AfterPod — Host-read Ads

The buzz in podcast advertising is the evident strength of host-read advertisements. Advertisers seem to agree on the potential additional return of having the podcast host read their ads to the audience.

More Effective

Advertisers are always concerned about the effectiveness of their ads. In the past, podcasting was a niche medium and, though growing rapidly, still has not slipped into the mainstream of commerce. While some podcasts have gained traditional types of advertisers, most “outside advertising” has been direct response.

The ads on many podcasts are simply the podcaster/host promoting their own products or services. Historically, this is probably the largest revenue path for most podcasters.

For years, the primary type of “paid advertising” consisted of direct response spots. These require the consumer to enter a CODE to receive a discount or some special bonus on their purchase. It is an action incentive.

The beauty of direct response advertising is the ease of tracking… money spent on ads can be correlated directly to sales generated. You know how we’ve been hearing many of the same ads on podcasts for the past many years?

  • Audible
  • Mailchimp
  • 99 Designs
  • Stamps.com

The list goes on and you’ve heard most all of them.

In hindsight, it seems a few companies took a chance on the podcast space and it paid off. They became regular advertisers across the podcasting spectrum, not just on one or two hit shows. Why would these companies continue advertising on podcasts for YEARS? Obviously, those promo codes tell them it is a good investment… they make a good return on their ad money spent.

Podcast advertising works.
I believe the reason big brand advertisers are practically forcing the podcast industry to implement consistent audience analytics is they WANT to advertise broadly on podcasts but buying placement is unwieldly on a national scale, as is handling direct response codes.

Listening to a podcast establishes a closer relationship to the hosts, one or more primary voices on any given show talking in a manner that, somehow, INCLUDES us. We become part of the “show family” and we can feel it in the way we are spoken to during the course of the podcast.

Like with music, when we allow habitual sounds into our ear portals, the audio has a way of quickly transporting us to a different mental space.

Potential Risk

Though it is an on-demand medium and does not carry the greater risk of live broadcasting, host-read ads in podcasts can be dangerous. If a host goes off-script, has a slip of the tongue, or simply places the emphasis on the wrong word in a piece of poorly written ad copy, the outcome could be like stepping on a land mine (for everyone involved).

Many hosts also see potential trust issues with their audience if they allow their advertising to become almost indistinguishable from the actual content. Some want to create distance between themselves and the advertiser.

A few programs, mostly from the public radio side of the podcasting house, tend to favor running a music/sound loop in the background to signal to the listener that an ad is playing rather than regular content.

WHY More Effective?

So, host-read ads are stronger but the question remains… WHY are they more powerful?

At core, it IS the connection. Some of it is physical, as in earbuds or headphones physically placed in or on our ears. Most of the connection is audible. When we listen to a show, it takes on a cadence… a rhythm. Beneath many other things, that is a fundamental part of what we like. The comfortable feeling we seek…

…and get… via our ears.

People are visual, to be sure, but that came later. While seeing and hearing are roughly equivalent perspectives of our lives on this Earth, humans first developed language that could be heard… later, written word to be seen.

We don’t hear with the depth of dogs or see with the clarity of eagles, but do well enough at both to compete with each due to our brains. And our brains HEARD before they SAW.

A series of sounds and silences, aspects of the outside world that reach our very core.

In a relationship that begins before birth, humans are primarily audible creatures.

Podcasts — spoken-word audio beats — have patterns as much as any music. When we adopt a habit, that particular engagement grows familiar. Oddly, the content itself doesn’t always have to be enjoyable, yet doing it becomes a regular pattern in our lives.

As we listen to a good podcast, we are mostly on a verbal ride. Like listening to a favorite — very long — song, the flow of the show and sounds of its players become rhythmic. The induced mental state is akin to meditation.

Don’t Interrupt the Flow

So, why are host-read ads more appealing to listeners?

They don’t break the flow.

Seems simple, huh?

Want to destroy the flow?
Move from 14 minutes of steady two-sided intelligent conversation to one minute of brash, boiled-over, dynamically-inserted brand audio and see JUST how quickly the flow can be broken.

Advice to advertisers: figure out how to fit the flow of the show with your ad fills. If that means more variations of the same basic ad, so be it. It can be the same suit off the rack, just tailor it a tad to make it more interesting. Let’s use that dynamic ad insertion tech for some slight good, OK?

ONLY Host-read Ads!

Our initial impulse would be to declare ONLY host-read advertising as being better for both podcast producer and us, the content consumer.

This might work but doesn’t address the risks of hosts going off-message or trust.

Beyond Host-read — OR — Back to the Future

In the early days of radio and television, shows were often sponsored by a single company. Some such advertisers even had naming rights to the program, like The Bell Telephone Hour. The entire show was, essentially, one big commercial with intermittent long entertainment segments.

Times changed.

Now, it seems, sponsored shows are making a comeback!

CANNED Host-read Ads!

The obvious answer is to have hosts (and other show regulars) pre-record ads for all sponsors. This would eliminate both major problems, right?

The first would be reducing the risk of a host “going rogue” on a sponsor. If read by the host or a regular show “voice”, such a pre-recorded ad should blend in perfectly with the program… and it MIGHT.

Or, it might NOT.

Some podcasts are produced with the precision approaching that of any television or radio broadcast. Such shows would undoubtedly have “an ear” for the right sound for their sponsors AND would determine the optimum points in the show to insert them. This takes time and effort.

Other podcasts, while businesslike and professional in every other way, are run more like improvisation comedy troupes when creating their show… often with no scripts, no agenda, no post-production or editing. Each and every show is a unique entity, a special bonus album. Inserted audio obviously stands out.

The Problem?

Canned reads get boring… just like most ads get boring.

Even with our favorite host or program.

At odds are two conflicting concepts. Marketing strives for repetition as that is what it takes to penetrate our mushy little brains. On average, a message must be heard SIX TIMES before we actually “hear” it. At the same time, most listeners tune in for NEW CONTENT and, while advertising spots are only periodic interruptions, they can become tiresome rather quickly when you hear the exact same one multiple times in the same show… or across multiple shows.

Like on TV.

Host-read ad spots are likely to remain the top price-point for podcasts, much like celebrity endorsements are in all media. An audience will always prefer “live reads” since it is the closest thing to the actual content we tune in for… and may spur fun as the speaker flubs a line or whatever. The potential for spontaneity is exciting.

Whether live or pre-recorded, however, all podcasters should be wary of over-saturating their audience with THEIR OWN boring ad drone.


Are you new to this series examining web media and podcast consumption?

You may want to read the first article, which establishes much of the foundation for these views, or the second one that begins to forth our intent to purposefully (and positively) modify podcast consumption behavior.

The last article was about the diverse participation in podcasting. The next is about the word “podcast”.

Thank you for the time spent reading and thinking about my writing. Also, if you are interested in my web media development project, let’s talk!

Rick