How not to do an ad read

Even when lazily executed, podcast advertising is still impactful

I’ve been thinking about podcast advertising a lot recently. It’s a crucial part of the podcast ecosystem, and I’ve been talking to a number of industry figures about the effectiveness of podcast advertising, why organisations should invest in it, and how to get more organisations into the industry.

One of the key things I’ve been focusing on is trying to find examples of truly outstanding podcast advertising, to illustrate best practices and highlight what it can look like when done well. However, something that’s occurred to me lately is that it might be useful to take the opposite approach: using some of the worst podcast ad creative I’ve ever heard as a case study.

I’m a huge fan of Quick Question With Soren and Daniel; a chat podcast from Soren Bowie and Daniel O’Brien, two long-time comedy writers currently working for American Dad and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. They’re former alumni of legendary comedy website, and I’ve been following their work for many years. 

The podcast is essentially a hobby project for the hosts: a way for the two friends to keep in touch while living on opposite sides of the country. Neither host puts in a huge amount of effort (with O’Brien explicitly stating on multiple occasions that he doesn’t even listen to the recordings), and while there’s a tissue-thin framing device for their conversations, each episode basically consists of them shooting the breeze for an hour or so. 

The podcast has managed to secure a series of sponsorships, but unlike the thoughtful, carefully crafted ad reads seen on other podcasts, Bowie and O’Brien seem to be reading the advertiser-supplied copy directly from the page, often with minimal flair and improvisation. In most cases, it sounds like it’s only the first or second time that they’re reading it.

It may sound like I’m bagging on the pair, but I’m really not; their easy chemistry and quick wit make them a joy to listen to, and I’ve enjoyed all of their work over the years. That’s partly what makes it so interesting that their ads reads are among the worst I’ve ever heard. 

They’re a clever and creative pair of writers and improvisers - one of the show’s early running jokes was a segment at the end where one would throw the other a complete curveball and they’d have to deal with it, like justifying why reading should be banned, or explaining their ten most embarrassing crushes. We also know from their work on Cracked’s fan-favourite video output that they’re both capable actors who can bring written material to life without it sounding stilted and unnatural.

What’s even more interesting, however, is that despite the terrible delivery of those ads, they’re clearly effective, as I can still name most if not all of the sponsors the show’s had over the years. I don’t think I could really say the same about TV advertisements. Even when delivered with minimal effort and enthusiasm, the personal connection that listeners have with podcasts makes advertising that much more effective and memorable.

This naturally suggests that, when done with more creativity and passion, podcast ads can be extremely successful at driving awareness and consideration - as was borne out by Sounds Profitable’s recent research study, The Medium Moves The Message. That survey showed an average increase of 15% for those metrics among those who had listened to podcasts recently, which are powerful figures for advertisers. 

Even when done badly, podcast ads can be impactful - so imagine what possibilities can be unlocked when creators and advertisers invest in doing them well?