Podcast Ads 101: Your Questions, Answered.
April 21, 2023
June 12, 2023
Right Side Up’s Krystina Rubino, GM of our offline marketing practice, recently hosted an AMA to share what she’s learned from starting one of the world's largest performance advertising podcast practices and investing over $200 million profitably for advertisers (and counting). The highlights are captured below and you can check out the entire discussion on Krystina’s LinkedIn here. Comments have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. We’ve also included helpful links to other articles our team has written on podcast ads, if you’d like to learn about anything in more depth.
Is there still room for brands new to podcast ads to come in and establish it as a successful channel?
Absolutely. There's no question it'll be more difficult for advertisers in certain categories (ahem, mattresses, meal delivery, recruiting etc.), but if you have product market fit and solid unit economics, you can run a definitive test in podcast ads and identify paths to meaningful scale.
See the image above for a checklist for new advertisers to the channel. If your brand can check off all or most of these boxes, you’re probably ready to test podcast ads.
Are you seeing any shift in the ratio of direct response to brand awareness campaigns in the podcast ads space? And are there certain criteria or size thresholds that advertisers tend to look for when running brand awareness campaigns?
Given the current macroeconomic climate, we firmly believe we will see the spend shift again in favor of direct response advertisers in 2023. Brands have started to scale in the last few years, but those budgets are going to change this year and leave less room for experimentation.
Historically, direct response podcast ads have propped up the medium and been the most consistent money in the channel. That’s because they know what they're getting out for every dollar they put in; it's much easier for the channel to make it through the (inevitable) rounds of budget cuts as brands slim down their profile to meet economic reality. It's generally proportional to their other efforts. If you're an advertiser with a healthy TV campaign and some level of HH brand awareness, spending $100K over a quarter isn't going to be a drop in the bucket for you to move any needle on brand awareness. Conversely, for smaller brands who may not be as diversified, podcast advertising can be an excellent and impactful way to diversify from traditional digital efforts to a larger audience in a demand-generating channel.
Podcast Advertising Measurement and Tracking
How do you connect your ad spend back to revenue? Is it just the "backslash podcast name" in the ad read?
The short answer is overlapping and redundant methodology. The “backlash podcast name” approach is one of the paths. That's often how we measure direct activity for ecommerce brands and any brand that can create some sort of compelling or unique value prop or offer that gets people to follow the prescribed call to action, e.g. use promo code CROOKED for 15% off your first purchase.
However, direct activity only represents a fraction of the activity that actually occurs. It's common for brands to use a combination of pixel-based/server-side attribution from tools like Podsights, Claritas, etc. and, for direct-response growth brands in particular, to use a post-conversion survey, something simple like a "how did you hear about us?" survey. The combination of direct and indirect is what gives you the full picture of what's happening in the channel.
Learn more about how to measure podcast effectiveness
We love implementing surveys for brands with a diversified media mix, because it gives you another perspective on what channel consumers were motivated to convert by (and with view-through attribution dying a painful, slow death, the gut check is more important than ever). (continued in next comment)
PS: We wrote a guide on how to use post-checkout surveys for offline attribution in collaboration with the good folks at Fairing, a leading Shopify app.
Where is podcast measurement heading? It sounds like there has been a ton of investment to truly back out how many listens are happening.
Historically, and even today, consumer engagement with the medium has been measured and monetized on downloads, which is still the cost basis used. There is a good chunk of investment and some movement in the medium by companies like Edison Research, Podscribe, Magellan AI, and a few others to get closer to actual listens/impression verification.
How do you think attribution tracking and insertion technologies for podcast ads will change in the coming years?
For insertion, we'll continue to see some (not all, some) inventory shift to dynamic insertion as publishers and networks struggle to fill ad space as consumption of the medium continues to go mainstream.
For attribution, it's a little up in the air at this point based on a few factors. There’s no doubt it'll change, but it’s likely that some methodologies (like survey-based attribution, which uses first-party data) will prove resilient in the face of view-through deprecation. There are some tailwinds, like existing and scaling investment in tech as applied to the channel, server-side attribution picking up steam, etc., and also some headwinds, including privacy regulations expanding in the US, and Google deprecating cookies in 2024 (or whenever they actually do it).
Podcast Advertising Challenges and Mistakes
What are the biggest mistakes being made by performance marketing brands in podcast advertising?
- Not spending enough, which results in inconclusive tests, or spending too much and wasting money before you figure out where your pockets of performance are.
- Creative that’s too long—in some cases we've seen literally pages of script—which means the host spends more time reading your brand copy vs. creating a relatable ad with personal endorsement.
- Buying only programmatic/audience networks is essentially buying leftovers, as the most performant inventory in podcast advertising still tends to sell out to buyers and brands directly. Embedded and “faked-in” impression-based is still where it's at for most performance oriented advertisers.
What is the one thing in the podcast world that gives you the "ick?"
The biggest one is the shadowy, opaque nature of most programmatic buying in the channel. The current state of programmatic is reminiscent of the early days of digital programmatic, where you weren't quite sure what you were buying (spoiler alert: more NSFW than you had ever imagined), and there were a lot of not-so-good surprises along the way.
Useful Topics about Podcasts
What are the big differences and similarities between radio and podcast ads?
Interestingly, a lot of people try to lump them in together, and while the desire to compare the two is understandable (since they're both audio mediums, no visuals, etc.), it's kind of like comparing an orange and a basketball. They're both round, and both orange, but that's about where the similarities end.
Radio's reach is absolutely unparalleled, even by television, and most ads are produced vs. endorsed. The demographics with radio more closely mirror the population and there are far more ads per hour. With podcasts, you're only reaching about 40% of the country, but you are reaching a more engaged and engrossed audience that has actively chosen to consume this content intentionally, on demand. Podcast demographics tend to be slightly more affluent and quite a bit younger vs. radio. And in contrast to radio, the most effective podcast ads are endorsed, not produced.
What are the attributes of your favorite podcast network/marketplace to work with and why?
- Proactivity and going the extra mile: Working with us to understand why a campaign may not be working as intended and proactively updating us when download projections fall short vs. waiting for us to "discover" via results that a show isn't punching at its weight goes a long way.
- Don’t be greedy: Avoid cramming too many ads into a single episode (spoiler alert: no one is listening to the fourth mid-roll in a four-midroll block of an hour long show), and if you’re running impression-based, cap your frequency at 1x/UX.
- Seriously, don’t be greedy: We’re more inclined to take a chance on a new show from a partner that we trust, that is realistic with their download projections, and takes the time to know the brands that we serve and make solid recommendations. Not every show is a fit for every advertiser and the best salespeople and sales support know this.
- Responsiveness: You would be horrified to hear the number of RFPs we send that go unanswered by certain partners. Be respectful and give answers in a timely manner.
If you were only able to read one podcast/media/marketing email newsletter, which one would it be?
This is a hard one, but we’re going to go with Podnews; it does such a good job of covering so many different parts of the industry.
Do you have any good examples of political campaigns or nonprofits using podcast ads to acquire new opt-in supporters (i.e. sending people to a URL to sign a petition or sign up for an email list)? If so, what's a typical cost per acquisition for that kind of campaign?
There are some examples of this being done successfully. Crooked Media has done some partnerships with nonprofits before and they do quite a bit of in-house promotion with Vote Save America. But besides that, no real solid examples with scale come to mind, so it's hard to ballpark CPA. Generally, we tell advertisers to expect attributed CPAs to equal the efficiency they get from other fully optimized channels within 3–6 months of launch if podcast ads are going to work for them. For example, say your CPA is $10 from paid social, with view-through attribution, fully optimized. Assuming pods work for your brand, you can expect your CPA to be in the range of $10 with attribution (server-side or survey-based) within 3–6 months post-launch.
Are podcast advertisers missing out on the real-life aspirations of podcasters (tours, other IRL activations, etc.) when they focus their budgets on media spend only?
It depends on the brand's goals. We’ve seen integrations like the one La-Z-Boy had with Armchair Expert that are really thought out, integrated with other buys on the show, and (most importantly) are clearly aimed at branding. For most podcast advertisers, the incremental investment in live shows, tours, etc. won't be worth the expenditure. But for a national brand whose primary goal is reach, awareness, and possibly as down-funnel as consideration; depending on the integration, it could work.
Is Mailchimp’s campaign on season 1 of Serial the greatest return on spend ever in the history of podcast ads? Do any other buys come close? Could something with that much asymmetrical upside even happen again for an advertiser in today’s sponsored pods landscape?
That Mailchimp campaign might be the best example of bang for your buck in pod history, especially because we're still talking about it now. There are a few other buys that come to mind for sheer impact, like what happened with Blue Apron and Pod Save America, where their slogan started being a through line in most of their ad reads.
But it’s unlikely we'll ever see anything on the Mailchimp scale again. It's possible but barely so, because to achieve that level of sponsorship with most media companies now, you're talking well into seven, if not eight figures, and that's cost prohibitive for most brands to take a flier on a totally new, unproven vehicle like that. It was also transformative for Mailchimp because of the size and scale of their company at the time. Just one of those kismet, hey-you-got-peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate moments, you know?
What’s your advice to attract and pitch sponsors as my podcast grows?
There are a couple of different paths you can take to sponsorship. The most common for shows with some scale is to be represented by a network or publisher. They have a built-in sales team that can represent your show to an existing and growing client base. However, they do take a not-insignificant percentage of revenue for the value they bring to the table.
Another path is to stay independent and either hire a fractional or full-time salesperson to handle your show, or represent it yourself. If you're going this route, pay attention to your inbox, because you would be shocked how many times someone like us slides into DMs with real interest and intent from a potential sponsor, only to never get a response. You can also reach out to brands that you're super interested in; we've found success with a handful of creators that way. And then it's natural for us to bring them other advertisers they wouldn't have access to.
PS: If you're interested in going either route, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re happy to connect you to some trusted networks/publishers, or explore possibilities to get your pod sponsored independently with our tens of active advertisers.
What is the most serendipitous moment you’ve witnessed in a live unscripted host read?
Truthfully, and this is one of the reasons we love the channel so much, there are micro moments created like this all the time; we have an entire Slack channel for our offline team dedicated to sharing excellent reads and there are so many creative takes on ads for the brands we work with.
As for anything we've contributed to, we’re pretty proud of the time we delivered hundreds of chicken nuggets to a studio at Rooster Teeth for a live stream, and chicken nugget pong was invented.
Do you want to learn how podcast advertising can help your company supercharge your growth? Send us a message at email@example.com to talk to one of our offline experts.