Podcasts are becoming big business not only for creators, but for advertisers. Podcast advertising is on track to hit more than $220 million in 2017, up 85% from 2016. And now that Apple Podcasts is delivering analytics on listeners, advertisers can rest assured that listeners are paying attention. NPR says it’s found that 75% of listeners took action on a sponsored message.
Midroll, the podcast content company owned by radio and TV operator The E.W. Scripps Co., has collected their own survey data and found that podcast listeners make it through about 90% of a given episode, and relatively few are skipping through ads. To make sure that listeners are truly engaged, though, more companies are turning to branded podcasts, full series produced to amplify a brand’s story, and find an audience of like-minded folks delivered free to consumers. Shows like Tinder’s DTR and Casper’s In Your Dreams with Chris Gethard are engaging and entertaining listens, even though they are still very much advertising, which is the entire point.
“No one wants to listen to a 10-episode podcast about how great ZipRecruiter is at finding a job or helping hire the right applicant,” says Lex Friedman, CRO of Midroll. “But if we can create a show with someone like entrepreneur and author Seth Godin about what it means to be successful and being the most productive person around, that’s going to appeal to exactly the kind of people that ZipRecruiter wants to reach.”
“ZipRecruiter is all about finding good employees and good people and Rise and Grind is all about that, too,” says Shark Tank investor Daymond John, whose new ZipRecruiter sponsored podcast Rise and Grind recently launched with Midroll. “Because how do you have someone work for you who doesn’t believe in those types of things? Who doesn’t get up and bust their ass every day? So, ZipRecruiter was a natural fit as a sponsor.”
John’s new 10-episode interview series is one of four new business-minded podcasts that Midroll is launching through its branded content division, Midroll Brand Studio. In addition to Rise and Grind, based on John’s book of the same name, ZipRecruiter is sponsoring two other branded series, too, one with Godin and one hosted by corporate consultant Cal Fussman. In March, Midroll will release a branded series sponsored by Carbonite called Breached hosted by tech expert Bob Sullivan.
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It’s not just the digitally minded folks at startups and dotcoms that are getting in on branded series, either. MasterCard teamed up with Gimlet for Fortune Favors the Bold, about the future of money, Microsoft has .future, and GE and Panoply created the sci-fi meets real science series, The Message. Even McDonald’s has a podcast now: The Sauce, a slightly satirical Serial-style series created with the help of Studio@Gizmodo and Onion Labs.
There’s a good reason to tap into the podcast boom: Around 67 million people ages 12 and over listen to podcasts each month, according to findings that Edison Research published earlier this year. That’s 21% of Americans, or roughly the same number who use Twitter on a monthly basis. The audience tends to be affluent and educated, and really likes the shows that they click on—a whopping 85% of people who start a podcast listen to all or most of it.
When listeners hit play—or better yet, subscribe— on a sponsored podcast, they are getting a lot of one-on-one time with a brand, which for a brand is a very valuable proposition.
“Brands know that [branded podcasts] are an effective way to reach an audience that otherwise is hard to reach in an engaging way with a longer story that can only unfold over time,” says Matt Lieber, cofounder and president of Gimlet Media.
If 75% of podcast listeners take an action on a sponsored message, as NPR says, it takes 25 to 30 times for a consumer to hear that message before they follow through with engagement. A sponsored series helps build brand awareness and a connection to the brand—and that connection can turn listeners into consumers. “You’re not necessarily going to need to build a Squarespace site the first time you hear a Squarespace ad, but they want to be present enough in your memory that when you finally do need to build a website, you’ll remember Squarespace,” says Friedman.
Episode 1 of “The Sauce” by McDonalds with Studio@Gizmodo and Onion Labs:
Of course, branded podcasts can be a pricy purchase, depending on how brands want them to sound. “Well, they are definitely cheaper than Super Bowl spots,” said Friedman, laughing. While neither Friedman nor Lieber would cough up a price tag (Digiday put a full season at around “a mid six-figure investment“) both agree on two things: branded series are competitively priced with other national media campaigns, and that creating a quality, engaging podcast that potential consumers will want to listen to costs money.
“If you want to make a show that sounds like This American Life that’s fully produced with interview tapes and you’re traveling all over and there are sound beds and music transitions, that’s an expensive show to make for anybody,” says Friedman. “That can cost more than if it’s a chattier show with a single voice on a microphone.”
And simply making a good show isn’t enough: Companies also have to pony up to buy ad space on other podcasts to ensure that they’re discovered, basically advertising their advertisements.
While creating a well-produced branded series may be costly, the shows can create a deeper connection to consumers that is hard to come by in a 30-second TV spot or newspaper ad campaign. “If brands have a bigger story to tell or want to make a bigger statement or build a platform around an idea or a story it can make sense to do a branded podcast,” explains Lieber.
For example, Blue Apron has been a big advertiser in the podcast space since the audio boom started. When they wanted to share more of their company’s story and ethos and enhance their connection to consumers, they decided to create a branded series, resulting in their engaging show, Why We Eat What We Eat. The show, hosted by author and food historian Cathy Erway, looks at everything from picky eating to the origins of duck sauce. It’s entertaining and informative and perfectly proves the point that when branded podcasts are executed well, consumers want to listen—even though in many ways they are listening to a 30-minute advertisement.
As brands become both more aware of the podcast market and more savvy about it, branded podcasts are booming. “It’s definitely a growing part of the business,” says Lieber, who says that Gimlet has tripled the number of branded podcasts in the last year and brands like eBay and Tinder have already signed up for second seasons of their series.
“It’s growing at a faster clip than ever before,” agrees Friedman. “When we first built out our Brand Studio team, we wondered if there would be enough work for that team to do. Now the question is how many more people do we need to hire to keep up with demand?”