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Mind the Ramp: The Lifecycle of a Podcast Advertising Test Campaign


October 1, 2020


November 15, 2021

Like digital channels, podcast advertising can be an excellent driver of growth for direct response advertisers. In fact, podcast advertising is often one of the first offline channels that brands who have achieved growth in other channels turn to when seeking an avenue to diversify, while still scaling their overall media investment. However, because of the way the medium behaves, it requires more time and patience to see results than digitally native advertisers are used to, especially during initial test campaigns.

What Makes Podcast Advertising Different

For digital-first brands looking to diversify their channel mix, podcast advertising is often a great way to start testing offline media because spot buying is affordable, and pricing is mostly standardized, with the CPM spot cost model based on downloads. Creative is accessible, with low to no production costs, and listeners are primed to hear a strong call to action. The big thing to remember is that a podcast campaign requires more patience than digital because consumption of the medium itself is delayed. 

Unlike a Facebook ad that is experienced in real-time, podcasts are on-demand digital audio, that can be downloaded or streamed whenever it is convenient for the listener, and listened to at their leisure. This unique trend in consumption, even relative to other audio channels, has a powerful impact on customer acquisition. 

When it comes to podcast consumption, there are multiple factors of delay at play. When listeners are subscribed to a show, new episodes are automatically downloaded and added to their queue. Non-subscribers, however, download and listen to episodes on-demand—meaning these downloads can come in weeks after an episode has dropped. It can often take an episode around three weeks to reach its full download potential. 

In addition to this delay in downloads, there is also a delay in episode consumption. According to The Infinite Dial, almost 60% of monthly podcast consumers in the US download their podcasts to listen to them at a later date, and 25% don’t listen to their downloaded podcasts until a week or more after downloading them.

This means that when a podcast episode drops, it can take several weeks for consumers to download and listen to that episode and its ads, and even longer to redeem promo codes from those ads. As a result of these download, consumption, and redemption patterns, in addition to the brand’s own purchase/consideration cycle, we recommend giving a podcast advertising campaign six weeks to reach its full performance potential, although you will likely see some acquisition activity trail in long after an episode drops. We also recommend keeping promo codes live indefinitely to avoid the risk of flooding your customer service team with “my promo code didn’t work” requests. 

All of this goes to say, this variance in when your ad is listened to means that the channel typically requires more time than digital channels to ramp as it works towards a scalable and efficient path to growth.

What the Ramp-Up Period Looks Like for Podcast Ad Tests

According to the research we’ve compiled by working with more than 30 clients over the past several years, it can take a single ad read up to six weeks to reach its fully-baked goal index

Note: Goal index helps us index realized CPA to a specific campaign's goal, and performance index helps us index a show's performance broadly across advertisers, controlling for variables like category, CPA, and volume. 

In direct response time, six weeks can feel like a decade. While disconcerting to some advertisers, data shows that a well-laid out test flight can progress to goal when allowed time. Before you jump into your first campaign, consider the following:

  • Give yourself some runway. We suggest planning to have media live for at least 7-10 weeks for a typical test campaign. Knowing the length of the full campaign can help you plan for the initial weeks where you’re waiting for drops to hit maturity.
  • Give your drops some breathing room. Some listeners may download and tune in to an episode right away, while others might not get around to it for a few days or weeks. We suggest one drop every three weeks to allow you to see tail activity in between spots. This would equate to 3-4 episode drops per show over the course of a 7-10 week test period.
  • All of your impressions won’t come at once. Many podcast networks charge based on the average number of downloads a show will get typically on a 30-day basis. Even the networks don’t expect their shows to be listened to immediately! Allow listeners to hear your ad on their time, and know that some performance will be delayed. 
  • If you don’t see immediate success from your first read, don’t panic. According to our research, an episode takes at least two weeks for a majority of conversions to come in, and up to five weeks for its total amount of conversions to become fully realized.

In the below example, using actual campaign data, we see that conversions from a specific episode drop can continue to come in even five weeks after the episode aired. 

While some shows, such as Political Show A, see a large share of their acquisitions in the first week, others such as the Female Lifestyle show, took twice as long. Furthermore, most shows regardless of week one performance begin to see a drop in activity in week four. This is why it’s smart to run a second episode the first week that episode begins to see diminishing returns. In other words, optimized flighting keeps the pump—that is, your new acquisition channel—primed.

Let’s Get that CPA to Goal!

The first few weeks of your first-ever podcast campaign can be stressful, because most marketers are used to seeing performance more immediately following flighting—which is one of the reasons why we wanted to publish this article. We’ve found that, in shows that ended up meeting or exceeding their goal CPA, a brand’s first read in a show only achieved an average goal index of 10% (i.e. if you have a CPA goal of $100, a $1,000 CPA after the first drop). If we freaked out and canceled after the first read, we would never have known it would get to goal eventually, and we wouldn’t be able to scale our program because none of the shows would work. This is the quickest path to a false negative. With a proper test structure and patience, you will see results rebound, giving you a sense for how the channel as a whole is performing. 

Podcast Ad Test Flight Example 1

Take for example, the advertiser above. They launched their first podcast ad campaign in August 2019. During their first week, they drove a CPA more than 2x their goal. The next week, they saw a low CPA with low spend, followed by another high CPA when spend ramped back up.

Like many others, this campaign started out like a rollercoaster—some weeks with high spend and a high CPA, and others with little spend and a low CPA that benefited from tail performance from earlier weeks. However, in week seven, when second episodes started dropping, the CPA began to normalize and the client saw consistent weeks of below goal CPA, even with spikes in spend.

Our research has also found that shows that finished their first flight with a to goal CPA, only achieved a goal index of 44% by their second read. The second read is of critical importance and is often the point at which programs start to make real progress towards profitability.

Podcast Ad Test Flight Example 2

Let’s look at another example. The advertiser above achieved some CPA consistency after only their fifth week. They also saw small spikes consistent with large show drops in the weeks of March 23 and April 30 (e.g. pricier spots like Joe Rogan). 

What is interesting about this advertiser is that it depicts how even brands with seasoned campaigns, like this one, can launch new tests, and those new shows take time to normalize in CPA. In other words, not only do you have to prepare for a high CPA in initial tests, but you should also expect the channel to behave similarly during additional testing cycles. Anticipating spikes in CPA due to continuous testing is part of scaling in the podcast space, even if you’re well beyond your first test. This is why we often establish ratios of core:test spend, so we can more easily predict CPAs month over month, and know if/when our CPA will spike due to increased spend.

Podcast Ad Test Flight Example 3

In our third and final example, let’s look the above campaign—another one with a roller coaster beginning. The first week resulted in a goal index of only 10%! By week six (the end of the second set of reads), it had reached over 60%. By the end of the first campaign in April 2020, the campaign had achieved its goal CPA, and continued to scale while meeting its goal CPA week over week. 


Simply put, podcasts are listened to at the convenience of the consumer, which impacts the behavior of advertising performance and measurement. The channel needs to be treated differently than digital, and appropriate expectations should be set up-front. This unique approach doesn’t mean brands can’t achieve growth and efficiency through the channel like they find in digital, because they can.

Feel ready? Just remember: 

  • Give the campaign the proper amount of time. Plan to have media live for at least 7-10 weeks for a normal test campaign. It can take a single episode up to three weeks to reach its booked downloads. Our research found that shows that finished their first flight with a ≥100% goal index only achieved a goal index of 44% by their second read. 
  • Pace your drops in an even cadence. We suggest one drop every three weeks to allow you to see tail activity in between spots, because the consumption curve following an episode’s download is roughly 19-21 days. We also recommend a minimum of three episodes per show for your first campaign.
  • Stay patient. If you set up your test correctly and monitor results over time, you’ll find that the media’s consumption pattern begins to work in your favor, driving tail long after a spot’s first airing, or a show’s last drop. Keep in mind, performance should be monitored weekly, but a show that reaches a 10% goal index after the first drop is a good indicator that things are working. Continue to watch performance after subsequent drops and ensure performance is increasing towards goal, but know it may take the full flight to hit peak performance. Over time, this is how most of the successful advertisers in the space have been able to scale their programs, and have immense success with podcast advertising, with room to scale.

Krystina Rubino joined Right Side Up to start its offline marketing practice when she realized too many brands leave offline channels on the table, favoring digital channels past diminishing returns. She has been obsessed with all forms of media for as long as she can remember; she’s an agency and marketing leader with deep experience in building brands and meeting growth goals, for companies of all stages and sizes. She’s spent her career helping companies and brands like Advil, DoorDash, P&G, Lyft, and StitchFix, develop profitable digital and offline media campaigns, often as vanguards in their category and the medium. Her favorite question to ask is “What’s next?” when helping grow a business or scale a customer acquisition campaign.

Lindsay Piper Shaw is a director of offline marketing at Right Side Up, where she partners with innovative brands on in-house marketing initiatives, including podcast and other offline channels. Prior to joining Right Side Up, Lindsay scaled podcast campaigns for brands like quip, Lyft, and Texture, and she has also worked with McDonald’s, Honda, ampm, and Tempur-Sealy, among others. She is passionate about the podcast space as a growth driver, and especially loves educating newcomers in the channel. In her free time she listens to podcasts and makes a podcast called Murder We Wrote (she really can’t get enough podcasts).

Matt McNeese is a Senior Offline Consultant with over 6 years of experience creating strategic marketing plans for brands as big as Fortune 500 companies to small startups. He now specializes in podcast advertising and emerging media, helping brands diversify their overall media mix, while still scaling customer acquisition efforts.

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