Podcasters may be focused on growing their business and attracting advertiser to help fuel that effort. One thing the industry has going for it is that, as a medium, the advertising creatives not only “get” podcasting, but they genuinely seem to like it.
“It’s still a young medium with a lot of different voices which makes it an incredible time for brands to get into it,” said Steph Beran Sanderson, Director of Strategy at Horizon Media’s in-house creative unit Wordsworth+Booth,
Speaking at the RAIN Global Podcast Leadership Summit on Wednesday, she said podcasting has a lot in common with the early days of social influencers. “Each show may not provide massive reach, but the diversity of shows and creators offers an opportunity for a more nuanced conversation with niche audiences,” she said, adding, “It’s not just about the content. There are lighter ad loads which gives each spot its own breathing room.”
Paula Mangin, owner of the ad consultancy Boyce::Mangin, agreed. “It’s just not stuffed with ads, there are one or two sponsors and it’s just really clean,” she told the virtual conference, hitting the familiar themes of the medium’s intimacy, niche audiences and high levels of engagement. “For all those reasons it stands out in an era of fragmentation,” said Mangin.
The attributes that make podcast advertising so appealing also require the medium to be treated differently than other media, such as broadcast radio or a spot on a streaming music service. In fact, both Sanderson and Mangin said the quality of podcasts themselves have raised the creative bar for advertisers.
“A great ad matches the mindset of the listener. This is true in all advertising, but in podcasting it is critical,” said Sanderson. She said that if someone is listening to a true crime podcast, they like storytelling and intrigue and it is important that a brand message aligns with that so it resonates with a listener. “In a way you are being intrusive, but with a little bit of thoughtfulness you have the ability to be additive to the story experience in podcasting, which is truly unique in this medium,” she said. And while offering a contrast to a show can help a commercial stand out, Sanderson said that can backfire in podcasting. “If you drop a slapstick joke into a podcast about heartfelt loss, you could really turn a listener off,” she said.
“So much is just being consistent to the tone,” agreed Mangin. She said that can be as simple as using a male or female voice, the age of the person voicing the ad, or adjusting a spot’s cadence. “It’s being respectful and being authentic to the format. And not treating it as a radio ad or a hard sell,” said Mangin.
That podcasting is not radio may seem like an obvious observation, but often marketers simply want to plug a slickly produced 30- or 60-second ad they use on radio or a streaming service into a podcast. And that is a move that both women strongly advise against.
“I am also a big fan of radio; it’s incredibly effective – but specific creative should be specific to the medium,” said Sanderson. “In radio, you need to all but scream at people. The listeners are driving, they’re distracted, you’re in a block of six spots. You better break through. Podcasts on the other hand are an immersive, intimate lean-in environment and there is no switching around so you can be a lot more subtle.” She said podcast listeners also tend to be younger and savvier, making it harder to use the traditional strategies ad creatives have relied on for traditional radio commercials.
Mangin said it doesn’t make any sense to use pre-produced spots when the biggest strength of podcasts remains with host-read ads. “When you can have the host of a podcast talk about the product, it’s very authentic,” she said.
Art19 Chief Revenue Officer Lex Friedman said his company no longer offers any “baked-in” host-read ads; all are now dynamically inserted. He called the ad format “magical” and said it is one of the industry’s best weapons when trying to pull ad dollars away from Facebook and the other internet giants. Friedman thinks live-reads remain the best way to capture a listener’s attention, although he also said that it sometimes requires some guidance for clients who are used to placing radio or streaming music service ads.
“We have to produce them to sound like they belong in podcasts,” said Freidman. “In the end, we want just a voice that doesn’t have music backing or sound effects. The more that we can do to make it sound human and natural, the more people are going to listen.”
One of the other big advantages of host-read ads is their production cost is “almost zero,” according to Mangin. “It’s not like we would recommend podcasts because of that, but it’s one of things that we are mindful of – and the client is very grateful of,” she said.