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Does the Medium Move the Message?

Does the Medium Move the Message?

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Written By

Tom Webster

Know the Author

March 14, 2023

This week on the DeepDive Series, Sonnant CEO Tony Simmons details the platform’s AI to transcribe, track relevant trends on social media, and place smart ad markers to help “unlock and unpack” content and maximize its potential revenue. Tune in now.

Next week, Sounds Profitable is releasing the latest in our quarterly research series, The Medium Moves the Message (you should totally register for the webinar here). I have no doubt that this study, fielded for us by Signal Hill Insights, is going to be the most impactful project we’ve released to date, and potentially our most provocative. And it all stemmed from crankiness.

Starting at the end of last year (and sadly continuing well into 2023), there have been a string of articles about the bloom being off the rose in podcasting from many of the leading outlets that cover the space. Yes, the advertising market has been a bit slow during this recent economic malaise (there is no reason to use the “R” word here). But where are these articles about commercial broadcast radio? Or network/cable TV? Our friend and Sounds Profitable partner Steve Goldstein really nailed it in something he wrote back in October, rightsizing has been going on forever.

Here’s what isn’t declining: the audience for podcasting. It’s higher than ever. I’ll bet on that, thank you very much. With so much focus on where the dollars are going, I thought it was high time that we took a look at where attention was going. So, we designed The Medium Moves the Message to take a comparative look at advertising effectiveness across two legacy broadcast channels (commercial radio and network/cable TV) and one on-demand channel, podcasting.

To capture this data, we surveyed over 2,000 Americans, 18+, and asked them some basic questions about their TV, radio, and podcast consumption. We also looked at their perceptions of all three platforms, their attentiveness to advertising, and how they feel about the brands that support the content they consume on each. The centerpiece of the study, however, was a look at the five most-advertised brands for each channel, and how respondents perceived each in terms of awareness, favorability, purchase consideration, and actual use/purchase of each product/service.

Thanks to a large, representative sample, we were able to isolate and compare weekly users of each platform to people who were not regular viewers/listeners and observe the differences in perception for each brand. We are able to show these differentials for brands as varied as TV champ Domino’s, podcast favorites like Betterhelp and Athletic Greens, and even multi-platform reach machines Progressive and GEICO. In all, we analyzed 13 brands for top, middle, and lower-funnel measurements to see just how much each platform was able to move the needle for its top advertisers. What does dominating share of voice achieve for a brand in commercial radio, vs. leading share of voice for podcasting?

Spoiler Alert

When we fielded this, I had a pretty good idea where this was all going to end up, and I wasn’t disappointed. Spoiler alert: podcasting looks like a very good place to put your advertising dollars either in addition to or, in some cases, instead of commercial radio or network/cable TV. In fact, when you look at mid to lower funnel measures like favorability and taking action, dominating share of voice in podcasting looks a lot better than that same effort in radio/TV.

There are several reasons why this is true, and believe it or not, they aren’t all endemic to podcasting itself. For example, here is one slide from next week’s presentation that stands out:


I think people who have been in podcasting for a while will not be surprised by this, but the temptation is to ascribe these results to the unique attributes of podcasting (by mentioning things like – and let’s play this drinking game together – “intimacy”). This is not totally off, but I would submit that the graph above, which shows a significant difference between how podcast listeners support podcast ads and radio/tv consumers feel about brands that support their favorite shows, is a trailing variable and not a cause. It’s not the reason why podcasting performs so well as you go lower in the funnel. It’s indicative of…something else.

Mitigating Risk

That something else is a stark reality about the audiences for each medium, and that’s what is really going to open your eyes when you watch The Medium Moves the Message next week. Even to this day, some brands perceive podcasts as an experimental spend – a risk, during a time when the economy dictates a flight to safety. But the truth is that the ground has shifted dramatically between where the audiences for broadcast radio/TV live and the increasingly unique place where podcasting’s audience lives. This isn’t a future prediction – it’s already happened. And these tectonic shifts in where these audiences live and who they are makes adding podcasting to a buy safer for brand advertisers, not riskier. 

The audience is moving. The nature and qualities of the audiences for these three platforms are moving. This means, like Alice in Wonderland’s Red Queen, we have to keep moving even to stay in the same place. That includes agencies, brands, and buyers. 

A month ago, we all sat down to watch TV together. Some of us watched the Big Game for the football. Some of us, the ads. And some of us to watch Rihanna SLAY. Whatever the reason, we sat together and experienced the same thing. And that was the last time that all of us, demographically and psychographically speaking, watched the same thing. The circles in the Venn diagram of the various groups who watched the Big Game pulled apart almost immediately after the broadcast, and understanding not just where they went, but also who those humans are, is the smartest thing you can do when the economy is soft.

We are going to do that exact thing, next week, when we debut The Medium Moves the Message. We will be putting the microscope on broadcasting and podcasting, and quantifying the impact of a podcast buy on overall brand measures. In addition, we will look in detail at the following brands:

  • McDonald’s
  • Domino’s
  • Subway
  • Progressive
  • Liberty Mutual
  • Indeed
  • ZipRecruiter
  • Shopify
  • Babbel
  • Upside
  • BetterHelp
  • Athletic Greens 


Hope to see you there.


New Partners

Sounds Profitable exists thanks to the continued support of our amazing partners. Monthly consulting, free tickets to our quarterly events, partner-only webinars, and access to our 500+ person slack channel are all benefits of partnering Sounds Profitable.

  • Larj Media creates podcasts for brands, thought leaders & change makers. We give a % of our profit to creating shows focused on issues we care about: gender equity, social justice & climate action.
  • JoneKiri is an influencer marketing firm focused on helping passionate individuals reach their full potential by way of a white glove service while empowering brands to find their advocates to launch thought-provoking marketing campaigns.

Want to learn more about partnership? Hit reply or send us an email!

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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