Advertising in podcasts (part I): authentically approaching audio advertising

Podcasts are growing in popularity – including among advertisers. However, podcast advertising has nothing in common with a typical radio commercial. We interviewed Wolfgang Bscheid to explore how podcast advertising can work.

New advertising formats are needed for placing powerful advertising in podcasts.
Image: © Austin Distel / Unsplash

It’s all audio: one size fits all thanks to the multichannel medium?

Convergent audio advertising promises to reach users across all channels – FM radio, audio streams, and podcasts alike. We asked ourselves: can advertising content produced for the radio even work in podcasts?

The term “online audio advertising” is often presented either as a distinct entity to differentiate it from FM radio advertising or is grouped under the term “convergent audio advertising” as a complement to it. In actuality, the umbrella term “online audio” is an amalgamation of totally different formats and channels that couldn’t be any further apart in terms of their target group focus, target group communication, user community, and how they are consumed.

  • Web radio (simulcast broadcasters, online offshoots of traditional radio stations, and purely web-based radio programs)
  • Audio-on-demand services
  • Music streaming services
  • Podcasts
  • On-demand radio stations
  • Audio books

The perception of audio as being ONE multichannel medium therefore suggests that one advertising format would essentially be enough to use these multiple channels as one advertising medium. However, the only thing that all these audio formats share is how the conveyed information is received: via listeners’ ears.

So what does that mean for advertising in podcasts?

The neutral pool of audio channels promoted as part of an omnichannel audio marketing mix also comprises podcasts, which greatly differ from traditional radio in terms of their listener group composition, usage times, user intention, and format – in other words in all key aspects. It goes without saying then that you also need entirely different formats if you want your podcast advertising to reach your target group. In our interview with Wolfgang Bscheid, Managing Partner at mediascale GmbH, sums it up in a nutshell:

“Radio advertising is usually about promotion. Very little content is communicated and it’s very loud. Radio is an extremely quick promotional medium. Now let’s take all these radio commercials and throw them into a podcast that slowly unravels a topic in 20 minutes. Why not? It’s ultimately all one and the same audio reach. But you soon realize that it’s painful to the ears.”

Wolfgang Bscheid, Managing Partner mediascale GmbH

Die Anatomie des Audio-Mediums: Ein Podcast ist keine Radiosendung

Klassisches Radio ist primär musikdominiert, dient zur unterhaltsamen Hintergrundbeschallung und wird von mehreren Personen gemeinsam konsumiert. Kurzum: Man hört vielleicht zu, aber man hört nicht hin.

Podcasts hingegen sind ein Medium, dem sich in der Regel jeweils ein Zuhörer mit voller Aufmerksamkeit widmet. Es gibt heute Tausende Podcasts – für nahezu jedes Nischenthema gibt es hochqualifizierte Angebote mit Inhalten, die von Experten professionell aufbereitet worden sind. Nutzer schätzen Podcasts also vor allem als Medium zur Informationsbeschaffung für die individuelle Einzelnutzung. Ein Podcast-Hörer wählt in der Regel seinen Podcast akribisch aus. Viele Podcast-Hörer entscheiden sich bewusst für das langformatige Medium Podcast und gegen das Radio, da

  • sie tiefer in ein Thema eintauchen und es aus verschiedenen Blickwinkeln beleuchten möchten.
  • sie sich über spezielle Themen informieren möchten, die in anderen Formaten nicht oder nur oberflächlich zur Sprache kommen.
  • sie den Moderator oder Gastgeber des Podcasts sympathisch finden.
  • sie selbst entscheiden möchten, wann sie sich mit welchem Thema beschäftigen möchten.
  • sie bewusst die schrille Radiowerbung vermeiden möchten.

Obwohl nach dem Online-Audio-Monitor 2020 (OAM) die Nutzung von Podcasts um 52 Prozent im Vergleich zum Vorjahr angestiegen ist, sind es noch immer nur vergleichsweise wenige Personen, die dieses Audioformat regelmäßig konsumieren:

of respondents aged 14 or over said that they listen to podcasts every day or nearly every day.
listen to podcasts once or more a week.
use the audio medium at least once a month.

Regular consumption of podcasts is increasing in all age groups, but the trend is particularly noticeable in the younger and older generation and among people with a formal higher education.

In this respect, podcasts generate much less reach, but much more attention than a typical radio program or many other forms of advertising media. Listeners identify with and involve themselves in podcasts like no other medium. It is precisely that aspect that makes podcasts such an attractive medium for advertisers. If you want to draw attention to your company and brand, then podcasts are the ideal channel.

The problem for advertisers, however, is that people who choose to listen to a podcast have usually turned their back on radio because they want to enjoy deeper content that is free of advertising. Podcasts are perceived as being an ad-free format by the majority of listeners. Loud and in-your-face radio commercials lasting a few seconds that break up longer pieces of content are unthinkable here. So what options are actually available for placing ads in podcasts?

Advertising in podcasts: what are the options?

Generally speaking, what options are there for placing advertising in podcasts or for brands to position themselves in this context?

#1 “Recycling” the traditional radio commercial

If you want to use podcasts as an additional audio channel alongside the traditional radio format, the most cost-effective method is to place a traditional commercial before a podcast in the form of a pre-roll ad. Mid-roll ads or post-roll ads are also possible alternatives, but only really make sense if you have several high-reach podcasts in your audio marketing mix for which you don’t have to or can’t produce specifically tailored content.

Among other solutions for this purpose, the audio marketing firm RMS offers dynamic ads that can be pre-produced using a fixed basic framework and variable content segments and then placed via an ad server in varying compositions depending on the special focus of the podcast as well as the target group. However, clever targeting does not resolve the underlying problem that commercials are not received positively in podcasts.

#2 Having your brand content or products presented by a brand ambassador or influencer

When it comes to presenting your product, brand, or topic, you can of course choose a thematically fitting podcast and ask the podcast creator if they want to collaborate. Ideally, they would offer you the platform to present your content yourself, through an employee acting as a corporate influencer, or through a paid external influencer in order to appeal to the target group. As long as the influencer presents the advertising content coherently, authentically, and credibly for the particular podcast format, this approach can definitely pay off.

“Authenticity goes a long way. By all means opt for a selling tactic too, but it has to be absolutely authentic.”

Wolfgang Bscheid, Managing Partner mediascale GmbH

The main downside is the effort and money involved: if you want to present your content in a podcast yourself or through an influencer, you have to closely coordinate the content and concept with the podcast creator and/or host beforehand and freshly adapt the content from host to host.

“In Germany, although things are generally on the right path, we’re still lacking the individual formats that have a wide enough reach to be suitable for a campaign. If your goal is to generate reach, you have to combine several podcasts.”

Wolfgang Bscheid (Image: © mediascale GmbH & Co.KG)

From an economic standpoint, that’s not viable in the majority of cases, since the individual reach of the podcasts generally doesn’t warrant the expenditure. Many podcast creators will also be wary of integrating too much advertising content into their podcasts through fear of putting off their own listeners and suffering reach losses as a result.

#3 Promoting content together with the podcast host

In this case, the podcast host incorporates the product or brand as a native advertisement at an appropriate point in the podcast, reads from a pre-produced script as a host-read advertisement (host-read ad), or even recommends the product (host-endorsed ad). This approach demands close cooperation with the podcast producer in order to integrate the advertising content – whether for a product, topic, or brand – into the show in a way that is as compatible with the format and as palatable for listeners as possible. You could call it a kind of sponsoring, with the host acting as the promoter.

This approach unfortunately also comes with the same difficulties as the other option mentioned above. Advertising hurts the product (in this case the podcast) – something that podcast creators are aware of. So, simply carrying over the typical “buy me” tactic of a radio commercial and having the podcast host read aloud a promotional text may work, but it has two drawbacks: it still has a detrimental effect on the podcast because it is seen as a disruption, and it also lacks the stimulating impact of a radio commercial.

For the advertising company, this strategy means a loss of control. After all, how the brand is presented lies in the hands of the host. A commercial that has been meticulously designed down to the very last detail and signed off by the marketing department and everyone in charge on the company’s side is no longer feasible here.

#4 Producing your own content

You don’t necessarily need an intermediary to deliver your audio content, of course. There’s nothing stopping you from producing your own podcast that deals with topics surrounding your brand. Obviously, that is the most expensive option, but also probably the most promising one in the long term – we tell you why below.

Producing your own podcast is comparable to a blog or vlog that provides content with added value for your target group: background information, insights, how-tos, themes, or simply entertainment. However, it requires you to have your own production team, people that are able to present the brand in a gripping, entertaining, and authentic way, and an editorial team to create content that is relevant to your target group.

Which method is suitable and what can media agencies offer?

Wolfgang Bscheid knows from his own experience how difficult it can be for media agencies to market targeted and powerful podcast advertising to their clients. But it’s also precisely why he knows a wide range of strategies and methods that companies can use to capitalize on podcasts as an advertising medium and how media agencies can help them do that. He reveals all in Part II: Podcast advertising = a revolution in brand communication?