Inside Podcast Advertising: A Conversation With Ad Results Media's Gretchen Smith

Podcasts aren’t going anywhere. 

The audio-first entertainment format is now attracting a wider swath of users than it ever has, while spreading across a mix of media channels.

In 2021, 82 million people listened to podcasts in the U.S., and in 2024 that number is expected to reach 100 million listeners, according to Statista. 

To gain a deeper understanding of what opportunities exist for brands in the podcasting space, MediaPost spoke with Gretchen Smith, the vice president of media at Ad Results Media (ARM), who coaches clients on how to use audio-based influencers and video-based influencers in long form to drive business results for their brands. 



Smith and her staff at ARM believe that podcast ads have greater influence over consumers compared to display ads or produced videos. 

“Word of mouth is one of the most powerful ways that you can influence and impact a purchase, and video podcasting and YouTubing is pretty dang close to it,” Smith says. “All different types of clients see the benefits of general influencer advertising, but there's something really special in long-form, audio-video influencing that people are flocking to.”

ARM manages some of the top spenders in the podcasting industry, including Better Help, and Zip Recruiter, as well as a handful of B2B clients and direct-to-consumer (D2C) clients. 

In this interview, Smith spoke with MediaPost about how brands can run effective ad campaigns on podcasts, how to navigate various podcast channels –– including video –– and the platforms they are viewed most on, the promise of programmatic ads, and where podcasts are headed in the near future. 

Media Daily News: Why are more brands moving into audio advertising?

Gretchen Smith: There are 24 hours in a day. You can only watch so much video and actually be paying attention.

The digital media landscape is oversaturated. Everybody sees the power of video, but people have started to max out on just how much video they can watch, which is why people are switching over to listening to more audio. 

Ultimately, we're seeing that investment by the industry is not matching the percentage of audio consumption.

We predict that audio listenership is only going to continue to increase across a multitude of different formats, like watching podcasts on YouTube. 

MDN: How do you help brands navigate video podcasting?

Smith: If you asked me a year ago, I would have told Gen Z targeted brands that video podcasting is non-negotiable. Now it's spreading to Millennial and Gen X audiences as well. 

If a show has a video podcast (vodcast) or simulcast opportunity, it becomes part of the package for our clients. You want to have brand integration and support everywhere a listener can find it. 

MDN: On what platforms are people watching video podcasts?

Smith: YouTube is the biggest place to watch video podcasts. You are seeing a lot of people discovering podcasts on Instagram Reels and TikTok clips, but people aren’t watching full 60-minute podcasts on those platforms.

MDN: Do ads present differently on video podcasts compared to purely audio podcasts?

Smith: It honestly depends on what the show host wants to do. But typically we don’t expect a full on product placement. Just the combined sense of sight, sound and motion helps push the enthusiasm and credibility of the host’s delivery. 

MDN: Are podcasts as wide-reaching as digital media when it comes to targeting specific audiences? 

Smith: I think there's a podcast for everybody. Most humans now listen to some form of audio influencer in their daily life, whether it's intentionally or in the background.

I think there used to be a perception that podcasting only reached a certain type of customer and that has really shifted over the past couple of years. 

The podcasting audience is becoming more multicultural, and reaches young and old consumers.

More baby boomers and above are starting to listen, especially looking into an election year. You're going to see podcasts becoming more homogenous in that they will mirror the true population in America.

MDN: What about the format do you think is so attractive to listeners?

Smith: It's like sitting in the living room with your best friends talking.

People who really love podcasts and video podcasts consider hosts as being in their inner circle. They want to hear what they have to say and consider it part of their day-to-day.

MDN: Does this added level of authenticity ever create issues for brands?

Smith: Unlike some areas of social media, where every other post is a paid post, podcast hosts will openly reject a product because they don’t actually use it. They’ll tell us if they’re not interested in a brand, and reflect on how it might make their audience feel to hear an ad from them.

It’s always a tough conversation to have with clients, but they ultimately end up happy because they only want to work with hosts that also love their product and are going to give a really authentic endorsement.

MDN: Why might listeners pay more attention to podcast ads? 

Smith: I think it's just a matter of trust. Unlike reality TV shows, nobody really “hate-listens” to podcasts. They’re listening because they want to hear what someone has to say. 

A lot of brands tell us they don’t want to show up in a controversial show or episode, but we remind them that if a listener is willing to spend an hour with a controversial host, they probably want to listen to what they’re saying. 

MDN: Which types of podcast ads perform best?

Smith: We think endorsements are the most authentic way to do it. We want the host to talk about the product in a personal way.

But some hosts might have other video deals and movie deals and things like that. Maybe they can't endorse a product, but they can still do a read for it.

We will typically run that ad in areas outside of the podcast as well. 

MDN: What factors make for an effective audio ad?

Smith: It depends. One factor is how “sticky” the ad is. Do you remember it? Did it bring joy or resonance to your life?

And then there’s how well it performed. Did the brand shift the consumer’s perception? What did the sales look like on the website involving the host’s promo code?

MDN: Why do you suggest programmatic advertising to brands jumping into podcasts?

Smith: Programmatic is a great complement to host endorsement. I don't think programmatic will ever replace host endorsement completely, but what we find is that sometimes brands have a very niche product or offering.

If only 1% of the people listening might care about that product, it can be scary for brands that have different-size budgets, especially on a popular podcast.

With the right creative, inventory and data signals, programmatic allows us to know if podcasting will be an effective channel for our client. 

MDN: How so?

Smith: We’re able to look at target audiences, what they’re listening to and what we think will be successful, and then experiment with those factors. 

It allows us to set criteria to learn about what's going to work and what won’t work as a revenue vehicle before brands start spending millions of dollars in podcasting with host endorsement.

MDN: How do you expect podcasting to evolve in the near future?

Smith: I think we're going to see more involvement with things like wearables, smart speakers, and then more 360 opportunities.

People don't just engage with these hosts on their podcasts. Hosts are doing national tours and other brand deals. 

What makes this channel so special is the hosts, and the loyalty to the hosts. It just happens to be an audio-video format on which we've discovered them.

Next story loading loading..