Several years back, I wrote a few blog posts about the blossoming podcast landscape and the implications for advertisers. In the ensuing years, it’s only become more complex and colorful. As of July*, there are at least 2,000,000 podcasts out there (not a typo, 2 Million…) and at least 48 million subsequent episodes.
Not surprisingly, the lockdowns of the pandemic inspired even more of the famous and not so famous to ‘start a podcast!’. Ironically, those very same stay-at-home orders meant for a lot of us, we had less time to listen to podcasts. No more commutes, bus rides or running errands in the car. We were at home with our own ‘pod’ of family, roommates or pets. Many of us ended up unsubscribing to podcasts rather than adding even more to our playlists. You can only listen to so many podcasts while baking sourdough bread.
What are the implications for advertisers? No different than any other ‘long tail’ – most people are listening to 20% of those 2 million podcasts. Like any digital channel, brands should understand where their audiences are, which podcasts are on their radar, and focus in on those with sufficient reach.
Besides focusing on the right podcasts, advertisers need to get creative about their messaging when they do sponsor a podcast. A canned announcer read is just begging to be skipped (and oh so easy to do on most podcast apps). The best way to avoid being skipped is for your ad to be unconventional (this is true for more than just podcasts, but that’s another blog post). The most memorable podcast sponsorship ads in recent memory have been when the podcast host is allowed to freestyle in their own natural voice, based on loose copy points provided by the brand. Examples include Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History or Adam Grant’s WorkLife. Probably the most hilarious ‘trust fall’ I’ve heard brands do is with Pod Save America’s Lovett or Leave It ads, where pod hosts riff for minutes on the brand’s supplied talking points, often in a teasing manner. For the audience of this irreverent political podcast, it is the perfect touch. Brands show their confidence when they put their content in the hands of the content creators.
Based on the glut of podcasts out there, 99% of brands shouldn’t be starting their own podcast right now either. Better to draft on the loyalty and listeners of well-established podcasters and put your key messages into their hands. They know their audiences best.