I never thought I’d be complaining about a lack of advertising in the media I consume, but here we are: if I don’t hear some more commercials in my podcasts soon, I think I’m going to scream.
That may sound confusing, even as someone who follows the podcast advertising industry closely, so allow me to add some context. I’m a longtime listener of Robert Evans’ excellent podcast Behind The Bastards, which is produced by Cool Zone Media for iHeart.
I’ve recently gotten back into it after my listening fell off for a while, and I’ve been binging several of Evans’ multi-part series on figures like Henry Kissinger and Vince McMahon. The show itself is excellent, but the advertising is driving me up the wall - or rather, the lack thereof.
The problem is that, while iHeart has a well-established presence in the US (along with various other global territories), it doesn’t have a UK sales arm, to the best of my knowledge. As a result, the ad breaks where US listeners are presumably hearing ads for Geico, BetterHelp or Netflix aren’t monetised in the UK. Instead, they’re filled with baked-in house ads for other iHeart podcasts.
In itself, this is a clever and effective strategy; it’s a useful way to both take advantage of unused ad inventory, and a good way to drive listeners of one podcast to other shows under your umbrella, and any networks that aren’t using unfilled slots to cross-promote their other shows are missing a trick in not following the same strategy.
However, if anyone from iHeart is listening, I have a very simple request: please, for the love of god, switch up the trailers you’re running. I’ve listened to at least ten hours of Behind The Bastards in the last week or so, and with multiple midroll ad slots per episode, I’m starting to hear the trailers for Queen Havoc and Her Murder Cult, Hello Isaac and Born To Love (which I’m ironically coming to hate) every time I go to sleep.
The problem is one of saturation; a certain amount of repetition is helpful for embedding ideas or messages in our heads - which is part of the reason that sonic branding can be so effective at driving recall - but after five or six times, the same ad heard over and over again starts to become like an aural cheesegrater. Incidentally, this is also why, even for long-running host-read campaigns, it’s helpful to periodically refresh the ad copy to help keep things fresh and non-grating.
It’s also a broader problem for iHeart. This has been a quirk of its shows since I started listening many years ago, and it’s conditioned me to instantly reach for the skip button any time an ad break comes on. I don’t do this with other shows, but the repetition makes iHeart ad breaks so annoying that I feel compelled to. In the event that the company ever does expand its ad sales into the UK, my automatic instinct is going to be to blow straight past them.
No advertiser wants that for their campaigns, and one of the many advantages podcasts have over other mediums from an advertising perspective is that, according to a 2022 Guardian study, the majority of podcast listeners do actually listen (and pay attention) to the ads in podcasts. Low-quality ad distribution threatens this mutually-beneficial situation and runs the risk of devaluating the excellent relationship between listeners and networks.
So please, iHeart: enough with the saturation-bombing of the same four podcast trailers. I know you’ve got more than 70 shows - let’s hear ads for some more of those.