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Why brands are changing their tune about podcast advertising

March 13, 2019 | By Tim Bourgeois — Digital Media Auditor and Consultant @ChiefDigOfficer

Though it’s been around in some form for well over a decade, podcasting has sort of limped along in its evolution. Unlike other digital advertising manifestations – such as search or social media – which enjoyed meteoric rises, podcasting has sporadically entered and exited the consciousness of marketers since its inception. Today it accounts for only a sliver of the global advertising marketplace – around 1% of total spending.  

One explanation for advertisers’ hesitancy to embrace the podcast channel is due to straightforward herd behavior: You don’t get fired for buying ads from Google and Facebook. These digital marketing stalwarts emerged almost literally overnight in the late aughts, enjoyed glowing press coverage for a decade, and attracted tens of billions of dollars in advertising during their ascent.

The other is guilt by association. It’s well known that while online ad spending has grown (particularly for Facebook and Google), other channels – television, print, radio – have shrunk. And, for better or worse, podcasting has been lumped in with radio advertising. So, it lacked the shiny new appeal of its digital channel brethren in mobile, search, social and video.

On The Hunt For Alternatives

However, there is one aspect of the digital ecosystem that everyone can agree on, and that’s insanely rapid evolution. There’s a saying among digital media buyers that captures this spirit, and it’s only mildly hyperbolic: “a campaign that worked just fine before breakfast might fail miserably after lunch.”

Today’s advertising environment is, of course, dramatically different than it was a decade ago, or even a year ago. A combination of questionable management practices (see: privacy; see also: safety), absence of customer governance (see: Russia), and aggressive tactics (see: exorbitant prices) has some brands seeking out alternatives to the duopoly. And podcasts are going to be one of the beneficiaries of this shift in the coming years.

Why the Time is Right for Podcast Ads

Though not a one-size-fits-all kind of advertising channel, we’re advising brands to seriously consider adding podcasting to their media mix in a meaningful way, for one or more of a variety of reasons.

The Price Is Right

Due to the relatively low cost of entry and ongoing management, as well as the influx of deep pocketed players like Spotify and Luminary – which are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to shore up their podcasting capabilities and aggressively pursue market share – podcast advertising can be more cost effective than pricey online formats such as paid search or high-end social media. And attractive long-term deals are typically made available by aggressive players in the category. This makes podcasting easy to insert in planning conversations.

Ease of Implementation

Most podcast advertising involves a few lines of copy that is read by the host and/or an offer that might require an accompanying landing page. And that’s it. No pricey multimedia creative, or really any image-based assets are necessary. Indeed, for all but the earliest stage companies, these items are already in place.

The Future is Bright

From a certain vantage point, podcast advertising is, in fact, a “bright and shiny object.” Most prognosticators agree that both the volume of podcast listeners and their level of engagement will grow meaningfully over the next few years. However, while daunting and even prohibitive to some, the idea of getting in to a new channel as an early adopter is enticing to many brands.

The Duopoly Aren’t Dictating Terms

While it might seem trite, many brands are experiencing Google and Facebook fatigue. Though few can remove the duopoly from their media mix altogether anytime soon, the prospect of engaging with new and friendly outlets is enticing.

Be On The Lookout For Speedbumps, Not Obstacles

As with any new tactic, there are of course issues being worked out in the podcasting category. These include lack of widespread familiarity – necessitating executive education – a shortage of case studies, and the reality that most successful podcasting efforts to date have been part of a multichannel campaign. Also, in comparison to other online channels, the turnaround time on investments is typically longer, in part because podcast advertising is often used for general brand building. But the cost-benefit equation works in enough situations for the tactic to be considered in earnest by most advertisers, if not necessarily for every type of campaign.

A New Instrument, A New Tune

One explanation for the slow adoption of podcast advertising is that it has been historically lumped into the broad “offline” advertising category, which of course has been out of vogue for the past decade or more. And while podcasting doesn’t offer many of the bells and whistles we traditionally associate with digital advertising – like immediate response, easily identifiable last touch attribution, and aggressive acquisition – it’s unquestionably gaining momentum among advertisers. Its evolution in the coming years will almost certainly be unlike other online tactics that preceded it, which were pursued in stampede-like fashion, but it’s an interesting emerging tool in the digital advertiser’s toolkit, and worthy of a close look by most brands.  

About the Author

Tim Bourgeois (@ChiefDigOfficer) is a principal at East Coast Catalyst, a Boston-based advertising audit company.

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