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My Favorite Insight From Ad Nauseam

My Favorite Insight From Ad Nauseam

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Written By

Tom Webster

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June 26, 2024

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In our recent study, Ad Nauseam, we surveyed over 1,000 weekly podcast listeners to find out their tolerance for ads in podcasts. We looked at how many ads are *too* many, how important variety is, the right frequency and position of ads, and more. Of all the individual findings, I appreciated stepping WAY back and taking a 100,000-foot view of what listeners think about podcast ads in context. (BTW, why does global air travel not use meters for altitude? SCORE ONE FOR THE YANKS). Let’s take a look at just three slides and what they really say:


In succession, what these slides tell us is that most listeners expect to hear 3 ads, and most listeners report that this is, in fact, what they heard on their last podcast. The last slide says that most listeners think the number of ad breaks is “just right.” And, of course, there is other data in the report that offers a similar conclusion: most people think we are doing a good job with ads.

Imagine that. Ask a network TV viewer, and you will get dramatically different results. Heck, ask anyone trying to actually read an article on the web that they clicked through to from a social share! Don’t get me started on commercial radio. I mean, it’s right there in the title.

We have built a special snowflake with podcast advertising. Yes, we have a way to continue monetizing the space and building a sustainable career path for creators. But I hope you’ll agree with me that the better path for that is not doubling the ads on the biggest shows, but making buying ads on the smallest shows a friction-free and lucrative experience.

I think it is easy to talk about how far we can push things when you have a perception advantage like this, but I sure wouldn’t. This is a remarkable advantage, right now. Our audience tells us they expect to hear ads, that we are delivering what they expect, and that delivery is pretty tolerable! This is why when I hear podcasters tell me, “My audience won’t tolerate ads,” I get the spirit of that. However, having a few good, relevant, and well-targeted ads is a mainstream consumer expectation. Still, we have to keep our foot on the throttle, but we also need to maintain the integrity of our podwaves a little better.

I write all of this because I was catching up on a couple of my favorite podcasts last night, and heard three different things over two episodes that were head-scratchers to me:

  • A beer ad reminding us that the NBA Finals are a long haul and you want plenty of beer on hand! The NBA finals ended a week before this episode dropped. GO CELTICS
  • Another add for a product not related at all to sports that had this line – “You are busy supporting your local sports team.” I call this, Seasonal Ad Disorder, or SAD.
  • “We’ll be back after a break” – and no ad

We can quibble about any or all of these things. But I am persnickety about at least this topic. They are all tiny. Maybe there are diminishing returns to the kind of monitoring and review that would catch them all. Maybe I am just a jerk. But something something a thousand paper cuts something.

No media platform has any guarantee of security, including this one. By increasingly looking at the 10-foot view, however, we can protect the 100,000-foot view.

Obviously, the words above are my own (I mean, I hope that’s evident), but I did ask my good friend Claude what it thought about the Ad Nauseam study with a very simple prompt: “What are the top recommendations you would give to the podcasting industry based on these data?”

Take it away, Claude:

Based on the findings of the Ad Nauseam study, here are the top recommendations for the podcasting industry:


  1. Maintain a balanced ad frequency: Most listeners find 2-3 ads per episode and 1-2 ad breaks tolerable. Aim to keep the number of ads and breaks within these ranges to avoid annoying or alienating listeners.
  1. Experiment with creative ad formats: With 57% of listeners indicating they would be more tolerant of ads if they were different from typical formats, podcasters should explore innovative ad types such as mini-dramas, songs, or interactive segments to engage listeners and reduce ad-skipping.
  1. Minimize ad repetition within episodes: Over half of the listeners find hearing the same ad multiple times in a single episode annoying. Work with advertisers to ensure a variety of ads are played within each episode to maintain listener attention and minimize frustration.
  1. Focus on ad relevance and entertainment value: Listeners are more likely to skip ads due to a lack of interest or relevance. Collaborate with advertisers to create entertaining, informative, and relevant ads to the podcast’s audience to increase ad engagement.
  1. Leverage host-read ads: 23% of listeners found an ad memorable because it was read by the podcast host. Encourage hosts to deliver ad reads that align with their style and the podcast’s tone to create a more seamless and engaging listening experience.
  1. Optimize ad placement: Most listeners prefer ads to be played at the beginning, middle, or evenly spread throughout the episode. Experiment with ad placement to find the optimal balance for your podcast and audience.
  2. Capitalize on promo codes: With 34% of listeners having used a promo code from a podcast ad, offer exclusive discounts or bonuses to incentivize listeners to engage with ads and make purchases. Ensure promo codes are easy to remember and accessible.

By implementing these recommendations, the podcasting industry can enhance the listener experience while maintaining the effectiveness of podcast advertising.

Hey! That’s pretty good, Claude! Go treat yourself to a nice can of aftermarket synthetic motor oil. You can’t focus on your family and local sports team if you are worried about protecting the life of your engine.

Programming note: no column from me next week (July 4) as I’ll be celebrating throwing off the yoke of British tyranny, or I’ll be on a cruise in the Med. Thanks for reading.

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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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