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Podcast advertising: The simple quick guide

Podcast advertising: The simple quick guide

Everything you need to determine if podcast advertising is right for your brand and how to get the most out of your campaigns.

Podcast advertising as well as podcasts have been around for over a decade, but it's only been in the last few years that the format has started to catch the public's attention and drive marketers' investment in podcast advertising. Shows like Serial and This American Life have received over 50,000 ratings on Apple Podcasts. The Joe Rogan Experience has more than twice that - on just one streaming platform.

The industry's rising popularity hasn't escaped advertisers, who are looking to capitalize on the format's momentum. Last year, domestic podcast ad revenue grew by $53% to an all-time high of $479 million and is expected to top $1 billion in 2021. Earlier this year, Spotify invested $400 million in acquiring smaller podcast networks and tools to expand its position as the leading audio platform.

With the rapid influx of revenue and investment, brands are evaluating the viability of podcast advertising as a vehicle for their message. Here are some important factors and tips to get the most out of your podcast advertising campaigns.

Advantages and disadvantages of podcast advertising

Advantages. "We gained access to a whole new audience (podcast listeners) and were able to introduce them to our toolset," said Rebekah Bek, director of marketing at Ahrefs, which ran the company's podcast promotion event. "Even if they didn't convert right away, we got our name out to thousands of listeners and it stuck."

Podcasts (thus podcast advertising) reach 62 million Americans per week, and 78% of listeners say they don't mind ads because they understand they support the content, making them a receptive channel for ad campaigns.

Host-read ads have been the primary medium for delivering podcast advertising, although programmatic options have become increasingly available. With host-read ads, hosts play a central role in the delivery and effectiveness of your ads. Hosts can turn your product pitch into native advertising, which can make listeners less likely to jump over it. Loyal listeners are also more likely to trust a host's endorsement because it's coming from someone they already know.

"We get new customers who tell us they heard about us all the time on X podcast, or that they first heard Y host talk about one of our features and had to visit us after because they were such big fans of him or her," Bek said, also noting that if your brand has made an impression on them, the hosts themselves may also become fans and organically mention your offerings in episodes you don't endorse.

Host read ads are baked right into podcast episodes, which means listeners who dive into a podcast's archive can hear your ad long after it airs. This can increase your brand's exposure without increasing your ad spend. But....this can also be a downside.

Disadvantages. You should keep the time frame for the offer in mind when planning host read ads. Listeners don't want to learn that your offer has already expired when they tune in for older episodes. So podcast ads shouldn't outweigh that either.

Currently, the podcast advertising industry lacks some of the data, transparency, and tools that digital advertisers are accustomed to. Information about audiences, such as demographics, may not be readily available, although research companies like Nielsen now offer this data as part of listener surveys.

Without detailed, reliable audience information, targeting options may also be limited, which can lead to inefficiencies and make it difficult to scale your podcast advertising campaigns. This may change over time as networks begin to introduce more advertising features. Spotify, for example, enabled targeting by genre earlier this year.

"While podcast advertising can lead to direct conversions, for the most part it's a top-of-funnel, broad-awareness thing," Bek talked about her experience, touching on the format's historically limited targeting options. "It's not like you can go to your boss and say: "Okay, 500 new leads are now aware of our existence and may or may not be." She also highlighted the considerable time and effort involved in finding appropriate shows, contacting hosts, educating them about your brand, negotiating pricing and dates, and collaborating on the commercial.

Potential advertisers should also be aware of attribution and tracking conversion challenges. Direct response ads combined with a dedicated landing page and "how did you hear about us" fields during registration or checkout are common tactics, but they may not apply to audiences that convert later or after multiple encounters with your brand.

Types of podcast advertising

Ads (podcast ads) are typically placed at the beginning, middle, and end of a podcast. These slots are called pre-roll, mid-roll, and post-roll, with pre-roll and post-roll ads typically lasting between 15 and 30 seconds, and mid-roll ads lasting up to a minute. For longer podcast episodes, there may be more than one mid-roll ad slot.

Regardless of location within the episode, podcast ads are either read by the host during recording or pre-recorded and dynamically inserted when the episode is downloaded. Last year, 51.2% of podcast ads were served by a host. Dynamically inserted ads accounted for the remaining 48.8% (up from 41.7% in 2017), according to an IAB study.

Host-read ads. With careful planning and coordination, this format has the potential to gain the audience's trust in the show's host, which can allow your ad to be more testimonial than marketing material. In this way, it is similar to influencer marketing.

"This is very powerful because the host has a huge impact on their audience and advertisers are essentially lending their credibility when they engage their audience in this way," Trevr Smithlin, founder and CEO of podcast advertising agency AdvertiseCast, told Marketing Land, pointing out that "One downside is that it takes more time and energy to run these types of campaigns, but our platform and team optimize this as much as possible."

And as mentioned earlier, host read ads become part of the episode's content, which means the ads will serve as long as the episodes are available.

Dynamically inserted displays. "They have more targeting capabilities that are great for advertisers who have time-sensitive needs or need to reach a specific GEO area," Smithlin said, noting the ability to use data tied to listener IP addresses. "Dynamic campaigns can also scale easily because they're all done digitally."

A potential but significant tradeoff for these targeting and scaling capabilities is that your ads may be less engaging to listeners due to the lack of host involvement and cohesion with the rest of the episode's content, which can hurt your goals.

Cost structures

Commercials or podcast advertising are usually charged according to one of the following models:

  • Cost per Mile (CPM): This is the most common pricing model and refers to the cost per thousand downloads. Streams are also included as downloads, but a thousand downloads cannot be equated to a thousand listens, as an episode can be requested but not played (as with automatically downloaded episodes, which a listener may miss or not be interested in). Pricing varies. For example, a mid-roll 60-second ad CPM averages about $25, Entrepreneurs On Fire podcast host John Lee Dumas found; while podcast ad network AdvertiseCast's marketplace average in July was $27-32 for a 60-second ad.
  • Cost per Acquisition (CPA): There may be no upfront cost associated with this model. Instead, the price is determined by the number of leads or conversions a podcast sends to your business.
  • Negotiation: This method can be a mix of the other two or something else entirely. It's up to the advertiser and the podcast to negotiate a deal that they can both agree on.

The length of the ad and its position within the episode will also affect the overall cost. In addition, Smithlin pointed to an audience's demographics, its history of engagement, the show's genre, advertisers' overall demand for inventory and the popularity of a show or host as factors that can affect pricing.

Measuring success

The technology and platforms that facilitate attribution and conversion tracking of podcast advertising campaigns have not yet reached the maturity of search and social advertising, but are evolving as companies like Spotify make investments and advertiser demand increases. Tracking and measurement are challenging for several reasons. First, listeners can access podcasts through a number of competing apps and services. Conversions occur outside of the podcast, making attribution a challenge - which is why ads so often include custom URLs tailored to each podcast. But despite the challenges, tracking success is possible.

Direct answer. Much podcast advertising uses a direct-response mechanism to drive listeners to their sites. For example, the July 16 episode of the Today, Explained podcast begins with host Sean Rameswaram running a 30-second pre-roll ad for KiwiCo: "KiwiCo is offering Today, Explained listeners the chance to try it out for free. To redeem the offer and learn more about their projects for kids of all ages, please visit"

Landing page traffic is one way to measure the reach of a campaign, and trial signups are one way to measure ROI. The "Exclusive offer for today, declared listeners" banner also adds a sense of exclusivity that can compel potential customers to act.

Social Media Engagement. For initiatives where conversions may not necessarily be the goal, such as brand awareness campaigns, social mentions, shares, and hashtag activity are ways to quantify the reach of your campaign. An advertising component can also be added to social or direct response campaigns to further engage audiences with your brand.

Website and Social Traffic. Monitoring website traffic and social media metrics can also give you an idea of how your podcast advertising is performing, as long as you take into account other variables like seasonal trends or concurrent campaigns you may be running.

"How did you hear about us?" "Note that this channel sometimes has a long tail, as listeners consume content well beyond the air date. It's not uncommon for results to trickle for months after a spot training!" noted Smithlin. To help you attribute conversions over the long term, add a "How did you hear about us" field or dropdown to your registration or checkout process.

Studies and surveys. The above tactics assume that a brand's online presence is one of the most important ways consumers change or interact with it. If that doesn't describe your business model, some podcast ad networks offer off-site methods for estimating your campaign's reach.

"Stitcher's advertising partners measure the impact of their ads using multiple data streams tailored to their specific marketing needs," said Sarah van Mosel, Stitcher's chief revenue officer, Marketing Land. "For example, through partnerships with Comscore and Nielsen, Midroll, Stitcher's advertising arm, conducts industry brand lift studies that measure listener brand recall and purchase intent after listening to a podcast ad."

Third-party tools. Some measurement platforms and ad networks offer pixel-based attribution that can provide more information about a potential customer's journey. In the podcast advertising space, pixel-based attribution typically involves correlating a pixel fired during ad insertion with pixels on an advertiser's website to match listeners with on-site activities such as conversions.

Third-party tools can also allow you to view reports on how your audience and ads are performing. Some providers also offer retargeting features that can help you expand your advertising campaign.

DIY or partner with a Podcast Advertising Network?

It will cost less to run your own podcast advertising campaign or podcast advertising, but there are a number of other factors that should influence your decision.

DIY. In addition to the cost savings, you have the freedom to choose the podcast you want to work with and compare prices. You may also be able to negotiate your terms, communicate directly with the host of the podcast, and build a relationship with the people who actually deliver your messages.

If this is your first time running a podcast advertising campaign, your in-house team will also have the opportunity to gain experience that can save your brand money or increase the effectiveness of future podcast advertising campaigns.

However, there are risks associated with doing it in-house: Dedicating some of your own team members to a podcast advertising campaign can lead to understaffing. Inexperienced advertisers can make mistakes that impact their campaign results. And individual podcasts may not offer as many opportunities in terms of audience data, targeting, or ROI measurement.

Podcast Advertising Networks. "A great shortcut resource-wise is to give podcast networks a shot," suggested Rebekah Bek of Ahrefs, elaborating, "These networks do a lot of legwork for you, from narrowing down shows to allocating your budget to managing promotional plans for you."

The expertise, resources, technology and access to ad inventory that ad networks bring to the table can be worth the extra cost, especially for brands that prefer more data, targeting capabilities and scaling options.

"We also have all the data points on which shows are doing well for certain types of customers," says AdvertiseCast's Trevr Smithlin. "It takes years to gather that kind of information, but it's very powerful once you have that insight because you're much more likely to create successful campaigns with strong ROI."

Having these features can increase the effectiveness and visibility of your campaign, but working with an ad network will likely cost more and you may be limited to advertising on shows within the network.

Get the most out of your podcast advertising

From choosing a podcast to collaborating to optimizing your campaign, there's a lot to consider. Here are a few pointers to guide your podcast advertising initiatives.

Ask for the listener data. Many podcasts survey their listeners to get a sense of what kind of content and advertising might interest their audience. Some ad networks, like NPR, even make their audience easily accessible to potential advertisers. Don't just assume your audience is interested in a particular podcast based on genre or anecdotal evidence, but also ask about audience surveys and data and compare them to existing personas your marketing team has already built.

Make sure the host and listeners of the podcast are part of your target audience. "As cheesy as it sounds, advertisers are #2 behind listeners," explained Greg Finn, co-host of the Marketing O'Clock podcast and Search Engine Land Contributor. "If we were going to promote something, it would have to be something that we a) use regularly, b) something we've tested and liked, or c) is very simple and clear."

"Not surprisingly, we get a lot of SaaS marketing tool pitches," Finn explained. "Setting up the account for quick access was one thing that stood out. Again, we wouldn't tow something we didn't like - so it's important to get the experience with the product."

Successful podcasts are in tune with the listener, offering the host first-hand experience with your offerings and as much information as possible that can help them craft their pitch to resonate with their subscribers.

Get in line early. If you want to get the most reach possible by advertising on top podcasts, you should contact them as early as possible and express interest. Many of them will have sold all of their ad inventory before the season even starts.

Develop a clear message. "Make sure your audio ad highlights the clear benefits of using your product or service and gives a clear call to action that the audience will remember," Smithlin advised. Thirty to sixty seconds is not a lot of time and without the help of visuals, making sure your ad is informative yet concise and distinctive can help you leave a lasting impression on the listener.

Give it time. Many podcast apps allow listeners to subscribe and automatically download new episodes, which means your ad may not be heard right away. Listeners may also need to hear your ad or host endorse your brand multiple times before they visit your website or make a purchase. Running your ad multiple times on the same podcast and keeping track of your KPIs for a few months after all ads have aired can provide a more comprehensive picture of your campaign's results.

Test your ads. After you've collected enough data from your first campaign, you can start experimenting to improve your ads. Optimizing just one variable at a time will give you better data to compare. You can try different placements (e.g. pre-roll instead of mid-roll or vice versa), different lengths, have a different host read your ad, change the script, allow the host to improvise without a script, advertise with the same script but on a different podcast, or switch between host-read ads and dynamically inserted ones.

Dynamically inserted ads are also great for A/B testing. You can play the same ad in the same place on different podcasts to see which audience responds better.

Mix and match. Running a longer mid-roll ad at the beginning of a campaign can be a great way to introduce your brand to the podcast's audience. After loyal listeners have gained some awareness, you may be able to save money and get more from your investment by switching to shorter pre- or post-roll ads that are scripted to keep your brand relevant and continue the momentum you built earlier in the campaign.

Thanks to the source: Marketing Land

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