If you listened to your first podcast in the fall of 2014, you’re not alone.
Serial was a breakout hit, as millions of people binge-listened. Before Serial, though, podcasts had been around for nearly a decade. (For the uninitiated, a podcast is akin to a radio show that is downloaded and listened to on demand). Many podcasts had sizable followings, but it took until the past few years for companies to really start paying attention to this nebulous media form.
So why are companies so interested in advertising on podcasts now? A confluence of factors has created the vibrant podcast marketing ecosystem that exists today. Podcasts have surprisingly huge audiences: 43 million Americans listen to podcasts on a weekly basis. This is five times the rate of people who go the movies weekly. The proliferation of mobile devices is part of the equation as well, since many people download or stream podcasts to their smartphones or tablets to be enjoyed on the go. Additionally, surveys have shown that podcast listeners are more affluent than the average American, therefore representing a more fertile market.
All of these reasons help to explain why podcast ad dollars were forecasted to rise 85% in 2017 compared to the prior year. This adds up to $220 million in ad spending. Some companies are fully diving in, spending more than $10 million annually on podcast advertising alone. This growth is likely to continue as more and more people start listening to podcasts each year. The ad market isn’t yet saturated, either. A FiveThirtyEight report found that over a third of the podcasts on iTunes’ top 100 chart had no advertising.
Here are a few tips to help your company make the most out of unexplored podcast advertising.
Keep It Genuine
Podcast advertising is pricey compared to other forms of advertising for a reason: if done well, it really works. Research shows that only 7% of social media ads and 37% of television ads actually influence purchase decisions. Podcasts, on the other hand, can be incredibly effective motivators. A survey conducted by audioBoom and Edison Research found that nearly two-thirds of listeners bought a product or service they learned about from a podcast.
Many podcast listeners tune in to the same shows regularly. This repeated exposure to the same hosts essentially builds a relationship with them. Since most podcast ads involve the hosts reading ad copy, this special relationship between hosts and listeners can be capitalized on. When a host says she loves her Casper mattress, loyal listeners are going to be far more receptive to this message than a generic Casper TV spot.
But at a certain point, this can stretch credulity and cause audiences to question whether the host really uses all of the products she’s recommending. One expert puts it this way: “There’s a tension about the sincerity of an endorsement,” and eventually the audience may “stop believing it.” Advertisers should try to ensure the host really knows the important information about their product or service, and ideally, give the host a sample so she can speak sincerely about it.
Make the Content Unskippable
Just as companies advertising on television fear that DVRs have made many viewers skip past commercials, companies that advertise on podcasts worry about their messages going unheard. To counteract this, you need to make your advertisements unskippable. There are multiple ways to go about this.
Many companies allow podcast hosts some creative control in presenting the ad. The comedian Bill Burr, whose show “Monday Morning Podcast” is one of the most popular comedy podcasts, is known for his humorous, free-wheeling approach to ad reads, which many listeners enjoy so much they don’t skip them. Even when he makes fun of a company’s product, the buzz it generates can be good for business. The company Shari’s Berries advertised on Burr’s show and he profanely mocked the product and the ad copy. Shari’s Berries, rather than taking a hit, actually got a big boost in business from the ad read. Many customers purchased items using the promo code read on Burr’s podcast.
Another approach is to make sure your ad is so well placed that listeners will actually be interested in what it has to say. By identifying which podcasts align with your company’s target market, you can greatly increase the odds that listeners will find your ad useful. This can be done using demographic data from ad-placing companies or by using common sense to determine the types of listeners of different podcasts.
Another method is to tie in the connection of your product to the content of the show. This is an effective way to make sure that the podcast’s audience will find your ad valuable. If your company sells audiobooks, asking the host of a sports podcast to discuss a particular sports audiobook is a way to pique the audience’s interest. Customizing the ad to both the show and the audience makes it stick out compared to other generic ad reads.
Understand the Audience
Currently, companies cannot access the granular listener data they desire. Demographics of podcast listeners are only discernible via surveys, like the annual one done by Edison Research, tracking overall trends. Some intermediaries between advertisers and podcasters, such as Midroll, also conduct listener demographics surveys for their clients. But overall, companies aren’t able to access complete and exact data regarding who listened to a particular podcast episode.
In general, you can make informed guesses as to the type of person tuning into a particular podcast. The types of people listening to a cooking podcast, a finance podcast, a true crime podcast, or a literature podcast may involve some overlap but are generally different in some ways. Supplementing this intuition with any accessible demographic data will help you to make sure your ad’s messaging acknowledges the type of audience you’re reaching.
Know Where to Place the Ads
Advertisers like that they can essentially box out their competition. Since the podcast hosts will personally endorse their product, a competing company won’t want to waste ad money selling a similar product on that show. Podcast advertising space is divided into three chunks: pre-roll (before the show’s content); mid-roll (during a break from the middle section of the show); and post-roll (after the show’s content). The type of ad your company wants to place may result in different placement in the show. For example, quick ads with simple information to convey tend to be effective in pre- and post-roll spots.
If your company is advertising for the first time or requires a longer amount of time to explain the product or service, a mid-roll spot is usually best. To some, the mid-roll spot offers the best value because it is typically the longest and listeners are more likely to be okay with taking a quick break halfway through the show. By the time the podcast is over, many listeners may not stick around to hear the post-roll ads. The pre-roll ads can also be skipped easily by listeners who want to get right to the meat of the show. Research these different placements, and figure out where your ad will make the biggest mark.
For data hounds, the black box of podcast listener data is extremely frustrating. With the aid of surveys mentioned earlier, podcast creators can get an imperfect glimpse of the demographics of their listeners. But what if you want to know if a downloaded episode was actually listened to, how many times it was listened to, or if the listener finished the entire episode? All of these questions lacked satisfying answers. Until now.
In June 2017, Apple made a big announcement about an upcoming update that would release more data for podcasts downloaded from the App Store. The data will be anonymized, so listener demographics will not be included, other than the countries in which downloads took place. However, information such as how many times a downloaded episode was listened to (if at all), if it was listened to in full, and if listeners skipped past certain points of the episode will be provided. As of the time of this writing, the update has been in beta mode for about a month, with podcast creators having access to the long-coveted data.
Some were concerned that the bustling podcast advertising market would collapse upon the release of new information. The thinking was that if advertisers learned their ads were being skipped–as some feared–they’d no longer be willing to pay for ads on podcasts, sending the whole market into a downward spiral. Fortunately, the data has been very positive so far. As one writer puts it: “Forget those worries that the podcast bubble would burst the minute anyone actually got a closer look: It seems like podcast listeners really are the hyper-engaged, super-supportive audiences that everyone hoped.”
If you think your company is in a good position to take advantage of this thriving ad environment, we suggest you go for it before the market is saturated with advertisers. In the meantime, make sure your company stays on top of any and all changes to podcasts and the ever-changing advertising space that accompanies them.