Podcasts are more than an advertising opportunity - they’re brands in themselves

There’s much for marketers to get excited about - if they approach the industry on its own terms

Podcasting is no longer an “emerging” medium, it has “emerged”, James Chandler, the chief marketing officer of the Internet Advertising Bureau, told the IAB Podcast Upfronts showcase at the start of the autumn, pointing to PwC figures that showed UK podcasts now generate £54 million a year in ad revenue.

Yet podcasting is still a young medium where barriers to entry are low, passion often comes before profit and business models are still evolving — three themes that have consistently emerged in PodPod’s weekly interviews since we launched at the end of October.

I wear two hats — editorial director of PodPod, as well as editor-in-chief of Campaign, which has covered the advertising industry since 1968 — and as such, I’m excited about both “the craft and the business of podcasting”, our twin areas of editorial focus.

Advertising is an important funding stream for podcasters but wearing my Campaign hat, there are three aspects of podcasting that particularly resonate from an advertising and marketing perspective beyond mere commercial revenue.

First, podcasts are a highly creative and accessible medium. That’s super exciting for anyone who believes in the importance of creativity, artistic expression and inclusion.

Second, podcasts are wonderfully immersive and can build a deep, trusted connection with an audience or community — something that matters even more in the ephemeral, low-attention age of social media. 

Third and arguably most important, podcasts are a great way to build and scale a brand.

As the founders of My Dad Wrote A Porno, Jamie Morton, James Cooper and Alice Levine, told PodPod in November: “Now people can be creative on their own merits. They can make it themselves and can get financially rewarded for that. That’s a massive change. It’s really rare in all of media that you ever get that sort of control … and [to] be able to own your IP and get a pay cheque. That makes it a really exciting space for young people, in particular.” 

The MDWAP trio even used the language of marketing as they talked about how Morton’s father, the inspiration for the podcast, “loves the brand” and how they plan to “continue the brand” after ending their hit podcast after six series this month — perhaps by moving into TV or film.

The podcast as a “360-degree media experience”

Podcasts can be hugely powerful on their own, but they can be even more impactful when considered as one part of a wider media mix — a platform to build your brand.

Advertisers are also more likely to want to get involved if a podcast becomes more of a “360-degree media experience”, as Josi’ah Mace, director of creative partnerships at media agency Initiative, put it when speaking alongside his client, LEGO, at the inaugural Podcast Show in London’s Islington earlier this year.

In the case of LEGO and Initiative, they went far beyond buying basic ad spots or host reads on existing shows. The toy brand recruited presenter Sue Perkins to host a bespoke branded podcast, At Your Leisure, about helping adults to find their “joyful focus” and alleviate stress caused by the pandemic

This campaign went on to win Best Use Of Content With A Budget Over £250,000 at Campaign’s Media Week Awards 2022 in October — proof that there is significant cash available in the podcast sector for those with the right business rationale.

Several interesting takeaways emerged from the discussion with Mace and Andrea Wilson, brand manager at the LEGO Group, at the Podcast Show. 

First, it was a risk for LEGO to try audio, rather than, say, video. The toy-maker only went ahead after commissioning research that found podcasts were an effective way of tapping into the “hobbies, pastimes and passions” of the target audience. 

Second, Wilson said no podcasters had reached out directly to LEGO’s marketing team about advertising or content partnerships before the brand and its media agency came up with the idea — a clear sign that the advertising and podcasting worlds need to get closer together to understand each other’s needs.

Podcasting and advertising aren’t always going to make the easiest of partners and there are times when, as Deborah Meaden of the BBC’s Big Green Money Show pointed out on PodPod, a commercial partner could raise questions about editorial independence on a hot-button topic such as sustainability.

Advertisers need to approach the podcast industry with sensitivity, and on its own terms. The fact that this is so necessary, however, underlines one of the biggest attractions of podcasts. They‘re more than an advertising opportunity - they’re brands in themselves.