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Sponsored content campaigns play a happy tune on Internet radio

Sponsored content discovery campaigns and efforts focused on driving phone calls and distributing coupons will be a mainstay of Internet radio advertising in the months ahead as more marketers leverage the inspirational power of music to engage mobile consumers.

Sponsored content discovery campaigns on Internet radio stations are seeing conversion rates in the mid single to low double digits - more than 10 times other campaigns. The emergence of sponsored content as a dominant advertising form ? relegating an industry workhorse, display advertising, to a back seat ? points to the lack of an answer to the question of how best to monetize Internet radio.

?At this point, Internet radio is widespread and the earliest adopters who figure out how best to market themselves on this channel will have an advantage over their competitors,? said Adam Foroughi, CEO of Applovin.

Commerce opportunities
The phone call and coupon or short-term discount campaigns represent opportunities to tie Internet radio audio ads directly to immediate and measurable return on investment.

Targeting runners' training habits.
Lumber Liquidators, StubHub and the Cleveland Clinic have used Internet radio to drive app downloads to create both commerce opportunities and develop stronger consumer relationships. 

A Carbonite campaign recognized that Internet radio advertising through a smartphone can facilitate inbound phone call conversions. 

And Ford Motor, as well as other advertisers, have engaged in interesting campaigns where they sponsor content on Internet radio that simply drives brand affinity. 

?We expect to see more of these types of strategies in 2015,? said Bret Kinsella, chief marketing officer of XAPPmedia. ?In the new year, we also anticipate more time-limited advertisements that consumers will need to act upon within a short period to access.?

It?s no secret that platforms such as iHeartRadio, Spotify and Pandora all have tremendous mobile audience scale and the ability to create engaging ad experiences that offer guaranteed impressions. 

Companies can now reach half of the U.S. population and two thirds of the 18-34 age group on Internet radio each month, according to XAPPmedia.

Last year, the number of US Internet radio listeners rose 11.1 percent to 147.3 million. Listener growth is expected to continue for next several years, though rates will taper off to single-digit percentages.

?Consumers have become accustomed to being connected 24/7 and delivering a message to a consumer on the go is an area ripe for disruption,? said Jeff Howard, national sales president for iHeartMedia. 

?The ability of radio to connect with listeners, combined with the truly mobile nature of audio content, creates an environment that is very conducive to brand marketing nearest to point-of-purchase. 

?Although digital radio opens up many new possibilities, only about 10 percent of all listening right now is digital and small compared to broadcast AM/FM listening, but as that grows a significant challenge will be attribution and the measured response expectations of an audio ad,? he said. 

Many brands are experimenting to see what type of messaging works for their product or service. 

Audio is emerging as the mobile ad unit of choice. 

Motivating through music.

?When consumers are using their phones to listen to music, news or sports, there is no better way to reach a consumer without distraction than an audio ad,? said Ezra Kucharz, president of CBS local digital media.

?If a consumer has their phone stuffed in a pocket but is listening to the content, they will hear an ad better than any other format.?

A recent Skechers? campaign with Pandora effectively married music and messaging to engage listeners on mobile.

The footwear maker?s goal was to drive awareness for its Performance Division footwear targeting adults over age 18. The campaign leveraged runners? use of music in training routines and habit of training with mobile devices. 

The campaign centered on six mixtape stations hosted on Pandora?s brand station platform. Each mixtape was made up of songs chosen by Pandora?s curation team to suit various training needs and running distances: Full Marathon, Half Marathon, 10k, 5k, Intervals and Warm Up/Cool Down.

Songs were selected based on beats-per-minute to tailor the listening experience to each specific training environment. Pandora listeners could add one or several of these stations to their personal station list to tune in quickly and easily at their convenience.

Additional custom in-station ads were served to provide running tips and motivation during each listening session.

Display and audio ads were used across Web, mobile and tablet to reinforce the Skechers Performance brand, raise awareness for the training stations and drive station ads. 

In the end, more than 102,000 Pandora listeners added a training station, with more than two-thirds of the additions via mobile. Listeners tuned into the stations for over 73,000 hours ? the equivalent of 8.3 years spent with the stations and with the Skechers Performance brand.

The program generated close to 43 minutes of engagement per listener overall.

"Marketers we work with view audio as not only a highly effective mobile advertising buy but also an exciting creative opportunity,? said Erika White, Pandora?s corporate communications director. ?Audio gives brands great opportunities for storytelling. And, when working with Pandora, brands can reach highly engaged listeners with their story and resonate with them in a unique, powerful way."

Marketing dream

Finding an effective Internet radio advertising channel is regarded as a key to fulfilling a marketing dream ? achieving a multiscreen culture in which all platforms are linked. 

Bonding with radio.

?Listeners have a bond with radio,? iHeartMedia?s Mr. Howard said.

?As a result, when a DJ or radio personality talks locally about a product or service, there's an audience who likes and trusts what they have to say ? digital streaming extends this bond and the station brands that listeners trust.  

?Radio is a proven ROI strategy for smart marketers,? he said. ?Plus, music is a passion point for people and brands want to tie their brands to the inspirational moments that music provides.?

Final Take
Michael Barris is staff reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York