In 2019, the total number of people who have listened to at least one podcast surpassed 50% for the first time, and another 32% are regular monthly listeners, according to a recent study by Edison. That’s a 25% increase from 2018. And among 12-34-year-olds, who are typically even harder to reach, that number is even higher at 70%. It’s easy to see the tremendous potential of podcasts and audio advertising with explosive year-over-year growth.
Listeners are just people actively seeking out and subscribing to content from various voices that go directly into their ears for hours a day.
While still small in terms of total ad dollars spent annually, options for listening now include over 700K available podcasts and that number is growing daily. Platforms like Spotify and iHeartMedia have invested heavily in podcasts and publishers across the board are offering more access to audio content. Not to mention brands like Casper, Squarespace and Blue Apron that made early bets on podcast advertising have stayed in it for one reason: it works. What’s even more interesting, it’s the single medium that I can find where people actually don’t hate the advertising (yet).
According to research by Midroll Media, 60% of listeners have purchased from a podcast ad and the majority say that they don’t mind podcast ads, some even enjoy them. Experts have differing opinions on why this is, but the most common belief is that listeners not only trust the host but feel a personal connection with them, and understand that advertising, in turn, supports the host. With this atypically friendly relationship with listeners and endless potential for content, why am I concerned about podcast advertising dying before it’s really even lived?
1. Audio is Not TV
The short answer—in my experience in the space so far—I’ve seen much more excitement and emphasis placed on taking what’s tried and true in other mediums and bringing it into the podcast space. Old methodologies are currently being passed off as groundbreaking, vs. truly innovating and doing “never been done before.”
Not just never been done before within podcasts, but ever been done, anywhere else, ever before. Why is this so important? Because the medium is like no other. It’s not TV, or Video, or Digital, or Radio or Social media. So imagine my surprise when I learned about the “Podcast upfronts” in October? At the very least shouldn’t they be called a Newfront? Or how about a Voicefront—or Podfront? And could the event be streamable or downloadable by chance to honor this space a bit more? Or how about something else altogether?
2. Audio is Not Digital Either
The idea that Audio can simply be another vehicle for digital ads, static or video, probably isn’t the best way to go either. I recently experienced a pre-roll video ad that played prior to a podcast launching and my heart immediately sank. This is not the optimal experience for a podcast listener, ever. Whether this was because of what I was listening to (or trying to listen to), or my audience profile, or the platform I was using, it didn’t really matter in this case because of the intrusive nature of the ad format. I firmly believe in the idea of testing new things, especially trying to expand outside the realm of just the host-read voice ad format and contextual podcast buying.
However, the disruptive, heavy ad formats that gained popularity in recent years—i.e. homepage takeovers, expandables, etc. are not great solutions for Audio. Neither is just simply trying to cookie-bomb someone (or I guess it would be ear-bomb in the Audio world). We should be advocating for customer-centric principles—like thinking of users as listeners, and listeners as people—and that should be the driving force behind innovation and testing, not the other way around.
Let’s agree not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Instead, let’s try to truly innovate and explore the storytelling opportunities within this space by leaning into the unique attributes and behaviors of a podcast and audio listener. This means respecting and celebrating the listener and their listening experience, rather than treating them like a cookie, panelist or news-feed scroller. After all, listeners are just people actively seeking out and subscribing to content from various voices that go directly into their ears for hours a day.