Regional accents overlooked in audio advertising, study shows

Research finds 62% of audio advertising in the UK features a southern accent compared to just 19% that features a northern accent.

A study into the diversity of voices heard in audio advertising in the UK has found that 62% of UK radio and podcast advertising features southern accents.

The first-of-its-kind study commissioned by the Unstereotype Alliance, in partnership with Tesco, Kantar and Acast, finds accent bias is a prominent issue across the advertising industry.

According to the study, which analysed approximately 120 audio ads between January and June 2023, accents from the north of England featured in just 19% of them. Welsh and Scottish accents appeared in just 2% of ads and just 1% of ads featured a voice from the Midlands. Lower still was the Northern Irish accent which featured in just 1% of radio ads and not a single podcast advert.

The English Estuary accent, however, which is associated with the area along the River Thames, including London, and often called the King’s English, appeared in a dominant 62% of UK radio and podcast advertising.

This trend continues when broken down by sector, too, with a mere 13% of finance and entertainment audio ads featuring northern voices, while retail (27%) and food ads (23%) fared only slightly better.

There is also a gender disbalance when it comes to the voices heard in audio advertising. Only 36% of ads feature female voices as the lead compared to 43% which feature a male voice – while 21% of ads feature a balance between the two.

Sector does play a factor here, with male voices dominant in finance (53%), entertainment (48%) and food (47%) ads, while female voices are much more likely to be heard in retail ads (53%) than a male voice.

The research also looked at the stereotypes associated with different voices in audio advertising. It found that male voices in grocery and finance adverts, for example, were found to be more informative and authoritative while the same category female voiced ads were deemed more trustworthy and reliable.

What can be done to fix marketing’s persistent socio-economic class pay gap?But the flipside to this gender disbalance is that female-voiced ads in the finance space were considered more memorable (74% against 67%) than the more common male voiced adverts.

Regional biases were also found in the research with northern accents having fewer positive associations than southern voices.

Sarah Morrell, senior client director in the Kantar Creative team, says the research provides brands with an “opportunity” to be brave and make “small changes that can make a big difference”.

She adds: “If female voices in the finance sector create more ad memorability why not strive to improve gender balance in your audio advertising? This is not only the right thing to do and what people expect and want from brands, but can also have a positive impact on creative effectiveness and as a result the ROI from audio campaigns.”

Meanwhile, Melda Simon, the UK chapter lead for the Unstereotype Alliance, believes the research shows how “vital” it is that brands reflect they public they serve across all touchpoints.

“We hope these results encourage audio advertisers to diversify their casting practices and strive for a 50:50 gender balance in audio advertising with greater regional, working-class and minority ethnic accents,” she concludes.