Casting call by Hanisha Lalwani

by Hanisha Lalwani, Marketing manager – MEA, PageGroup.

My dad often reminisces about when he was growing up in India in the 60s and 70s and, like millions of others, he listened to the popular radio station Vividh Bharati. Each night, the station aired a play-skit dramatised by actors. This show was so loved by listeners that advertising spots were known to sell out several months in advance. With podcasts, the old tradition of storytelling has risen from the grave, and brands are becoming savvy about advertising on them and are reaping great rewards.

The hit show Serial, for example, cultivated a new generation of loyal podcast subscribers in 2014. This Peabody Award-winning podcast today has more than 100 million downloads. Speak to binge-listeners of Serial’s season one and chances are they will still remember one brand that advertised on it – MailChimp. This email marketing service provider became a household name because of the non-interruptive nature of its 20 second ads on Serial, voiced by podcast host Sarah Koenig herself. MailChimp saw an incredible organic spike in online chatter. This wooed brands such as Audible and Squarespace to join in and benefit from the show’s success.

So with such success stories, should marketers flirt with the idea of advertising on the on-demand listening platform? Podcast Insights has done some number-crunching to make sense of the listener landscape in the US: 44 per cent of the US population has listened to a podcast; 49 per cent of podcast listening is done at home and 22 per cent in the car; and 80 per cent listen to all or most of each podcast episode. These are staggering numbers, and for a marketer podcasts are surfacing as dream platforms to be present on. Let us deep-dive into the whys.

What makes podcast advertising a comparatively lucrative platform is that the audience is highly engaged. Listeners have the power to choose the podcasts they subscribe to and how and when they want to listen. Daily chores are no longer boring as most people are listening to podcasts during their commute, at the gym or while they do laundry at home. Hence, podcast ads become less intrusive and listeners are well dispositioned towards digesting the ad messages. To ensure the non-interruptive character of the medium, brands advertising on podcasts have little choice but to adopt the podcast’s storytelling narrative – the ad content has to inform, educate and be of value within the context of the show’s theme. Besides, podcast advertising should only be one part of the brand’s overall storytelling strategy.

With a majority of podcast listeners being highly educated and loyal patrons, this is a niche medium. Here, brands are talking to a highly specific type of audience depending on the nature of the show its ads are placed on. For instance, mail-order mattress brand Casper advertising on Criminal, a true crime podcast with more than 5 million listeners is an ingenious move – after all, you don’t want bedtime listeners to be up all night after they have heard a 45 minute episode of a ghastly crime story. For a sound night’s sleep, Casper comes to the rescue, and that too with 20 per cent off plus free shipping when listeners use the code CRIMINAL on the brand’s website. And you do not need much convincing when the show’s host Phoebe Judge herself gives her tried-and-tested review of Casper’s mattress.

Through podcast advertising, Casper convincingly ticks three boxes: brand awareness (measured by listener numbers); value offering (exclusive discount for listeners); and ad ROI tracking (through use of a specific code).
So what does the ‘pod-scape’ look like in the Middle East? As listening to podcasts is still in its nascent stage here, podcast advertising has not made its way into many companies’ marketing P&L. But with more home-grown podcast shows being produced featuring region-relevant content, and a burgeoning start-up scene, it is only a matter of time before we discover new value-based products and services through podcast ads. Also, agencies like Markettiers are foraying into podcast production as part of their service portfolio. That said, with the region’s lackadaisical history of robust communication measurement metrics, there may be long-term challenges of ROI measurement from podcast advertising: would the right KPI be streaming or downloading a podcast, and does that reflect actual listening? One thing is for sure, the ad will be only as strong as the podcast content is.