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The Key To Podcast’s Continued Revenue Growth Is Tied To Contextual Selling, Says Sounder.


Contextual ad targeting is not new to marketers, but it is still relatively new to podcasting where ad buys have so far typically been built around audience delivery. But Sounder, which late last year pivoted its business to become a data services company, is banking that contextual targeting will grow in importance to podcasters, despite some hurdles that will first need to be overcome.

Unlike audience-based buying where a brand places ads based on who hears a show, contextual targeting matches ads to relevant content so that the content of the ads aligns with the context of the content. It relies on data that comes from analyzing an episode’s content to identify contextual targeting opportunities. For instance, a pasta sauce brand could place an ad in a history show where the subject matter is about how the tomato made it from the New World to Italy, rather than just focusing on food-focused series.

In a white paper, Sounder says this shift will significantly increase the amount of content available for advertisers as a contextual evaluation of inventory can include more podcasts than ever before. It will also help the podcast industry continue on its projected revenue growth path.

“As we expand contextual audio targeting from the show to the episode and segment level, effective programmatic advertising, at or beyond the performance of what is currently seen in digital video platforms, becomes available in podcasting,” the report predicts.

Already some podcast ad sellers are leaning into transcriptions to tap keywords as a way to reveal new contextual opportunities. Sounder calls transcriptions “foundational” to contextual targeting in podcasts, and predicts it will continue to “play a key role.” But Sounder makes the pitch that multiple other data points, such as the sentiment and depth of a topical discussion, are needed to find content that meaningfully addresses a subject matter. And it says technology needs to go further. There is also a potential role for AI to develop what the company says is the comprehensive and standardized contextual targeting toolset that is need to identify and sell inventory that aligns with a brand’s advertising campaign.

“To maximize returns from contextual targeting in digital audio, we need technology that can deeply comprehend and classify human speech into advertising insights,” the report says. “The ability to contextually target podcasts will also require introducing new targeting features or, at a minimum, modifications to current targeting options to support the introduction of podcast inventory in existing marketplaces.”

For contextual advertising to establish industry-wide adoption in podcasting, Sounder’s white paper suggests a few big challenges remain. The biggest is the need for a unified language or “taxonomy” to classify content.

“Podcasts are a trove of valuable and often undiscovered topics because those topics don’t directly relate to the assigned genre category of the show. Unfortunately, it is easy to miss these alignment opportunities because the ad tech capable of accurately categorizing every conversation within a show’s catalog has not existed until now,” its report says.

The report points out there are already differences between what is used by Apple Podcasts, the de facto legacy language, and the Internet Advertising Bureau. In comparing the two, Sounder says Apple offers genres that can be used for podcast classification that are unavailable in IAB’s taxonomy and vice versa. Efforts are already underway to sort out the confusion. And Sounder says it has partnered with the IAB to work on the integration and standardization of the two taxonomies.


Sounder also believes that as the podcast industry continues its rapid growth, it will be pivotal to expand beyond traditional buying behaviors. It predicts host-read ads bought at the show level will continue to have broad appeal, but says the addition of contextual targeting through programmatic and network-style ad buys will become more important for moving the needle on listener behavior.

“By comprehensively combining contextual insights, brand safety, and suitability into existing campaign tools and marketplaces, we will soon see agencies investing in audio with the same confidence, transparency, and ease they experience when buying established digital mediums,” the report predicts.

Download a copy of Sounder’s white paper HERE.


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