I listen to a lot of podcasts, averaging about 24 pods per day since 2007. In that time, I’ve heard a wide landscape of podcast ads, both effective and off-putting.
I used to never skip podcast ads. I felt that I was given this amazing gift of audio entertainment and friendship that at least listening to the ad was my obligation, like dropping a few bucks to the stellar street musician after I hang out for a minute.
I say “used to” because that’s changed. I skip ads. I skip most ads. I will listen to an ad once, at least. For one, I appreciate the companies that support my favorite medium, so I want to know who has made the plunge. For another, I still feel that pull to listen as a thank you to the podcaster. But I started to skip them because they take more of my time while giving me less.
Podcast ads used to be 30 seconds, which is why podcatchers have a 30 second skip button by default. Then they became a minute. Now it’s a minute and a half. This makes me think less of the advertiser. I’m now in the habit of hitting the skip button three times automatically, and if I miss some show content… shrug. It’s worth it because, in addition to longer, the ads are getting worse.
Worse may be a strong word. They’re not getting better. Some wonderful companies are sponsoring a ton of podcasts, and if you listen to more than two podcasts, I’m sure you know who I’m talking about. The problem is that I burn out hearing the same thing over and over.
Here’s a breakdown of the tactics that turn me off from listening to an ad or turn me off of the advertiser completely.
Long ads. For the reasons mentioned above, I just skip them.
Radio pre-roll and post-roll ads. For three main reasons:
- Completely not the target market. None of these have ever applied to me.
- Not mastered correctly, either way too loud or super quiet.
- The ads just sound bad with that impersonal and artificial radio ad sound.
Ads at the beginning of chapters. This is just listener-hostile.
Same shit, everyday. If every podcaster is given the same script, or one podcaster has to read the same thing repeatedly, I’m going to tune it out.
What to do
Here are some of the tactics podcasters have done that aren’t user hostile and actually get me to listen and buy from podcast ads.
Make it short and sweet. I’m going to hear your ad multiple times, so I don’t need to hear a long pitch each and every time.
Change it up. Tell me something new each time. Use your 30 seconds to introduce the product and tell me something I didn’t know.
Let ads be their own chapter marker. Marco Arment of Accidental Tech Podcast does chapters perfectly: the end of the pervious ad starts the beginning of the next chapter “…Thank you to ________ for sponsoring this podcast.” Then they roll into the next topic. The ad is as long as it needs to be, and I can go back and listen to the full ad if I want to, and I do sometimes. Plus the chapter marker includes the name, image, and link, so I don’t have to remember or write it down.
Podcaster reads are best, but well-done pre-recorded ads are good, too. Just make them sound polished and personal. Podcasters record because they’re passionate, so if I hear an ad that breaks that drive or attention, mine breaks as well.
Add links to the advertiser in the shownotes so that a listener can just click right from the app. I can’t tell you how many times an ad that sounds interesting will play, but I’m driving or working with my hands, so I can’t look up or write down the product name. I don’t want to spend my time hunting down the things you want to sell me.
I understand that it is more difficult to add links in the shownotes if you are using targeted ad insertions, where different markets receive unique ads and they are added to the audio file dynamically, because you don’t know what ads will be in which shows. A simple solution would be a generic “sponsor link” in every episode’s shownotes that takes a user to you site with a list of current sponsors, their information, and the discount code or link. Dynamic ad insertions have burned me in the past, where I heard an ad but couldn’t act on it until after the podcast finished and deleted itself, but when I went back to download it again to find out who it was, the ad had changed and I couldn’t find out who it was. Lost sale.
And speaking of not being able to find sponsors, every podcast and network website should have a list of past and current sponsors for easy reference. I want to support the companies that support podcasts. Make it easier for me.
Some tactics work great
I have some examples of podcast ad campaigns that not only worked to get me to buy, but also made me enjoy the ads, remember them years later, and tell friends about them.
SquareSpace, from their early entry into the podcast ad market and their prevalence of support, is possibly the leader in podcast ads. They supported Back To Work on 5by5 with Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann around 2013 and for months each ad was different with a tip or hidden feature on how to use the product. This was immensely helpful not only to help convince my better half to make the purchase, but I was also able to jump into a new product with some knowledge and I didn’t feel lost. Some of the Gimlet shows like Reply All and Start Up are trying to give unique content for each ad, and I respect that effort.
I have had the pleasure to experience two great campaigns by Cards Against Humanity. One campaign was a running gag on the aforementioned Accidental Tech Podcast where John Siracusa, one of the three hosts, was asked to review different toaster ovens because he is known for being hypercritical and struggled to find a good toaster oven for himself until he was gifted a top of the line Breville toaster over by Marco Arment and Merlin Mann. During the ad campaign, random toasters were sent to him, getting progressively weirder, from the normal unit to ones with built-in coffee makers and griddles. These ads were just hilarious and a highlight of the episode. Thank you Alex Cox and Max Tempkin.
The other was Cards Against Humanity’s sponsorship of Inquisitive on Relay FM where they played the first 5-10 seconds of a pop song from the 90s, ending right before the catchy part. This was crafty and clever as these songs would get stuck in my head, and I would shake my fist in the air, saying, “Curse you Cards Against Humanity!” with a smile on my face.
These were fantastic because they didn’t beat me over the head that they have a card game. We all know that already. Instead, they entertained.
I am completely on board with the new trend of branded podcasts and Gimlet Media is knocking it out of the park with these. It’s clear up front who is paying for the show and where it’s coming from, there’s usually a fitting tie-in to the company, but they don’t hit you over the head with it, and there’s no need for ad breaks.
I’ve purchased from many podcast ads: Blue Apron, Hullo Pillow, SquareSpace, Hover Domains, Harry’s Razors, MeUndies, ThirdLove, Cards Against Humanity, Audible, NatureBox, and Slack to name a few I can remember off the top of my head. Some I love like my Hullo Pillow, and some were disappointing like Nature Box (sugar in every item of the sampler?). But all of these advertisers had something that drew me in.
I will continue to skip ads and buy from good podcast ads.