‘Got milk?’ may be the most iconic marketing campaign of all time. For 25 years through 2018, Annie Leibovitz took 180 photos of celebrities from Dennis Rodman to Taylor Swift to Kermit the Frog to Bill Clinton and Robert Dole, all proudly sporting a milk mustache.
The campaign stood out for a number of reasons, one of them being that it didn’t promote an individual brand. It plugged an entire product category. As a result, The California Milk Processing Board allowed milk producers to collectively do something very big and succeed in a way they could never do on their own.
Indulging in some blue-sky thinking, I’ve been wondering what might happen if all the many players in the podcast industry got together to encourage more people to listen to podcasts and listen more often.
The need is clearly there. Despite the dynamic growth in podcast listening over the past 10 years and the huge investment that so many major companies have made to meet the opportunity, there is still enormous untapped potential. According to Edison’s Infinite Dial, nearly 4-in-10 Americans aged 12+ have never listened to a podcast. And in our Canadian Podcast Listener study, it’s only in the past year that more than half of all adult Canadians report having ever listened to a podcast.
What Are Some Possible Campaign Messages to Promote Podcast Listening?
Marketing campaigns tend to be most effective when they speak to consumer benefits. Why do people listen to podcasts? What problem(s) do podcasts solve for folks who listen?
Since 2017, our Canadian Podcast Listener study has asked monthly podcast listeners to tell us the most important reasons they listen to podcasts. The Canadian Podcast Listener 2022 has just come out of field and we’re taking a closer look this year at these motivations.
The chart below shows what attracts the folks we call Power Listeners to podcasts. By listening at least 5 hours a week, Power Listeners have the podcasting habit, so they are best placed to share what’s so special about listening to podcasts.
The Top 4 motivations line up closely with what we’ve seen in our other research. Listeners go to podcasts to be both entertained and informed, with interesting stories at the heart of it all.
Are these the messages that would bring new listeners to podcasting? They are certainly part of the picture. They are all content drivers and content is after all still royalty. But the truth is these benefits are probably more helpful in promoting individual podcasts or networks than the medium as a whole.
The challenge is that several other media deliver the same set of attributes. In varying ways, movies, magazines, books, streamed and linear TV all pretty much check off the same boxes. If my viewing or reading habits are already giving me these things, I’m in no big hurry to try listening to podcasts.
What Is Podcasting’s Unique Value Proposition?
We get closer to the sweet spot for podcasting when we look at the motivation that sits just below the Top 4 on the above chart: “to keep my mind engaged while doing mindless tasks.” Or as it’s sometimes expressed: “when my eyes are busy, and my mind is free.”
Podcasting is unique among all media for solving the problem of how to get engaging content when you’re doing things like commuting, household chores or taking the dog for a walk. You can’t read a book while you’re driving a car. You can’t watch a movie while cutting the lawn. Yes, you can listen to radio or music streaming while doing all these things, but not the kind of personally engaging on-demand content you can get from podcasts.
I remember hearing this loud and clear from a house painter in a focus group years ago. A tall, lanky millennial, it was one of the only jobs he could find in the small town where he lived. Faced with eight hours a day of flicking his paint brush back-and-forth, back-and-forth, he credited podcasts for saving his sanity. Music was an option, but not as nourishing as the long list of his favourite podcasts.
Sure enough, when we followed up the first question by asking listeners to identify the #1 most important reason for listening to podcasts, staying engaged while doing mindless tasks lands in a tie for second place behind only the table stakes – and by no means mutually exclusive – item of being entertained.
Keeping your mind engaged while doing mindless things is a functional benefit. Podcast listening uniquely solves the problem by taking the tedium out of everyday routines. And, in the process, it finds new time for listeners to be entertained and informed.
It may be a bit of a stretch to see this serving as the basis of podcasting’s answer to the ‘got milk’ campaign. At least for now. First, there would have to be sufficient consensus across the industry to make the necessary commitment. Not to mention the creative inspiration to make it as memorable as ‘got milk.’ And of course, the industry would also have to address what is a very large familiarity gap between milk and podcasting.
In the meantime however, try this. If you meet anyone who still hasn’t got the podcasting habit, tell them the story of the house painter who used podcasts to give meaning to what he found to be the mind-numbing monotony of his job. You might just lay the foundation for podcasting’s next Power Listener.
The Canadian Podcast Listener study is co-published by Signal Hill Insights and Jeff Ulster, with support from The Podcast Exchange (TPX). Results are based on online surveys of more than 4,600 Canadian adults using a nationally representative sample from Maru Voice Canada.