Nearly half of ad buyers (45% to be exact) say that the quality of the podcast ad creative is the most important consideration when choosing a podcast publisher partner. This lands at the top of all factors, beating out audience targeting and even price.
I have to admit this was one of the more surprising results we learned from Sounds Profitable’s recent report, “The Podcast Opportunity.” As a partner along with Digiday in this extensive study of ad buyers from both agencies and advertisers, we at Signal Hill Insights were privileged to have a front row seat of the findings. It’s not that I thought ad creative would be at the bottom of the list, just not number one.
At the same time it was also gratifying to see this result. I’ve spent the last decade exploring, understanding and explaining the unique power of podcast ads. It’s become conventional wisdom that the endorsed host read ad is the gold standard, generating the best results for advertisers. These spots are crafted by talented podcasters themselves, working from – but not necessarily fully beholden to – ad copy or scripts, tailoring the message to their own sensibilities and those of their audiences. This narrative makes for a great story, but the reality of the podcast ad landscape has never been this simple.
Most Ad Types Can Work
Anyone listening to ad-supported podcasts today will hear a great diversity of creative types. Host-reads certainly claim a significant share, but so do announcer-reads (ads with a single presenter, but someone not from the specific show’s cast). There’s a growing category of ads the industry may have settled on calling pre-produced ads.
This third type seems to cover a lot of approaches. Some are ads that don’t adhere strictly to the host- or announcer-read paradigm, might – but not necessarily – have been produced by an advertiser or creative agency, but are clearly intended to sound “podcasty” (more on that shortly). Others sound more like a spot heard on streaming or radio, or even have been repurposed from these channels. (Please excuse this imperfect taxonomy, as no universal industry definitions exist.)
It may seem like host reads have lost share over the last ten years – and that’s probably true, due to innovations in ad buying and ad tech – but it’s also the case that you could hear all these ad types in 2013. Moreover, even then, plenty of podcast hosts did not read their own ads.
Yet, all of these creative types have generated positive results for advertisers. Having closely tracked and analyzed the effectiveness of hundreds of podcast ads, it is clear to me it’s not the case that host-read ads always wildly outperform all others. For instance, Sounds Profitable’s “After These Messages,” compared unscripted host read ads to scripted host-read and scripted announcer read, and found that, “[w]ith proper execution, scripted and announcer-read ads are nearly as effective as live host reads.”
I’ve also measured campaigns where well-executed announcer-reads actually outperformed host-reads. But I reckon the key is this: “well-executed.”
“Well-Executed” Ads & a Wake-Up Call to Publishers
Even with the growing presence of pre-produced ads, podcasting stands apart by the fact that podcasters and publishers create a larger share of the creatives than in any other medium. This is probably why it’s buyers’ top factor for choosing that podcast or publisher.
I also think this finding should serve as a wake-up call to publishers.
It is my well-informed belief that much of podcasting’s outsized returns for advertisers stems from the strength of the ad creative. But ad creatives don’t exist in a vacuum – they occur in real podcasts. So, it’s both the creative and its context that combine to generate effectiveness.
My hypothesis is that great podcast ads work because they keep a listener’s attention. This stands in opposition to radio or streaming, where part of an ad’s job is to attract, or even demand a listener’s attention. That’s because the ad changes the programming context for the listener, taking them out of a set or stream of music. It’s true even for talk radio, most of which happens at a different pace than podcasts, and is more heard in the background, similar to music.
My observation of well-executed podcast ads is that they fit this mold, regardless of who is doing the read. As a call-back, we also might call these, “podcasty.” Still, it’s not one-size-fits all. I believe keeping a listener’s attention means matching the tone of the podcast. That means an ad on a comedic celebrity chat show like “Smartless” perhaps should sound different than one on “This American Life.” Something jarring or ill-fitted might break a listener’s attention (and send them leaping for the skip button). Moreover, there’s no good reason that a well-executed creative from streaming or radio can’t fit this definition.
I say this is a wake-up call because the industry is in the midst of a major transition towards more sophisticated ad tech and programmatic buying that encourage or require the use of creatives that aren’t host-read. By itself I don’t think this is a problem. But this shift also aims to make ad buying easier, faster and more efficient. I worry in the rush for efficiency that consideration for the fit of the ad creative will go by the wayside. The real risk is that this will inadvertently undermine effectiveness.
The Work to Keep Podcast Ads Great
Again, I am buoyed by the fact that ad buyers value the podcast creative. I infer this means they believe – and some have proven – that the quality of an ad really does make a difference. Publishers need to hear this point, loud and clear.
You may have noticed that I’ve been surgical with my words around what I believe about podcast effectiveness, rather than saying that I know. While I’m confident in my hypotheses, they are yet to be systematically tested. This is work the industry needs to do, and work that we really want to do at Signal Hill Insights. Together we have an opportunity to further refine what makes a podcast ad creative special, and create a template that works to everyone’s advantage.