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How to Balance Brand Suitability in Podcast Advertising


May 3, 2024


Navigating brand suitability in podcast advertising differs for every company—learn how to approach it with insights from Right Side Up, Barometer, and a well-respected brand in the highly regulated fintech industry. Watch the Right Side Up webinar for the complete conversation.

Podcasts are an attractive advertising channel for every brand regardless of industry. In the United States, an estimated 135 million people will listen to podcasts in 2024. Brands target podcasts with large, mass-appeal audiences and smaller, more niche-focused followings. It goes without saying that podcasts are here to stay, and advertisers are flocking to the channel.

Other advertising channels face unpredictable viewership, a murky balance between ad load and audience tolerance, or a game of cat and mouse requiring significant time and money to succeed. By diversifying into podcast advertising, brands avoid those hurdles.

Podcast advertising puts a brand in an environment where the audience feels deeply connected to a show. Listeners feel part of it, taking what hosts and guests say as thought-provoking knowledge or feel-good entertainment with them even after an episode ends. As a result, the advertisements that appear during podcasts feel authentic—coming straight from a host who the audience knows and trusts.

Is this effective? Of course, this is why advertisers are rushing toward podcast advertising. But it’s also requiring marketers advertising with podcasts to be aware of brand suitability perhaps more so than with any other channel.

Brand Suitability vs Brand Safety: How They’re Different

Brand suitability is typically associated with brand safety, but brand suitability and brand safety are different areas—albeit equally important in podcast advertising.

Advertising your brand with podcasts sharing similar values is critical to connecting with the target audience. Brand suitability is about finding partnerships that align with your brand identity. Brand safety, on the other hand, focuses on protecting brand reputation—remaining compliant with regulations and free of controversy—to maintain trust with the target audience. Brands should feel confident in their partnership choices to remain free of regulatory risk and unsafe content.

Realize that brand suitability is subjective, being that brands calibrate guidelines on an individual basis. Brand safety, however, is objective because all advertisers aim to avoid partnerships that cause compliance risk or bring unwanted negative associations.

Podcast Drift: A Threat to Brand Suitability You Can’t Afford to Miss

Brands generally navigate safety easily. In a given industry, a marketer knows the laws and regulations when determining where to run ads and how they’re structured. Brand suitability isn’t so straightforward. Podcasts might explore a specific topic or related fields frequently, but there’s always the possibility it drifts in another direction, whether for an episode or as a whole over time.

“As you scale, brand suitability becomes more challenging and even more important. Your brand appears in hundreds of podcasts every month, which increases your risk. You need a tool that will protect your brand and save you time vetting thousands of shows,” says Trent Polley, Senior Growth Marketing Manager of Offline at Rocket Money.

Krystina Rubino, General Manager of the Offline Practice at Right Side Up, explains that because podcasting is a nascent medium, most companies lack the same tools and controls as other channels.

“[It’s] a good example of what happens when you scale and pay attention to setting up your brand suitability guidelines over time,” Rubino says.

Brands try to assess podcasts in various ways. However, understanding podcast drift requires more than a rough sentiment analysis or moment-in-time evaluation that spreadsheets or ChatGPT provide. Podcast drift needs to be understood with dynamic rules.

How to Identify Podcast Drift & Brand Suitability Risk

Brands might have a spreadsheet with over a dozen columns and thousands of rows across every podcast it had been on to understand its associations. Or they can partner with Barometer, which provides artificial intelligence (AI)-powered insights optimizing digital audio advertising.

Marketers can use Barometer to create a dashboard of all the podcasts they plan to purchase advertising for. As new episodes are released, Barometer scores them, allowing marketers to realize a podcast's risk level.

Barometer doesn’t make a brand's final determination. Instead, it empowers marketers to feel comfortable where the brand advertises and identifies in real time as soon as drift occurs.

Dr. Tamara Zubatiy, Barometer CEO and Co-Founder, points to the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) framework for advertisers seeking to make informed decisions about the content they appear in or alongside.

“Unlike brand safety, which is a property of content and very much a binary distinction, brand suitability is a spectrum. It’s really speaking to the relationship between the brand’s values and the properties of the content,” Zubatiy says.

If a comedy podcast contains explicit language, it’ll likely deter several advertisers. Yet another group of advertisers will have no issue with being associated with the podcast, as long as the content doesn’t cross over into ‘below the floor’ territory.

Brands could abandon podcast advertising and lose access to highly-engaged audiences on a top-performing channel, but using the GARM framework and Barometer protects a brand from experiencing another incident.

With real-time insights using Barometer, brands have the agility to take advantage of a last-minute run of network fire sale without the fear that their ads will appear alongside controversial content. It’s advantageous for teams with limited bandwidth, too.

Brand Suitability & Podcast Advertising Performance

Trade-offs between brand suitability and podcast advertising performance certainly exist. With guidelines in place, a brand will determine which podcasts it cannot run ads with. It may limit a brand from tapping into the most popular podcast related to its industry, for example.

But brands must remember they don’t necessarily need to abandon an entire podcast or topic if a single moment isn’t suitable for its ads. Publishers would gladly do business with advertisers for 85% of its shows even if they don’t advertise with the remaining 15% in the network for brand suitability reasons. Advertisers could also start running ads with a podcast that drifted away from controversy and into friendlier territory.

Rubino notes that Howard Stern is a good example of a host who drifted in a more subdued direction. Earlier in his career on terrestrial radio and SiriusXM, Stern caused plenty of controversy with his jokes and bits. Now, The Howard Stern Show offers intimate, thoughtful conversation between Stern and his guests. As a result, both established and emerging brands are more than willing to advertise with him.

Loyal, engaged audiences make podcast advertising such an effective channel. Brands reach a group of consumers motivated to act on what hosts say; therefore, ads convert and achieve a strong return. Yet it’s important to remain mindful of where ads appear to protect the brand.

Brand suitability isn’t identical between brands. Marketers evaluate what their own brand stands for and match that up with the GARM framework to understand which podcasts and episodes align with those values, preventing any incidents in which a brand is associated with distasteful or controversial content while maximizing reach and conversations for podcast ads.

Find out how Right Side Up’s leading podcast advertising practice has profitably invested over $250 million in ads over the last six years—get in touch with us today.

As a technology reporter-turned-marketer, Justin's natural curiosity to explore unique industries allows him to strategize, create, and analyze engaging, full-funnel content across organic and paid distribution channels. His expertise—having worked with high-growth SaaS companies including Medallia and Dialpad—guides Right Side Up's content marketing efforts.

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