Data suggests brand-awareness ads could be getting more popular in podcasting, but direct response still dominates

Podscribe sheds some light on the divide.
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Francis Scialabba

· 5 min read

Regular podcast listeners are likely all too familiar with hosts encouraging them to use a code or visit a site to purchase something from a sponsor.

Direct-response campaigns relying on vanity URLs and the like are certainly popular in podcasting, but listeners will also find brand-awareness campaigns, especially from brands with big budgets around this time of year.

Podcast campaigns have skewed just slightly toward DR for the past few years: 52% of podcast ads were DR last year, while 46% were classified as brand awareness, according to IAB data.

DR ads still dominate podcasting by a big margin, at least among a few hundred of the brands that run the most podcast ads, according to new data from podcast ad verification and attribution platform Podscribe. But there are indications that brand-awareness campaigns are becoming more prominent.

Brand awareness may be having a moment

Among the advertisers Podscribe tracks that ran the largest number of ads, about 17% have run brand-awareness ads over the past year, according to Amelia Coomber, Podscribe’s head of growth and product. Over the same time period in 2021, that number was lower, at about 12%.

Additionally, the biggest podcast ad spenders are currently skewing toward brand campaigns: Of the top 50 podcast advertisers Podscribe tracks based on amount spent (as opposed to number of ads found), 62% have run brand-awareness campaigns in the past six months, per Coomber.

Jacob Schwartz, associate media director for national audio investments at Mediahub, whose work is focused entirely on brand-awareness campaigns, said a shift from DR is “the natural progression of media.” DR advertisers are generally the first to test new mediums, he explained, and after they’ve demonstrated success, brand advertisers often start to follow.

With podcast ad revenue on track to pass the $4 billion mark in the US by 2024, “that demand has to come from somewhere,” Schwartz said. “I think the logical assumption is that it’s going to be from branding.”

In addition to that “natural” shift, there might be another reason brand campaigns seem ascendant among big spenders at the moment.

“The last five months and up to the end of the year are the times for these brand-awareness companies to dump budgets,” Coomber said. “They don’t want a surplus, they need to spread their marketing budgets, so I think just based on Q3 and Q4, that might seem a little bit increased in terms of brand-awareness skew versus DR.”

Plus, when analyzing advertisers based on amount spent as opposed to number of ads run, “the data may be skewed a bit because these large brand-awareness brands have much larger budgets than the smaller DR brands,” Coomber added in an email.

Some of the categories running brand-awareness campaigns, per Podscribe data, include:

  • Food and beverage
  • Insurance
  • E-commerce
  • Gambling
  • Banking
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Schwartz expects that brands finding success with DR podcast ads will likely continue to increase their spend as well, but podcast ad revenue can grow even more if other kinds of brands feel there’s opportunity for them to test the medium, too.

“The largest advertiser in the country is P&G,” he said. “They’re not a DR advertiser.”

Crooked Media, for instance, has worked with massive advertisers like Disney, AT&T, Bud Light, Verizon, Molson Coors, Pepsi, and NBCU, according to VP of Sales Giancarlo Bizzarro. The network is still “predominantly DR, but [has] seen a bit more brand activity come in” lately, he said.

Krystina Rubino, general manager of the offline growth marketing practice at Right Side Up, said that although large brands have been leaning more into podcast ads in the past year or two, the channel “isn’t yet a proven, evergreen” part of many brand advertisers’ media plans.

Long live DR

While fewer of the brands on Podscribe’s top 50 list based on spend have run DR campaigns in recent months (38%), “we still see direct response as the No. 1 thing that gets brands excited and interested in this space,” said Glenn Rubenstein, founder of podcast ad agency Adopter Media.

Analysis of Podscribe’s top podcast advertisers based on number of ads (not spend) also indicates DR ads have been more common than brand ads in the past year, but by a smaller margin than the year prior: About 83% ran DR ads in the last 12 months, compared to about 88% in 2021.

Some of the categories running DR campaigns, per Podscribe data, include:

  • Food and beverage
  • Health/mental health
  • Mattresses
  • Arts and entertainment
  • Job search

DR campaigns often have the benefit of being easier to track and prove based on results, Rubenstein said. These are the campaigns most associated with URLs, offer codes, and pixel tracking, whereas for brand campaigns, “the key performance indicator is brand satisfaction with the ad,” he said.

If advertisers continue to cut budgets amid a potential recession, brand campaigns in “experimental channels like podcasting will get hit first and hardest,” Rubino said.

“DR advertisers tend to be more resilient in the face of performance scrutiny,” she said. “We’ve seen that hold true with media spend thus far in this cycle, and expect that the investment from growth and customer acquisition-oriented advertisers will continue to provide needed stability for publishers and networks in the medium.”

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