This is Your Brain on Audio

How the brain processes audio

The brain is an amazing organ. Yet, no matter what we think we know about it, new discoveries continue to surprise and astonish us. An example is recent neuro research by the Australian Radio Network's Neuro Lab that shows consumers process radio, podcasts, and music streaming differently.  

This first-of-its-kind study mapped participants' brain activity when listening to audio content and advertising in the areas of attention, engagement, attitude and memory. The results provide revolutionary insight and dispel the notion that we process audio the same regardless of source. In fact, radio, podcasting, and music streaming are processed entirely differently and distinctly. What that means is that each medium possesses its own strengths and effectiveness levels for sponsors.  

Advertising Efficacy 

When the ARN study showed how the brain processes audio differently, sponsors likely asked in unison, "Which is more effective?" The answer is that each has its advantages. The beauty is that different types of audio offer sponsors a range of opportunities for promoting their brands. Let's look more in-depth at some findings from the Sound You Can See research on each medium.   


Radio is the OG of audio for a reason. We now have proof backed by neuroscience that it is the best format for engaging listeners for long periods. The key is neural engagement, or how much attention a person pays to any stimulus. The ARN study found that radio creates 60% more neural engagement than other types of audio.  


Podcasting is a huge business, with 525,000 active podcasts comprised of more than 18.5 million episodes. Advertising is expected to top $1 billion in 2021, a  41% increase over 2020. The study now proves why podcast popularity is soaring: podcasts create a higher level of memory encoding. For sponsors, that means your brand stays top of mind. 

Music Streaming 

Music streaming was found in the study to have the most significant impact in developing a positive attitude toward a brand. Listening to music has numerous benefits, including reducing anxiety, blood pressure and pain, and improving mood, sleep quality, alertness and memory. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that feeling well-rested, relaxed, and pain-free can result in a positive association with a sponsor on your favorite streaming channel. This favorable view promotes higher customer retention, attracts new customers, and creates brand loyalty.   

Why Is This Research Significant?  

Researchers that conducted the study believe that neuroscience partnered with traditional marketing techniques is the future of advertising. This research uncovered previously unseen and unproven insights into how the brain processes audio and the efficacy of sponsorship campaigns in different environments. In addition, there is documented proof that each medium has its own benefits and usefulness. These insights can unlock even more possibilities for influential messaging on each platform, depending upon your business goals.  

What Does It Mean for Public Radio Sponsorships?  

Public media sponsorships have long been shown to be beneficial for brand recognition and loyalty, largely due to the Halo Effect created from the support for a highly respected public media station. However, the new research will provide a more comprehensive view based on scientific testing of how the brain processes audio. It proves that radio provides a higher level of creative flexibility for sponsors without disrupting the listening experience for the audience. This neuroscience research shows that sponsors should tailor their messaging for the different audio channels.  

Your Brain on Audio Differs by Channel 

There has previously been no academic or commercial proof that there was a measurable difference in the brain's response to radio, podcasts or music streaming until the ARN study. Now we know that each has distinct strengths and levels of effectiveness. More importantly, we now have proof that they are perceived differently, so the messages should be crafted differently.  

Each offers opportunities to increase efficacy in different aspects. Radio creates more neural engagement, offering more creative options for sponsors. Podcasting prompts an increased level of memory encoding, ideal for brand recognition. Streaming music gives listeners a more positive view of the brand, promoting new customers, better customer retention and increased brand loyalty. 

Creating a successful marketing campaign takes time, focus and experience. Work with a public media partner that understands how to differentiate between radio, podcasting and music streaming to create an effective public marketing campaign for your brand.  

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