The Fully-Produced Podcast Ad: are we leaving attention on the table?

Data suggests that a copy and paste approach to audio creative may not be the right one

A man annoyed by a bad podcast ad

Most people come to us to develop and produce an original podcast for their brand — sometimes more than one. People who lead marketing, brands, and content for all sorts of businesses, all with ambitions of developing a podcast to reach customers and earn their attention and trust. This is what we’re known for.

Our team of storytellers get excited when clients and audiences cheer for another season. It literally says that in our vision statement.

And brands have been wildly successful building their own audience from the ground up, and investing in that audience season after season. That said, building an original podcast might not solve every business problem. And our mission is to continuously re-invent how podcasting can most effectively solve the business problems of brands today.

Creativity can solve attention problems

Our formula for success has been super consistent: Creative Bravery + Commitment. Strive to produce killer content people actually want to listen to, and use everything in your brand’s power to promote it.

How can creativity and storytelling improve the fully-produced podcast spot?

Intrinsic > intrusive

There are a lot of advantages to building and owning your own audience.

When it comes to building lasting brands, becoming part of a culture, and creating communities, producing an original podcast is one of the strongest channels to invest in. But when it comes to raising quick mass awareness, building an entirely original podcast from the ground up might not make your CMO’s weekly report sing.

If your only measurement of success for your original podcast is one million unique downloads (something we would never recommend), you may be able to achieve that building a net-new show (depending on how heavily you lean into creative bravery and commitment). But you also might consider borrowing someone else’s existing audience with a creative, attention keeping podcast advertising campaign.

Podcast advertising is the second fastest growing ad market in the world, and for good reason. Listeners trust brands they hear about on podcasts and are more likely to consider purchasing from brands that support their favorite shows.

Smart brands combine these two strategies (creating an original podcast and running creative campaigns to borrow others’ existing audiences).

Not all podcast advertising is created equal

As more brands enter the podcast ad market and take advantage of the reach potential through programmatic (or network) buys, we’ve seen (and heard) an increase in repurposing audio ads from radio or streaming music. While this is certainly cost-effective, it may not be audience-effective. Radio ads are designed to grab attention from distracted audiences. Podcast listeners are already deeply engaged. They don’t need to be shouted at– you already have their attention. These two different mediums require two different creative approaches. We felt so certain about this, we decided to put our hypothesis to the test.

Would you run a broadcast TV spot on TikTok?

Together with Signal Hill Insights, we tested the impact and appeal of a brand ad intended for use across all audio platforms, including radio and podcasts. The purpose of the study was to gain insight into the reaction of podcast listeners to the ad.

And the survey says…

While the ad generated high recall, it was poorly received in a podcast environment. Less than 29% of respondents liked the ad, and more than half strongly agreed they would skip it whenever it came on.

More than half.

The most common complaint about the ad was that it was “too loud” or “jarring” while listening to a podcast. Others complained that it lacked the “informative” content of other podcast ads they’d heard.

Podcasting is a channel, the creative and content must be designed for the experience.

We’ve seen first-hand the progression of buyers adding more budget towards fully produced ads in addition to host read integrations. (While we’re on the topic, programmatic is good for the industry — it makes the medium more accessible. Creativity is what’s going to make it more effective.)

This evolution isn’t surprising — it’s inevitable, so we can learn what’s going to happen next from platforms like radio and YouTube. As the ad experience moves further from the integrations that made the medium so effective for brands, ad rates will be challenged and ad loads will increase.

There’s still time to protect the listener experience.

There are smart ways to achieve both– broad reach and programmatic buys, AND engaging ads that resonate with podcast listeners.

Producing audio creative has, for the most part, been secondary to video when planning campaigns. Having worked in broadcast media, I totally get it. Audio is more affordable to produce, but perceived as less fun (presenting a visual storyboard in a full boardroom feels like you’re Don Draper, only without the drink), and there hasn’t been a need until now to really respect the audio creative experience.

Podcast ad planning and creative can’t be an afterthought in 2023.

Podcasting offers incremental reach of those hard to reach audiences: a recent study commissioned by Sounds Profitable, and by Signal Hill Insights (Medium Moves the Message, 2023) found that podcasting already reaches nearly as many 18–34s as Radio and TV, and that podcasting’s mean age is nearly a generation younger than broadcast audiences. This younger generation is going through life’s milestones with more choices for what to watch or listen to than ever before, and they know how to avoid an ad.

There’s no question that podcasting and digital audio will surpass all other forms of ad-supported audio. To avoid being skipped, brands will have to make something that doesn’t feel like an ad. Brands can still reach listeners with podcast ads, BUT they need to make sure those ads are actually compelling and feel intrinsic to the podcast they’ve chosen to spend time with.

How are we thinking about fully-produced podcast spots?

  1. Short-Form Brand Storytelling: be part of culture, part of the experience, and tell a story that aligns to your values and how you want people to feel.
  2. Brand Stories: tell your story, and do it really well. Produce it like a piece of content. Sonic branding is part of this formula.
  3. Campaign spots designed and produced for the podast listening experience. The cadence, the copy, the production elements, the compression, and sound design.
  4. Planning and buying podcast media as part of the development phase to creatively connect the message to the audience, with scale.

For the last nine years, our team has been constantly inventing how brands can earn and retain attention through podcasts, and how to develop an audience for them. We understand that each business’s goal is different. Like personal investing, some are long-term goals, and some are short-term plans. It’s not an either/or situation. Brands can maximize their potential by creating an original podcast to build their own audience, and leveraging an existing audience with short-form storytelling and creative podcast ads to reach previously unreachable audiences.

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