Why Podcasts Can't Swim With The Big Fish

In an exchange from the 2010 movie, “The Social Network,” Justin Timberlake’s character openly mocks another character about the smalltime advertising leads he landed. “You’re just a small step away from bagging Snookie’s Cookies, I can feel it!” Thus convincing Mark Zuckerberg to hold off on advertising until they're able to drum up demand from larger advertisers.

The podcasting industry has found itself in a similar position over the past year.

If you’re an avid listener of podcasts, as I am, you probably have heard advertising for brands like Casper mattresses, Squarespace, Harry’s Razors,, Seat-Geek, and of course, Mail Kimp/Chimp.

It can seem like these brands are on a never-ending loop. There must be a better way to support this growing source of news and entertainment by attracting more advertising dollars from a wider range of brands.

It’s not the quality of the audience, given that the average podcast listener is 51% more likely to have a household income of more than $250,000, per a Simmons study. The audience for most of these shows are still somewhat on the smaller side.

Marketing in the digital age is all about finding the right micro-audience to leverage with the right message. What better audience than well-educated-urban-dwelling-yuppie-podcast-addicts? So what’s holding them back?

The largest issue marketers have with the medium is measurement. We’ve come to expect all digital media to be trackable and measurable. We want to know how many people were exposed, what they did after listening, and most importantly how many of them converted.

The issue with podcasts is the vast majority of them are still consumed within the expertly sterile, well-designed, white-walled garden of Apple. Apple is infamous for providing very little information to brands about what is happening on their app store or through iTunes.

The use of RSS trackers advertisers can learn little more than how many people downloaded the podcast and when they did it.

However, more and more third-party podcast managers are coming to market to steal listeners away from the official Podcast app, which just a few years ago, Apple decided to make native, no doubt to slow the growth of podcast listening alternatives.

One of my favorites is SoundCloud which lets users seamlessly switch from the app to the browser-based player, something Apple has no plans of producing. It also provides all users with a robust reporting dashboard detailing all listening metrics.

Even taking into account these limitations ,I still don’t know why a company like Unilever doesn’t put some serious advertising muscle behind podcasting for their brands like Dove, Ben & Jerry’s and Lipton.

Podcasting could become something akin to "Mad Men," in that it never had great ratings overall, but AMC kept on air for seven seasons because it was one of the most reliable and efficient ways to deliver an affluent male skewing audience.

I’m still hopeful that as success stories begin to emerge, podcasts will start drawing some real advertising dollars and can finally stop the infinitely loop of selling Snookie’s Cookies.


2 comments about "Why Podcasts Can't Swim With The Big Fish".
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  1. Bobby Calise from Warc, March 9, 2016 at 10 a.m.

    I recently listened to, ahem, a podcast (Bill Simmons's show) about UFC. It talked about how the early days of the now HUGE mixed martial arts brand saw mom-and-pop advertisers, whearas now it's on the verge of becoming a major American sport and can easily land the biggest brands in the world as its sponsors. These things take time. And depending on which side of the fence you sit, hearing smaller advertisers repeat themselves on podcasts might be more palatable than having an episode of Stuff You Should Know feel like the Super Bowl from an advertiser standpoint.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, March 10, 2016 at 10:48 a.m.

    Even if the podcast metrics issue were resolved, the larger advertisers want some degree of scale before they jump on the bandwagon. Upscale or not, how big an audience---even among the affluent---can an advertiser expect to reach using podcasts? Or putting it differently, how many individual  podcast "sponsorships" does it take to reach, say, 75% of podcast users---and at what cost? How many of these consumers are already reached by the advertiser's other media platforms?

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