For Listeners Podcast Ads Are More Like Information

Does internet advertising work? That’s the “dangerous question,” raised by Atlantic senior editor Derek Thompson in a recently published article.

Thompson raises some worthy questions, based upon some challenging recent research. At the same time, some of the reasons he addresses as to why traditional internet advertising comes in for scrutiny actually argue in favor of podcast advertising.

Thompson starts with the proposition that the internet was supposed to let us know exactly which ads work, basically by measuring who clicks on them, and tracking what they do afterwards. He then reviews some recent research that indicates ads have a tendency to target people who were going to buy something anyway, and therefore don’t particularly influence them. Or, if they are influenced, it isn’t measurable with a click.

This leads him to, “wonder whether all advertising—online and off—is losing its persuasive punch.”

Even so, Thompson’s inquiry does not wholly damn internet advertising, nor does that appear to be his intent. However, it is also important to note that the studies he references aren’t about all internet advertising. They’re very specifically about display ads. He doesn’t address ads in audio, video or, our business, podcasts.

Podcast Ads–More Like Information than Marketing

In fact, one of Thompson’s points actually argues strongly in favor of podcast ads.

He cites a theory raised in the recent book Absolute Value that says pre-internet, companies used to have much more control over the information consumers could find about their products and brand. But within the sea of online information, things like comments, user reviews, and friends’ opinions retain their power. “In fact,” he writes, “they’re much more powerful than advertising because we consider them information rather than marketing.”

So why does this argue in favor of podcast ads?

A very crucial difference between podcast ads and display ads is the podcasters, themselves. The best podcast ads are delivered in live reads by the podcaster. For listeners the podcaster is more like a friend or trusted authority than pitchman.

Think about it: podcast listeners dedicate hours upon hours to their favorite shows and hosts. Much of that time they’re plugged in with headphones, making the listening experience a very private and intimate one. As a result listeners develop relationships with their favorite hosts. They’re not going to dedicate this kind of time and energy to podcasters they don’t like and trust.

When a podcaster delivers an ad, it’s more like a trusted friend is discussing and endorsing the product or brand. Sure, listeners know this is an ad, and they know that the podcaster is paid to deliver it. But–at least with Midroll–podcasters don’t represent brands that they can’t get behind. Every one of our hosts has absolute veto rights on the advertisers that appear on their show.

This allows hosts to retain their integrity. Advertisers share in the glow of that integrity, because listeners know that their favorite podcasters wouldn’t endorse just anyone. That gives the ad and the endorsement that much more power, compared to a display ad.

Simply put, using Thompson’s terms, this makes podcast ads more like information than marketing.

Listeners Choose Podcasts and Podcast Ads

Growing, successful companies like Igloo Software have used podcast ads to great effect. They understand the value that the endorsement of podcast hosts has, and they reap the returns.

No existing advertising platform is perfect, nor perfectly trackable. Similarly, we can’t track a definitive, causal relationship between a friend’s recommendation and somebody’s subsequent purchase. Humans aren’t quite so predictable. But that doesn’t mean advertising, or recommendations, don’t work, or influence purchases.

Just like one chooses the friend or expert to turn to for advice, listeners make a very definitive choice in the podcasts they listen to and the hosts they like and trust. That choice and trust mean something.

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