An Antidote to Advertising in the Internet Age?

At a time when consumers have become increasingly immune to display ads (Doubleclick currently measures global click-through rates on display ads at 0.06 percent), podcasts offer a potentially interesting vehicle for digital advertising.29

First, there’s the engagement that podcasts inspire in listeners. Mark DiCristina explained that MailChimp likes podcast advertising because “people are generally tuned into podcasts,” and thus the ads are “sticky.”30 Sarah van Mosel commented: “All these brands—regardless that we don’t have standard measurements and that you can’t track things—come back again and again and again because of the off-the-charts level of engagement podcasting has, that more than compensates for the lack of metrics.”31

Second, podcast listeners are loyal. They form relationships with hosts and return to shows regularly. In Caitlin Thompson’s words:

There’s a regularity in listens. If you’re The Huffington Post or BuzzFeed or Vox or Fusion, you can do a great job with reaching an audience with one particular piece of content, but it’s really hard to guarantee that they’re going to come back. That’s why you have monthly visitors versus unique visitors, and you want to have a healthy proportion of that, because you want to be attracting new people but you also want to be retaining others so your advertisers see that they know what they’re reaching.32

Third, surveys suggest that podcasts, which typically have host-read ads, don’t engender advertising aversion.33 Two caveats here: one, survey-takers complete surveys voluntarily, and so generally represent the opinions of the keenest listeners; and, two, as Vox’s Philip Edwards pointed out, podcasts have become oversaturated with the same ads, which can be annoying—especially since they’re difficult to skip.34 Nevertheless, Mark DiCristina has found that:

People typically don’t mind the ads because they’re read by the hosts and integrated into the content in a way that’s more natural than in other mediums [...] there’s a transference of credibility that happens there.35

Those podcasters unrestricted by the FCC guidelines that constrain public radio have been further experimenting with means of integrating ads into content in innovative and entertaining ways. Comedy podcasts like The Nerdist and WTF with Marc Maron, whose quick-witted hosts work the ad copy into their conversations, are particularly successful at this. Most prominent in this field, however, is Gimlet Media, which sells its native ads as “the best mobile ad unit[s] in existence” (more on this in the Gimlet case study below).36

Obviously, these ads are digital. As technology improves and progresses, podcast ads could one day offer the tracking capabilities and data that online ads do currently. In the meantime, podcast ads certainly offer an intriguing alternative to advertisers hoping to reach and engage with digital, mobile consumers. As such, they could represent a paradigm shift in the way we conceptualize advertising in the 21st century. Sarah van Mosel explained:

Maybe scale is a very 20th-century way of looking at advertising. I think the most amazing experiences are customized just for you. Millennials aren’t jaded about marketing, they just have high expectations for authenticity and customization—and they should.37

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