Jonathan Harrison offers five key tips for advertisers planning a podcast campaign, from planning reach to researching content and context.

Podcast marketing continues to go from strength to strength, with the latest WARC study predicting that global ad spend in the format is likely to double to $1.6bn by 2022. This is supported by significant growth in the number of people listening to podcasts, with Ofcom reporting that almost six million UK adults were listening weekly in 2018.

This engaged audience hasn’t gone unnoticed by advertisers and more opportunities to use the medium have arisen through the main providers, including Acast, DAX and Spotify.

The way in which people listen to podcasts offers an advertising opportunity that is more engaging than the average online experience. With many early successes grounded in storytelling – such as Serial and This American Life – users tend to be fully engaged with the show and not consuming other media at the same time.

Acast reports that 90% of its podcast listening is done through headphones, making the experience personal and unique in offering advertisers someone’s full attention.

Some main concerns remain. Growth in podcast ad investment should be driven by new listeners and more shows, but a number of digital vendors adopt a short-term advertising approach, essentially spamming listeners with more and more ads, in turn hindering the overall market growth.

Earlier this year, the Advertising Association reported that trust and favourability towards our industry is at a record low. However, podcasts have managed to buck that trend, with 78% of consumers not minding branded sponsorships and 76% admitting to visiting a website or searching online for a brand heard advertised in a podcast.

Saying that, delivering ever-more ads will undoubtedly chip away at this trust. The onus, therefore, will continue to be on providers to find more listeners through developing and investing in new content. The right way.

Simplicity of formats

An increasingly positive and refreshing aspect of podcast marketing, for now, is the simplicity of formats. Essentially you have the option to either sponsor relevant shows or deliver audio ads within a selection of your choosing, often split by vertical or demographic.

Buying audio ads through a programmatic partner such as DAX, or using a network of talent like Acast, allows for an approach similar to radio campaigns. Due to the rise in listeners, there’s enough scale to buy national audio campaigns and add layers of targeting that was previously lacking.

Where these campaigns become more interesting is with their ability to add dynamic creative choices with limited assets. Companies such as A Million Ads have for a while now pushed the technology to change audio messaging based on non-digital triggers.

For example, a simple execution utilising a weather API – along with the time of day – could transform an old radio creative into a thousand different personalised ads. If it’s raining on your commute home, a takeaway service can entice you with a quick and warming dinner, and suggest from one of their hundreds of vendors.

Where advertisers need to be a little more careful is with sponsorship opportunities.

Consumers trust advertising on podcasts because the value exchange is straightforward. As advertisers clamour to be involved with the largest podcasts and the most engaged fans, it becomes tempting to pursue partnerships where the relevance is at best tenuous and at worst offensive.

Comedy is the most popular podcast genre and makes for obvious partnerships, often using talent that is used to working with advertisers on TV. But what becomes more difficult to understand, for instance, is the forced connection of selling clothes in the middle of a true crime podcast, or a shaving subscription after debating the latest dramatic news events.

Advertising, and especially partnerships, are often planned to borrow from the credibility of the publisher or talent. Nonetheless, they shouldn’t actually take it away.

For these reasons, it’s imperative that podcast campaigns are individually planned, rather than a redistribution of a radio advert on a different platform. As an industry, podcasting has (so far) managed to escape some of the pitfalls that have seen other online channels stumble, and we are seeing engagement and trusted user growth as a consequence.

To help keep it this way, here are five tips for when planning a podcast campaign.

1. Forecast and track your impressions

Podcasts go through fluctuation in the same way as TV programmes or radio shows. Even though there will be a number of subscribers, this doesn’t always result in the same number of listens. As most ads are now delivered dynamically rather than being hard-coded into the podcast itself, it’s also possible to remove your ad on particular episodes, if there’s a brand safety or content issue for example. Being able to record with talent quickly and amend your plan to appear in a wide selection of podcasts can help ensure your campaign delivers in full.

2. Plan for unique reach

Podcasts offer a great opportunity to extend the reach of your campaigns to a younger audience. For audio campaigns especially, podcasts offer a significant amount of unique reach. Acast’s research suggests 62% of users don’t listen to commercial radio and 81% can’t be reached by Spotify. Given much podcast growth is driven by a younger audience, harder to reach with traditional media, it also offers an alternative to social media if you want brand safety and greater control.

3. Research content and context

As a trusted and personal environment, always do your research around the podcasts you want to appear in. It’s never enough to just look at the talent and read the synopsis. Listen to the shows to understand the tone of voice and whether your brand will make a good fit. Being as relevant as possible to the audience will not only mean sponsored reads sound more authentic, but also adds a layer of contextual targeting to your campaigns.

4. Creativity

Please don’t ask us to use a radio advert. We are increasingly seeing opportunities for creative innovation within podcasts. Personalised, dynamic creative shouldn’t be used for the sake of it, but if an ad can be made relevant without the need for a creative agency to spend time on thousands of executions, then that’s only a good thing.

5. Measurement

Being inherently digital can often force metrics onto a campaign that you wouldn’t necessarily expect from offline media channels. Although much more personal in nature, a radio campaign is most similar to podcasts, so it should be measured in a similar way.

Most providers can offer listen-through tracking to see if a user converts after listening, but this shouldn’t be an optimisation metric. Podcast marketing should be measured alongside the rest of your media plan. Does it drive search uplift? Is your audience recalling you advert and brand? Has consideration been affected?

If you listen to many sponsored reads, they will more often than not contain a specific call-to-action in the form of a ‘listeners code’ for consumers to use if they want to buy the product with a special discount. Of course, this is a simple mechanic to check response rates, reminiscent of cutting burger discounts from the back of your local paper. The opportunity should be much greater in this environment.

You have a personal connection to an engaged user when they aren’t consuming any other media, meaning your creative and measurement approach should follow the same level of sophistication.