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Actually, We Love Ads

Actually, We Love Ads

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Written By

Tom Webster

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September 6, 2023

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Bit of a short one this week, as I have finally contracted COVID after successfully avoiding it for over 3 years. Spoiler alert: it sucks. The show, however, must go on.

One of my favorite findings from last week’s release of our groundbreaking study, The Podcast Landscape in America, was this chart comparing the appeal of various types of TV/Film/Celebrity-related content:

I love the fact that “a podcast hosted by a favorite celebrity” doesn’t quite hold the appeal of a podcast about a favorite TV show or Movie. This makes sense – you at least know what the latter is about, while the former is not quite enough information to make a decision. I am not sure I want to hear a podcast hosted by Vin Diesel, or Henry Cavill, but give me a D&D podcast from Vin or a Warhammer 40,000 podcast from Henry, and you can take my ear money right now.

That’s not what I want to focus on for this newsletter, though. Rather, look at the data point in “last place” on this graph – a podcast about a favorite brand or product. Sure, it’s in fourth place on this list, but not by much! The percentage of Americans 18+ who would be interested in a show about a favorite brand or product is almost as high as the percentage who are interested in a podcast from a favorite celebrity.

Isn’t that remarkable? In an era in which we have more ad-free content than ever, and more tools available to block, skip, or otherwise dodge the withering torrent of unwanted advertising we are pelted with every, more than four in ten say they’d like a show about a favorite brand.

There are two things to take away from this incredible stat. First, it’s an utter validation of branded podcasts. People DO care about their favorite brands, and form communities around them. There is no reason why a well-produced podcast about a brand with a) a community of passionate loyalists and b) a real story to tell can’t be as successful if not more so than whatever the Sussexes do next.

It’s one of the reasons why the Trader Joe’s podcast is so damn good. First and foremost, it’s a good podcast. But it’s also a podcast whose subject is utterly fascinating to so many of us, whether we are regular customers or not. If you love Trader Joe’s, you are fascinated by the story behind some of the products you know and love. And if you are just Trader-curious, like me, you want to know what exactly happens after hours when the lights are off and the doors are locked. Are there elves? Oompa-Loompas? Is it like NXIVM? I don’t think it’s like NXIVM. But the brand fascinates me, and I want to know more.

That’s not the only thing to consider from this stat, however. The key word in that response is favorite brand. That question made the respondents think about a favorite brand – not just the first one they grab in the potato chip aisle. We all have favorite brands – products and services that we don’t just love, we proselytize for. I haven’t owned a car in 12 years – a car is useless to me where I live – and so every time I hear an ad for a car in a podcast, it’s an annoyance. The same is true for mattresses (I have one), food delivery services (I cook, thank you very much) and ZipRecruiter (I don’t, uh, ziprecruit.) But as I look at my desk this morning, I am surrounded by brands I love and even evangelize for.

There are wood desk accessories from Ugmonk, one of my favorite small design companies. Blackwing 602 Pencils and a Parker fountain pen. Moscot glasses. An Earthworks microphone. My ride-or-die MDR 7620 editing headphones. A Ray Samuels headphone amp. Some original art from Kristiana Pärn. All things I could tell stories about because I love them. A Toyota ad in a podcast is an annoyance to me, but I could listen to five minutes of branded content in the middle of my favorite show from Ugmonk’s Jeff Sheldon about the next piece of machined wood I am likely going to buy from him.

We love the brands we love. When advertising is relevant and taps into those passions, it transcends into content. When it doesn’t, only then is it seen as intrusive. I think branded podcasts only capture one part of the equation – let’s make a podcast that taps into the passion people have for a topic or host as an introduction to a brand. But the inverse is also possible: let’s make a show that taps into the passion people have for a brand as an introduction to the podcast or the host.

In that sense, anyone can make a branded podcast, whether you work with the brand or not. This very article has me thinking about a pencil podcast, because I love me some pencils. But this is also yet another reminder to learn as much about your audience as you can. Are there products or brands that your audience seems to gravitate towards? Can you learn about this, and package that data to potential sponsors? It’s a lot easier for an audience to use a promo code when they haven’t automatically turned their brain off to an irrelevant ad.

My dream is that I will someday find podcasts that are exactly the content I want, supported by exactly the ads I want to hear. This would be a good thing for the industry, and a reminder that this is what programmatic advertising is capable of – you see it in your Facebook stream every day. Until that day, however, let this data point serve as a reminder to us all that we don’t hate ads – we just hate irrelevant ads – and that the passion we podcasters seek to tap into can literally come from anywhere.

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About the author

Tom Webster is a Partner at Sounds Profitable, dedicated to setting the course for the future of the audio business. He is a 25-year veteran audio researcher and trusted advisor to the biggest companies in podcasting, and has dedicated his career to the advancement of podcasting for networks and individuals alike. He has been the co-author and driver behind some of audio’s most influential studies, from the Infinite Dial® series to Share of Ear® and the Podcast Consumer Tracker. Webster has led hundreds of audience research projects on six continents, for some of the most listened-to podcasts and syndicated radio shows in the world. He’s done a card trick for Paula Abdul, shared a martini with Tom Jones, and sold vinyl to Christopher Walken.

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