Is Your Brand Playing It Too Safe in the Podcast Space?

By Idil Cakim, SVP and Head of Research & Insights, Audacy

“Produce an ad for a true crime series? No, thank you!” or “Promote our brand on a comedy podcast? Hard pass—what if the content turns crass?” Is that you? We get it. You have your brand’s best interest in mind. But what if we told you these types of comments are myths and podcast listeners think otherwise?

To better understand listeners’ relationship with podcast content, we first interviewed brand marketers, agency leaders, and industry experts about brand safety and suitability in podcasts. 

We also surveyed 6,000 podcast listeners, and learned what marketers may consider “risky” actually offers opportunities for advertisers to connect with highly-engaged listeners

Stay tuned to discover what your brand is missing out on by playing it too safe.

Step outside of your genre comfort zone

What advertisers think of as controversial isn’t actually seen as controversial by podcast listeners. For example, while non-listeners associate true crime podcasts as frightening, listeners associate true crime with words like, thought provoking and stress-reducing. 

This positive association isn’t limited to true crime—we found that there are deeply held positive associations among listeners of each genre. When we exposed survey respondents to podcast clips with test advertisements, their perception of brands and hosts remained the same or became positive.

This opens up incredible opportunities for advertisers to target their ideal customers. True crime, for example, has a demographic that is primarily female listeners – Millennial and Gen X moms who make large purchases for their households and have multiple interests (e.g., personal growth, fashion, fitness, hobbies, etc.). If you’re avoiding advertising among true crime podcasts because they’re seen as too controversial, think again. This could be your opportunity to get in front of a demographic with strong buying power. 

Controversial topics actually aren’t that risky 

Imagine this scenario. Joseph is in his car on his way to work. He is playing his favorite comedy podcast and there’s a guest that is particularly foul-mouthed. The podcast cuts to a commercial, and the host talks about an insurance company that helped him through challenges with his home. 

What is Joseph’s reaction to the commercial? Does he recoil at the idea of a well-known insurance company promoting its brand on a podcast that is known for crass language and dark comedy? Or does he tune in, chuckling at how the host describes the home catastrophe he’s been through and how the insurance company supported him?

→ 73% say controversial podcast topics would have no impact on their purchase of brands that advertise during those podcasts. 

→ About half would think more positively of a brand after pairing with controversial content.

It’s likely that Joseph would have thought the same or more positively about the brand after hearing it in association with the comedy podcast. In fact, inviting controversial guests and discussing controversial topics are among the least common reasons to stop listening to a podcast. Foul language is even expected for certain podcast genres like comedy. 

Don’t let hot-button topics stop you from featuring your brand within certain genres or podcasts, but know that there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. We found that saying racist statements is the number one reason listeners would stop listening to a podcast (61%). Take a look at the chart below to see the other most and least common triggers. 

Ad content quality matters more than topic fit

Eighty percent of podcasters listen through ads while 37% have unaided brand recall of podcast advertisements—that’s huge and shows that advertisers are on the right track. However, there’s even more opportunity to promote your brand across a variety of podcast topics and genres. 

Advertisers are often concerned that the product or services being promoted needs to align with the topic of the podcast; for example, that sports equipment and apparel should be the main promotions for a sports podcast. 

We found that the majority of listeners felt ads fit well in each podcast (76% fit across titles tested), and listeners didn’t think fitting the ad topic to the content was as important as other elements, such as style, copy, and creative. 

Instead of worrying about whether the advertisement fits thematically, take a second look at the production. Spend the time and energy developing high-quality promotions that match the podcast style.

When in doubt, trust the host

A recent study by podcast company, Acast, revealed that half of podcast listeners trust podcasters, the most of any other tested medium. 

And, interestingly, our study showed that listeners hold hosts to a higher standard than the advertisers. 

Eighty percent of listeners feel it is important that hosts do their research
Over half trust that hosts only advertise brands worth sponsoring

Podcast listeners trust the host, so lean into their expertise and recommendations. However, this doesn’t mean you should only create host-produced ads. 

While hosts garner a lot of trust, simply advertising on their podcast puts your brand in a good light. Nine in ten listeners said they felt the same or positively about a brand after hearing a podcast ad, including host-read and produced spots. 

Broaden Your Audio Horizons 

The guardrails we put around our brands should not hinder us, preventing us from reaching our most engaged audiences. Take a look at your podcast promotion strategy and explore taking a step outside of the familiar to test new genres, titles, and styles. We’ll bet it’s worth the reward. 

Interested in learning more about brand safety? Download our latest report, Podcast Brand Safety and Suitability, for more detail on the data shared within this article. 

Want to talk more about reaching your target audience?

Let´s Talk

Podcast Brand Safety & Suitability Study, Audacy, November 2023

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