How you can make the most of podcast advertising

As more brands grow wise to the potential of podcast advertising to reach engaged and dedicated listeners, is there a risk of an eventual over-saturation that will turn once-loyal subscribers off?

We’re either in the golden age of podcasting or just about to enter it, depending on what you read. The recent £275-million takeover of podcast firms Gimlet and Anchor by Spotify was a huge vote of confidence in the future of monetising podcasts, and it might just change everything. The first big developer has swooped in to gentrify this neighbourhood.

Advertisers need to respect audiences; something that is, disappointingly, not that common

So, is now the right time for brands to spend on podcast advertising? Audience numbers are certainly on the rise. According to a September 2018 Ofcom report, six million adults now listen to podcasts every week, a figure that has almost doubled in five years. Podcasts are particularly popular with younger listeners; 49 per cent of listeners are under 35.

How best to leverage podcast advertising

This is an age group that has grown accustomed to not paying for content, whether they’re looking for news or music or podcasts, but content creators will need money to keep their show on the road. Travis Leggett, senior copywriter at marketing and advertising firm Robin Des Bois, says: “Advertising is the driving force that allows many podcasts to remain on the air. There is a very delicate balance that has to be maintained between how many ads you can run in a show before the number of listeners drops off significantly.”

The key is to keep the classic podcast consumer, a spellbound listener who’d never dream of hitting the fast-forward button, onside. James Cridland, audio consultant and managing editor of podnews, a daily podcast newsletter, says: “Brands are best served by being where their potential customers are and catching them at their most receptive. Audio, in all its forms, is successful at doing that and is resilient in terms of avoiding ad-blockers. Ninety per cent of podcast listeners do so alone and brands can really leverage the personal, intimate nature of the medium.

“The Joe Rogan Experience [16 million downloads a month] starts with seven minutes of advertising; I can’t help but worry that this is training people to use the skip button. Advertisers need to respect audiences; something that is, disappointingly, not that common.”

Still, most brands have wised up to this issue and are working with it. Meredith L. Eaton, a director at public relations and marketing communications agency Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, says: “Marketers and advertisers are starting to really hone in on best practices for podcast advertising. They’re recognising the value of endorsed organic formats over produced scripted ads, spots that air mid-roll, as opposed to pre- or post-roll, and direct sales tracking through promo codes and custom URLs.”

Smart agencies combine podcast advertising with social media

There’s also opportunity in leveraging the interconnected way in which millennials and generation Z consume their entertainment and do their shopping, then advertise their habits on social media.

Ms Eaton says: “Having a podcast host say a promo code that listeners can use for a giveaway is a great way to track lead conversions, but what about tying it to social media instead? If the podcast host encourages listeners to tweet about why they deserve your company’s giveaway, you’re getting the podcast audio ad as well as buzz on social platforms.”

According to Edison’s The Podcast Consumer 2018 report, the podcast landscape is looking even healthier in the United States. Some 17 per cent of the population aged 12 years and over – 48 million people – listened to a podcast in the last week. The report also points out that “there is tremendous opportunity to grow with persons 55-plus.” It seems as though listening to podcasts is taking over from radio across the age spectrum, so is there any evidence of the advertising money following?

dataset: podcast listeners in the UK

How podcast advertising found a new angle for influencer marketing

Mr Cridland says: “We’ll see more big brands moving to podcasting. Geico, the US insurance company, is the number-two radio advertiser in America and is now the number-two podcast advertiser as well. I suspect we’ll see many more discovering the intimacy and habitual nature of podcasting.”

Ms Eaton also remains optimistic. “With 660,000 podcasts out there, and climbing, there’s likely a podcast out there for everybody and every brand,” she says. “Podcasts have been found to have the most engaged and dedicated audiences of any platform; combine this with data that shows astonishing buying habits and brand recall. Podcast adverts offer a unique spin on influencer marketing, especially when told from the mouths of influential podcast hosts themselves.” The listener-host relationship in podcasting is a special one; that’s the power of voice and it isn’t going to change.

The Spotify-Gimlet-Anchor deal might be the tipping point for the podcasting community, which has always had an open, do-it-yourself feel. Perhaps the space is about to become a series of gated communities. It makes sense for brands to eye up prime billboards for themselves, in the world of imagination that develops between podcast fans and their favourite hosts.