Exploring an alternative as people shun (bad) ads, “cancel” noise

Vice Media's John Davenport explains why he thinks branded podcasts remain a tremendous untapped opportunity for marketers in the MENA region.

John Davenport, ECD, Vice Media - UAE, UK, Singapore.
John Davenport, ECD, Vice Media – UAE, UK, Singapore.

For a long, long time (back to the glory days of Don Draper) brands have played the same game of talking at consumers. And as the years progressed, consumers developed a natural noise canceling ability. That they generally want to avoid seeing advertising is proved by the fact that so many are willing to pay to not see it. We do this everywhere, from Netflix to YouTube to Spotify and beyond.

This fact is, one — slightly hurtful to creative people, and two — not 100 percent true. The issue in question isn’t advertising. It’s bad advertising. Or even ill-timed, ill-placed advertising.

But genuinely interesting advertising still has the power to seize attention, spark conversations, and lead consumers to enthusiastically share interesting spots with their social networks if they deem them worthy.

However, the days when brands could rely purely on this are long gone. Today any brand that wants to last longer than a week must utilise all the tools in the box.

One such tool that’s so often overlooked is the podcast.

This is a bit odd because we’re all listening to them. There are more than 450 million podcast listeners worldwide. Almost everyone you know (even people in Greenland) is listening to them. And they’re spending an astounding seven hours a week (which may partly be because there isn’t much to do in Greenland) doing so. This can be partly explained by the unique nature of the format, which allows us to listen while doing things like exercising, commuting, laundry, or sitting and wondering why we live in Greenland.

Regionally, the UAE has been a leader when it comes to adopting podcasts, having 1.6 million listeners, which means that more than 15 percent of the population is onboard. And these listeners are spending more than non-listeners, shelling out roughly 25 percent more (2,700AED a month) on categories like food & beverage, and about 14 percent more (1,055AED) on in-home spend.

The extreme popularity of podcasts in our region has been well-documented, and growth has been phenomenal. Saudi listenership, for example, is estimated to have grown more than 50 percent in the last three years. Writers have suggested that this popularity is linked to the rich tradition of storytelling in the region, which makes the format a natural fit here.

Since the medium went mainstream around 2005, following Apple’s move to add them to the iTunes store, usage has grown at more than 20 percent annually worldwide, and up to double that in the MENA region.

But how can brands use this well documented success to greater effect? Now, many are using it simply like an old-fashioned radio station, inserting marketing messages into huge shows like the The Dukkan Show. This is basically the same strategy that the Don Drapers were using in the 1950’s, buying media space on radio.

It is becoming clear that brands can engage with listeners more effectively by making their own podcasts. Here, the brand holds the entire engagement experience (rather than piggy-backing on existing shows) creating a branded podcast they can use to shape their brand image.

In more than two decades of podcast creation, Vice has found that one of the most effective things about a branded podcast is the way it can create long-lasting and meaningful engagement. This enables a brand to remain present between purchasing points. Secondly,  a brand can select precisely the kind of content that they want to create to build specific aspects of their brand.

Here are a few of the podcasts that we think are doing a top job.

Rise and Grind by Zip Recruiter. Hosted by the founder of FUBU, this podcast tells the stories of entrepreneurs, documenting their successes, failures, lessons and stories to help inspire other businesspeople.

Out Travel by Expedia. Who better to tell stories about travel than Expedia. This series brings travel to life using wonderful content, creating new ways to make us imagine ourselves in destinations from Mumbai to Mexico. Helping make them almost own the idea of travel when booking our next trip.

The Green Room by Deloitte. This podcast does exactly what you would expect. It brings you stories of innovation and creativity in the workplace, but it does it so well and is so engaging that one can’t help but be hooked.

Dior Talks by Dior. The cleverness of this content is that it doesn’t focus on the area of luxury, but the area of creativity – and this is much more interesting than the world of luxury. This podcast brings us stories of inspiring creative people from different worlds, helping burnish the brand as a creative as well as luxury brand. Emphasising the approach that makes Dior what it is, rather than just talking about luxury items itself.

Podcasts like these are so engaging and sticky that brand recall amongst podcast users has been shown to be around 80 percent.

Currently, however the branded podcast only exists in the US and on a global level, rather than a regional one.

Meaning that there is a tremendous opportunity for us as marketers in the MENA region to get ahead of the competition by rolling out this approach right here, right now.

By John Davenport, ECD of Vice Media for the UK, Dubai, and Singapore.