The Sonic Experience of the Automobile

By Reggie Shah, Senior Director, Audacy Insights, Audacy

The In-Car Experience is Changing Dramatically. And Brands are Eager to Be First in Line to Embrace the Newest One-to-One Consumer Engagement Channel – Your Ride.

Audio in the car has taken on a whole new meaning in the last few years—a new vibe—a new experience. We are a long way away from the days when the in-car audio experience simply meant turning up the volume. Automakers are laser-focused on expanding audio entertainment options, activating sound-canceling enhancements, and leveraging audio-visual capabilities through ever-enlarging infotainment systems.

What We’re Listening To

With smartphones and smart dashboards, there are more options than ever to customize what we’re listening to when we hit the road. So, what do most Americans choose while driving? We’re cranking up the Radio. For those who listen to audio in the car daily, 87% of our time is spent with Broadcast Radio, compared to 3.5% with PurePlay streaming apps like Spotify and Pandora.1  

How the Car Itself Impacts Your Audio Experience

With audio and sound experts, like those at Bose, there’s a notion of ‘audio for life’ – the idea of using audio to make your life better. And there is an overwhelming desire to meet that goal in the automotive industry. First and foremost, there is still music and spoken word. For many, inside that cabin is Personal Primetime – when you’re in the driver’s seat (pun intended) and get to select the music or programming you want. But the entire sonic experience of the car is now a priority. Drivers enjoy not just the music but the broader driving experience. Safety comes into play – with audible blind spot warnings. Communication is front and center – with voice-activated directions and even Alexa-enabled apps.

Consumer behavior is evolving. Not only are more drivers becoming well-versed in navigating the infotainment system (a bump of 28% compared to last year2), they’re also gearing up for the new world of EV – electronic vehicles. Cadillac is excitedly charting that path with preparations to be the first all-EV brand within the GM portfolio. Cadillac’s Jason Sledziewski, Director of Product Marketing at Cadillac, recently shared during Brand Innovator’s 10th Anniversary Event, why consumer education is so critical when it comes to EV. “As marketers, this is a great opportunity to showcase how an EV is going to fit into people’s lives.” These automotive leaders are investing in consumers to combat range anxiety, understand how to best plan trips with electric vehicles, and truly envision themselves in the EV evolution.

Electric vehicles offer an opportunity for auto brands to play with the sonic experience of a car in ways never before fathomable. Electric vehicles naturally emit much less sound than the cars we’re used to, which opens up the opportunity for automakers to manufacture the car’s sound – not just for the safety of pedestrians and other drivers, but also to brand the driving experience. Sound designers are going to great lengths to craft the soundscape of the future. Our favorite auto brands are embracing everything from professional orchestras to the roar of a spaceship to perfect a driver’s sonic experience. Famed film-score composer Hans Zimmer shares his perspective in a recent BMW promo video, “Sound underlines the soul of anything. Right now, we are at a really exciting point, shaping the sound of the future.”

Brands are Embracing the Personalized Interactions of Today’s (and Tomorrow’s) In-Car Experience

There’s a wide range of new advertiser opportunities – ranging from pulling the trigger today to planning for the future.

  • See What You Hear with Audio-Visual Advertising: On the one end, brands are already enhancing their ad capabilities through the dashboard. Seemingly simple improvements like synchronizing radio commercials with visual branding go a long way to improve the listener experience and brand awareness. In a recent test, unaided brand awareness jumped 22 points when ads were coupled with visual in-dash elements.3
  • Voice is the New Knob, with Interactive Voice Commands: Some brands are going one step further and are beginning to embrace in-ad voice interaction by asking consumers to say ‘yes’ if they would like more information, directions, or a discount. This early-phase capability allows for greater personalization and satisfaction from brand interactions.
  • Commerce While You Cruise, with ‘Car Commerce’: On the future-looking side of the spectrum, companies like Visa are preparing for their future vision with in-car payments. Innovation in the commerce space opens up opportunities for drivers to buy their coffee, pay for gas, and anything else you can imagine from the in-car dash – making in-car advertising even more valuable and actionable.

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1 Share of Ear Edison Research, Q2’21, Ad-Supported, excludes videos on YouTube

2 GfK/MRI Spring ’21, Spring ’20


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