November 20, 2023
The Audiobook Boom: How Modern Readers Are Embracing Storytelling in Sound

The rise in candy from around the world reflects people's growing adventurous palates and the role of social media in introducing new foods globally.

History has significantly influenced what various cultures consider beautiful. Major economic and political events, along with shifts in the cultural zeitgeist, have all played a crucial part in shaping ideal beauty standards.

For instance, colonialism radically shifted beauty ideals in many Asian and African countries. Features that didn’t fit with Eurocentric beauty ideals, like deeper skin tones, smaller eye shapes and textured hair, were deemed undesirable, introducing a social hierarchy that is still being unraveled today.

In modern society, the rise of the Internet and social media has been a transformative force in shaping beauty standards. Asian beauty techniques and products have spread to the West and entered the mainstream, while Western influencer and celebrity culture has permeated globally. The conversation around beauty has become increasingly diverse and inclusive, celebrating a wider range of features and styles.

These evolving perspectives on beauty have led to the emergence of new practices, which are prominently reflected in modern advertising. Using our AI-powered Ad Evaluation App, we analyzed beauty advertisements from the 1990s and 2000s by the same brands across five different markets - the US, China, India, Japan, and Brazil. Our goal was to observe their transformation over time and identify any movements between these markets.


Previous Archetypes and Values: Sensual, Intimate, Passionate

New Archetypes and Values: Sensual, Intimate, Passionate, Inspiration, Glamorous

Brazil boasts one of the world’s most diverse cultures, but its beauty standards haven't always reflected that. L’Oreal’s earlier ads featured a light-skinned American model, which is not representative of the country's diversity. While the preferences for glamour and sensuality have remained central, modern ads now showcase a nuanced version of beauty, highlighting different ethnicities and genders. This bolder approach contrasts with the seemingly self-effacing ad of the past, redefining and embracing what beauty looks like in Brazil.


Previous Archetypes and Values: Supportive, Down-to-Earth

New Archetypes and Values:  Strong, Brave, Determined

Estee Lauder's 2002 ad in China features Caucasian model Hilary Rhoda as the ambassador, dubbed in Mandarin. This ad may have been a reflection of the period's idealization of foreign beauty and a lack of strong Chinese identity in the beauty industry at the time. More than two decades later, the 2024 ad we analyzed showcases Zhang Weili, a professional MMA fighter, training in a boxing ring. This shift indicates a move away from the consumption of imported beauty standards towards the creation of a homegrown ideal. The new standard of beauty emphasizes strength and health, qualities that Chinese consumers admire and aspire to, and see in themselves.


Previous Archetypes and Values:  Powerful, Charismatic, Visionary

New Archetype and Values: Playful, Carefree, Fun-Loving, Glamorous

The two L’Oreal India advertisements featuring long-time brand ambassador Aishwarya Rai illustrate a shift in marketing strategy over the last decade. In the earlier ad, Aishwarya embodies the quintessential beautiful Indian woman, dressed-up and perfectly coiffed. This portrayal emphasizes an idealized and somewhat unattainable standard of beauty.The updated ad presents a more casual and relatable image of the actress, which suggests an attitudinal shift among Indian consumers. While she remains glamorous, the ad focuses on portraying her in a more accessible light, thus positioning her as someone who wants to help other women feel beautiful too.


Previous Archetypes and Values: Innocent, Humble, Optimistic

New Archetypes and Values: Warm, Compassionate, Generous, Nurturing, Inspirational

Shiseido's ads reflect the evolving reality of Japanese women over the past 30 years. The 1992 ad depicts a woman at home, where women typically spent most of their time. The modern ad, however, shows Japanese celebrity Hiromi Nagasaku in various aspects of her life—at work and with her family—showcasing the joy she feels. She appears more confident and assertive, reflecting contemporary Japanese views on beauty. In the past, beauty was associated with cleanliness, but now it encompasses a woman living her life fully and enjoying every moment, illustrating that beauty comes from within rather than just external appearances.


Previous Archetypes and Values: Expressive, Imaginative, Sensuality

New Archetypes and Values:  Playful, Fun-loving, Glamorous, Entertaining

Both Maybelline ads share a similar concept, creating a fantasy world that doesn't take itself too seriously. Beauty is meant to be fun, and the 2023 version feels like a modern update of the earlier ad's playful message. The latest ad features the unexpected pairing of Bretman Rock and Martha Stewart, and utilizes both their brand personas. This shift showcases a growing consumer desire for inclusivity and authenticity in advertising, challenging traditional notions of beauty and expanding the idea of who gets to wear makeup.

Our analysis of ads from these five markets reveals three key ways ideas have traveled, highlighting the shift from one-dimensional to multidimensional beauty. The meaning of this shift varies across cultures.

Many modern ads demonstrate a shift in the relationship and power dynamics between beauty brands and consumers. In the past, the beauty industry focused on highlighting imperfections and promoting unattainable standards that could only be achieved through their products. Today, consumers are more empowered and seek brands that affirm their beauty and support them in their journey to become the best version of themselves.

Markets Demostrating this Theme: USA. Brazil, Japan.

Modern beauty ads seem to share a common thread: beauty is about play and passion. It’s meant to be fun and accessible to everyone who wants to take part in it. It's believed that happiness and fulfillment in life radiate outwardly. When you feel content and satisfied, it enhances your external appearance.Brands need to promote the idea that their products are a means to explore, have fun, and express joy, reinforcing where true beauty comes from.

Markets Demostrating this Theme: USA, Brazil, China, Japan, India.

Seeing yourself on screen is more important than ever before. Consumers are demanding to see people who not only look like them but also reflect the unique interpretations of beauty in their respective countries. They want to see individuals who mirror their ideals and lifestyles and with whom they can emotionally connect.

The expectation is for brands to understand them on a far deeper level and cater to their beauty standards, rather than setting the standards for them.

Markets Demostrating this Theme: USA, Brazil, China, Japan.

Candy remains a favorite in ASMR eating videos due to its visual appeal and sound when chewed. Recently, popular candies with crunchy and sludgy sounds have become especially soothing.

Consumers' tastes now favor sharper, tangier flavors. Sour candy offers a refreshing contrast to sweetness and stimulates dopamine release. It is also believed to be a quick antidote for anxiety, as it distracts the brain from negative emotions and focuses it on the tingly sensation in the mouth.

Nostalgia has hit the candy market, with 90s and 00s favorites like Ring Pops, Airheads, and Nerds topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list, indicating consumers’ craving for childhood snacks.

Write to [email protected] to learn about AI-powered market research and the latest consumer trends.

As beauty standards become more inclusive and diverse, it is clear that consumers are driving a transformative shift in media and advertising, seeking representations that are authentic, empowering, and reflective of their true selves.

If you are interested to learn more, sign upfor our product newsletter or reach out to us at [email protected].

We’re launching an updated version of our ad evaluation tool that can analyse any creative formats, from concepts to storyboard, at our September event. Learn more about AI-volution 2024 here.

Brand Insights in 3 Sentences: The boom in the audiobook market underscores contemporary consumers’ growing demand for convenience, urging brands to prioritize accessibility in their strategies. The rise of audio content also signifies a desire for all-encompassing sensory experiences, a trend that all brands should try and embrace. Lastly, the audiobook and streaming industries have not been exempt from the ongoing debates around asset ownership, so brands may consider emphasizing and safeguarding their own unique assets more.

It’s reported that the global audiobook market is now worth over $5.3 billion, and is projected to reach $35 billion in 2030. This means that while the book publishing market will grow by only 1.9%, the audiobook market will grow by 26.4% every year over the next 7 years.

The rise of the audiobook makes perfect sense in the world we live in today. Many of us don’t have the luxury of time to sit down and read a book as often as we would like, so an audiobook gives us access to stories whenever and wherever. Having a book read to you by a seasoned voice actor, or even the author themselves, is also engaging and comforting to listeners, making it the modern day, adult equivalent of a bedtime story. 

Using Sphere, we wanted to find out what actually makes a good audiobook, where people are listening to them, and any insights we could find from audiobook reviews and bestselling lists.

Sphere’s search analysis first found that Amazon’s Audible and are the most popular platforms that people tune into the most, followed by a newer addition to the list, Spotify. The streaming service began offering more than 150,000 audiobooks as part of its Premium subscriptions in the UK and Australia earlier this month, followed by the US later this year.

This move has caused some concern in the literary world over the streaming of audiobooks competing with sales, especially since “books are typically only read once, while music is often streamed many times”, as stated by The Society of Authors (SoA). The union also revealed that none of the “authors or agents have been approached for permission for such licences, and authors have not been consulted on licence or payment terms.”

This new service has certainly opened a Pandora’s box for authors and the publishing industry, and its effects remain to be seen. Given the sheer size and reach of Spotify, it will definitely be a formidable competitor against Audible and if they continue their expansion around the globe.

Aside from well-written prose, a good narrator is essential to an enjoyable listening experience. They set the tone for the story and brings the characters to life. Some of the factors referenced in review was how articulate the narrators sounded, their pace of reading and ability to put on different accents or voices to differentiate the characters. A narrator can be the make or break of whether someone finishes the book, and even become the reason why someone would want to listen to a book in the first place.

We also wanted to see if there were any differences between Amazon’s list of bestselling books and Audible’s bestsellers. Our data revealed that while many of the books were similar, especially the popular new releases that would inevitably make both lists, there were certain categories of books that appeared more in one list than the other.


synthesizing vast data into actionable insights that reflect each market's unique cultural and economic backdrop


grasping the distinct consumer perspectives that these diverse regions offer

Curated digital profiles:

-Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok (US)

-Weibo and Douyin (China)

Pulled 400 million unique searches to estimate the growth of each segment

Used Quilt.AI’s Sphere language and image capabilities to categorise lifestyle areas into specific segments

Glamour Seekers

These consumers are confident, bold, and comfortable with modern masculinity. They also often turn to social media to express their personal style and interests.

Actionable Insight: Collaborate with high-profile fashion influencers to create vibrant, trend-setting campaigns that resonate with this segment's desire for attention and admiration.

Vanity Vanguards

Highly image-driven, these individuals often seek validation through their appearance and are likely to engage heavily with both grooming and fashion products.

Actionable Insight:Leverage digital marketing strategies that feature before-and-after visuals and testimonials that showcase the transformative power of the products

Conscious Icons

These men aim to be recognized as modern, open-minded, and sensitive – embodying the image of "the woke good guy" in today's society by actively participating in movements related to activism and gender equality.

Actionable Insight:Design marketing campaigns that highlight their participation in these movements, showcasing products that enable them to express and amplify their desired social identities.

Youthful Trendsetters

They value beauty while still maintaining traditional masculine ideals of what it means to be good-looking. These men also tend to seek out methods of maintaining their youthful appearances.

Actionable Insight:Market products that boost physical appeal and suit active lifestyles, and focus on dynamic marketing that highlights masculine elegance.

Trusted Patrons

Despite seeing gender in traditionally binary terms, these men aren’t afraid of behaving in more feminine manners. They own their uniqueness and tend to be deeply loyal to brands that affirm their identity.

Actionable Insight:Focusing on brand narratives that celebrate individuality and personal expression will better engage this segment. Brands can also offer personalized services to maintain their commitment.

Innovation Advocates

As consumers who value knowledge, they embrace technology and innovation that enhances their lives. Wanting to stay ahead of the curve, they prefer brands that offer cutting-edge solutions that reflect their own mentality.

Actionable Insight:Market products to this segment by emphasizing innovation, utility, and exclusivity. Brands can focus on how their products integrate the latest technology and engage these men through intelligent content that speaks to their curiosity.

Visuals illustrated are to bring concepts to life only.

Generally, there seemed to be more diversity in categories amongst the bestselling books than audiobooks. Some categories surprised us, while others didn’t. Picture books or children’s books where illustrations are key were obviously not included in the audiobooks list, however we did predict that categories like Fiction & Literature, Sleep and Religion & Spirituality would make an appearance on the list or rank higher. 

There was also a higher percentage of audiobooks in the Science Fiction and Fantasy category, as well as Biographies and Memoirs, as compared to regular books. The former has always been a popular genre, with Fantasy topping this year’s list according to a survey conducted by OnePoll. It’s the type of genre that allows people to venture into their own imagination, which may make the audio format more appealing since listening can be much more passive than reading.

On the other hand, Biographies and Memoirs in the audiobook format tend to be read by the authors themselves. We get to hear someone tell their own life story in exactly the way the words were intended to sound, which can add so much more depth and meaning over just reading their book. 

Memoirs read by their authors:

While some literary people argue that the audio format isn’t as rewarding as reading, or even considered “cheating”, we don’t believe that to be true. Audiobooks have traditionally been used by people with learning difficulties, non-readers and second-language learners, and successfully given them access to literature and taught them to not be afraid of prose.

While the act of reading is a crucial skill for anyone in the modern world, the purpose and many benefits of it can still be reaped through audiobooks. Skills like expanding your vocabulary, strengthening analytical capabilities, developing the ability to communicate and emphatize and improving concentration can all be gained through listening as well.

Considering the decline in book consumption, which includes both printed and audio formats, we believe that any form of reading should be encouraged. Furthermore, if contemporary readers find audiobooks to be the most convenient and feasible option, then the publishing industry should be rallying behind them. 

Follow our page for more such insights. Write to [email protected] to learn about AI-powered market research and the latest consumer trends.

Visuals illustrated are to bring concepts to life only.
Visuals illustrated are to bring concepts to life only.
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