With an estimated 144 million listeners in 2019, it seems like everybody either listens to podcasts or has one of their own. But, of course, you can’t talk about podcasts without talking about ads. Whether you enjoy them or feel like they’re crowding your show, podcast advertising is worth paying attention to, and here’s why.

For the first time ever, more than half of the U.S. population over the age of 12 have listened to at least one podcast. Folks aren’t just listening to the primary content, they’re listening to the advertisements. With a wide range of topics, listeners seek out shows which suit their unique interests. And, they choose how, when, and where to listen.

The initial Podcast Advertising Study in 2016 shined a spotlight on the engaged podcast listener. Of the roughly 900 podcast listeners surveyed, 52% agreed with the statement “You believe that the hosts of podcasts you regularly listen to are actual users of the products or services mentioned on their programs.”

65% of listeners reported that they are more willing to consider products or services that they learn about on podcasts. And, a whopping 70% agreed that the products they hear about on podcasts are generally relevant to their interests.

With these engagement levels, it’s no wonder brands are flocking to podcasts. Ad spending on this channel hit $479.1 million in 2018, an increase of 53% from the previous year.

Before you take the leap, we have a few strategic tips.

Tip #1: Find a Natural Fit

With a podcast on every subject for every conceivable niche audience, it should be possible to find alignment between content, audience, and your brand. There’s little excuse for an ad that feels forced into place. It should be natural. In a serendipitous scenario, the podcast listener barely notices the shift from content to ad, believes the host actually uses the product or service, and is glad to learn about it. She might even think, wow, they get me. I would totally try that.

For a great example of niche ads for a niche audience with a believable, relatable host, check out Yoga Girl: Conversations from the Heart with promos for Bombas socks + Four Sigmatic mushroom coffee.

Tip #2: Opt for Host-Read Ads

According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) 2018 Podcast Advertising Revenue Study, 63% of podcast listeners prefer host-read ads, compared with pre-produced or announcer-read ads at just 35%. This is likely because these ads feel more personal. And, more like a seamless continuation of the voice and content.

Take author John Green’s podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed, for example, a show in which Green “reviews facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale.” In the episode Lascaux Paintings and the Taco Bell Breakfast Menu, Green seamlessly weaves a discussion of French cave paintings into a story about French philosopher and scientist René Descartes’s early design for a contact lens. Then, this side story creates a natural pivot into an ad for Simple Contacts. The listener is in a commercial before they even realize it. It’s like an extension of the story they’ve already been following.

Tip #3: Consider (Hyper) Local Podcasts

Look to your local community. People are likely developing podcasts to discuss everything from their favorite restaurants to local history. Even if they aren’t being backed by a major podcast producer yet, they may head that direction with a supportive boost. The opportunity to connect with your audience may be closer (and more affordable) than you think.

In Indianapolis, the DRNK CLTR podcast has grown from a small podcast about the hosts’ love of beer and whiskey in 2017, to a live-recorded, sponsored podcast that talks about local issues and happenings in just two years.

Tip #4: Create your Own Podcast

There’s a fine line between product placement and brand sponsorship. The branded podcast walks that line by blending the podcast format with topics audiences are interested in. Then, it scripts them together into an extension of a brand…without the hard sell.

An example is MailChimp’s recent foray into podcasting with Going Through It and The Jump. Both shows are interview format programs with a notable host talking to successful people about pivotal points in their careers. The only mention of MailChimp is in the opening/closing credits and title mentions. If you think you’ve never listened to a branded podcast, you might be surprised at how common they are becoming. Some of our favorite branded podcasts include Serial (ZipRecruiter), The Chernobyl Podcast (HBO), and Beyond the Grid (Formula 1).

A branded podcast connects the audience with your identity, values, and products. You control the content. Fair warning though, be cautious of branded content becoming shameless promotion; it’s easy to slip.

Tip #5: Track your Traction

Lastly, be sure to build unique tracking into your podcast ads, so you can prove the value + test messages and promotions. Common mechanisms include vanity URLs and designated promo codes, specific to that podcast. Like this offer + landing page for JustWorks business management software from How I Built This with Guy Raz.

Ready to dive into the podcast pond?

Even with these tips, it can be tough to determine the right podcast opportunities for your brand. Need help figuring it out? Drop us a line.