ask questions like ‘what does my brand or product sound like?’ and you’ll be surprised to find what sort of content people seek out. 

For example, say you’re a white goods company asking how you could possibly reach customers through this kind of content. There are ambient videos of the sounds of laundromats and tumble driers racking up hundreds of thousands of views. 

If you’re a car company, there’s a big demand for the comforting sound of a car on a motorway at night. Why not meet the demand with the sound of your brand’s latest model?

As more and more people spend time at home with work, they’re looking for ways to both escape and enjoy their homes in equal measure. Using smart home skills, ambient lighting and smart speakers, smart home brands already have the perfect set of tools to create immersive experiences in peoples homes, and as marketeers, there’s a big opportunity to help create those worlds that consumers are reaching out for.

Now, is creating a branded audio experience a little bit gimmick-y? Perhaps, however, the basic idea behind immersive audio experiences is providing a comfortable space where your customers can exist and relax. Even if you don’t want to create audio content like this, the lesson is transferable; the way your brand sounds is just as important as the way it looks. As the world continues to open up and experiential events become more commonplace, pay attention to the way they sound. Is there a way you can engage your customer without going for a hard sell?