Podcasts are testing out-of-home ads to reach broader audiences

In a sure sign of the mainstreaming of podcasts, outdoor ads for podcasts are cropping up everywhere, from Atlanta bus stops to Times Square billboards.
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Amazon Music

· 5 min read

It’s no secret that podcasts have been taking up more real estate in the ears of Americans, with the market expected to reach more than $4 billion in ad revenue by 2024, per IAB estimates.

Now, podcasts are taking up billboard real estate, too, as networks put some of that revenue toward out-of-home ad campaigns.

“We’re doing traditional PR, we’re doing grassroots pushing, we’re doing social media pushing,” said Danielle Kramer, COO of Exactly Right Media, the network behind hit true-crime podcast My Favorite Murder. “Adding that billboard is a cherry on top to help with the awareness play.”

The strategy has its challenges: It’s difficult to measure conversions and more expensive than average audio campaigns, podcast marketers told Marketing Brew. Nevertheless, some major podcast networks are excited about the format as a way to reach beyond typical podcast listeners.

Taking the plunge

Tenderfoot TV first promoted its show Atlanta Monster via billboard as early as 2018, according to co-founder and president Donald Albright. The next year, it ran a campaign with three billboards for different shows in Times Square. By 2020, Tenderfoot was on the Nasdaq tower billboard.

For other podcast companies, OOH is a new frontier. Slate debuted its first OOH campaign for a podcast this summer, putting up billboards for its new season of Slow Burn, focused on Roe v. Wade, in seven states “that currently have some of the strictest abortion laws” in the country the same week the Supreme Court ruled on Dobbs.

Podcasts are typically promoted on other podcasts, where advertisers have the assurance that they’re reaching people who are already fans of the medium. So why advertise in front of such a broad audience that very likely includes people who’ve never listened to a podcast?

For Atlanta Monster, Albright said Tenderfoot was looking to reach an older audience it was betting would also be interested in the story of the Atlanta child murders, which took place in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

“It was really about making sure that people who experienced and lived in that time knew that there was something happening surrounding the story again,” Albright explained. “The target podcast listener for us was probably more of a millennial true-crime fan, but the people who lived through it were older and probably weren’t listening to podcasts.”

Age and location were both key to Slate’s decision, too.

The latest season of Slow Burn hinges on interviews with activists on both sides of the abortion debate, many of whom were alive in the early ’70s, when Roe was decided. Host and executive editor Susan Matthews said Slate wanted to make sure the show was “accessible” to that demographic.

Once the company decided to dedicate its marketing efforts toward amplifying the story of Shirley Wheeler, who was arrested after she had an illegal abortion in Florida in 1970, it also made sense to put the campaign in front of people in states with trigger laws “where it feels like basically immediately women could be prosecuted for getting an abortion,” Matthews said.

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“I feel really excited about the prospect of people living within these states coming into contact with our storytelling and hopefully getting something out of it,” she said.

The billboards were up for a month, according to Slate Director of Media Relations Katie Rayford, and saw an estimated 1.5 million impressions every week.

Murky measurement

Wonder Media Network has dabbled in billboard campaigns before, said marketing manager Michele Dale, but decided to try its first major OOH campaign this spring for true-crime show I Was Never There.

The OOH element, part of a broader campaign, consisted of branded trucks, bus-stop ads, and taxi ads around Manhattan. All in all, the campaign saw about 3 million impressions in three weeks, according to Dale, contributing to more than 200,000 downloads for the pod in its first six weeks.

Dale said OOH is useful for brand awareness and “to make a splash,” but that she wouldn’t run an OOH campaign on its own, in part because of “the kind of immeasurable aspect” when it comes to targeting. Still, the push seems to be working.

“Compared to our other show launches, and just what we’ve heard from people telling us, the number of downloads that we received while we were running these advertisements far outpaced downloads in the first two weeks of show launches when we haven’t done any of this,” she said.

Exactly Right also treats its OOH ads as part of larger campaigns for shows like Adulting with Michelle Buteau and Jordan Carlos, according to Kramer, an additional option, she said, made possible through its distribution deal with Wondery/Amazon Music.

“I think we’ll have a better understanding of the actual data and how it’s driving listenership as we get further into this, but for now, it’s just a part of a bigger promotional package,” Kramer said.

Tenderfoot measures its OOH campaigns with somewhat nontraditional metrics like positive feedback, Albright said. If someone tells him they saw a Tenderfoot billboard, he’ll consider the campaign worthwhile.

To get some added value, Tenderfoot also takes pictures and videos of these campaigns for social media.

“You may have never seen the billboard in Times Square, but you saw it when we posted it on our Instagram, on our Facebook, and our Twitter,” Albright said. “It just makes everything seem bigger and pushes the industry and the medium forward.”

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