Audio to Action: Driving Leads through Podcast Ads

Portrait of Matthew Kammerer
by Matthew Kammerer
Jun 19, 2017
Man wearing headphones.

On a Sunday evening in 1938, families crowded around radios listening to the end of the world. News bulletins narrated an alien invasion that was spreading across the East Coast. People panicked, not realizing that the program was a radio adaptation of the science fiction novel, The War of the Worlds.

Years later, a crime thriller united a new generation around audio. Serial investigated the murder of a teenage girl and the role of her ex-boyfriend in the crime. The whodunnit podcast explored whether the boyfriend could have been guilty by cracking open decades-old evidence and witness accounts.

The War of the Worlds and Serial both show how audio captivates listeners with nothing but sound. Audio's intimate nature has contributed to a boom of podcasts catering to every interest under the sun.

Marketers can leverage this trend by sponsoring high-quality audio storytelling and content designed specifically for their target audiences.

The podcast advertising opportunity

Podcasts were a niche format only a short time ago but are growing in popularity every year. Consider these stats from Edison Research:

  • 51% of the U.S. population reported listening to a podcast in 2019
  • 32% of Americans listen to a podcast on a monthly basis
  • On average, people listen to seven podcasts each week

The growing appetite for high-quality audio content has driven publishers and everyday people to produce podcasts on anything and everything. Most podcasts rely on sponsorship revenue, giving marketers a huge opportunity to support content that consumers engage with consistently.

Sponsored messages on podcasts don’t follow radio’s example of blaring, repetitive ad spots. Instead, podcasts opt for native advertising formats that offer a seamless transition from the show’s content to ads. Most of the time, these ads are host-read, allowing advertisers to borrow credibility from the show's voice and avoid intruding on other content.

Podcast ads are relatively new, but they've more than proven how valuable they can be for marketers. Case in point—  this survey found that 60% of podcast listeners bought a product after hearing a podcast ad.

If you were looking for a sign to test podcast ads, that was it.

Podcast ads that drive action

Podcast advertising requires engaging storytelling, a deep understanding of the target audience, and familiarity with the podcast the ad will appear on.

Below are five best practices to help marketers write podcast ads that drive leads and produce results with only audio as a tool.

Write for the host

Host-read spots give marketers a huge advantage in connecting with audiences. It's like having a friend recommend a product to their other friends. Ad copy should feel like a seamless extension of the show to achieve this friend-like tone.

After hours of listening to someone, people get a solid understanding of how a person speaks through their vocabulary, sentence structure, and tone. Writing ads that cater to how a host naturally speaks is key to success in podcast advertising, says Mike Smith, Head of Growth at Rollbar.

Like any other type of advertising, providing a great user experience naturally leads to stronger results,” said Smith. “For podcasts, that means crafting sponsored messages that flow with how the host delivers the podcast.

It’s even more valuable if the host has experience using Rollbar and can offer suggestions on how to pitch the product to their audience. Some of our best sponsored messages have come from working with hosts who know how audiences will benefit from Rollbar because they use the product themselves.

To write ads that feel like a seamless extension of the show, marketers should listen to how a host speaks. Note any slang they use, what they find funny, and how they banter with other people on the show. Ads that mimic these characteristics will feel more genuine by blending in with and entertaining audiences like other content on the podcast.

Don’t be too commercial

Podcasts mostly feature native advertising, meaning sponsored ads blend in with other content for a seamless listening experience. This means marketers should write podcast ads with more conversational, muted messaging compared to other placements.

Production teams regularly vet host-read ads to make they don’t sound like the host is blindly endorsing products. Marketers can write ads that don’t force opinions on behalf of the host, or they can offer access to the product before the ad runs so hosts can experience it firsthand. If the host is a fan, chances are they’ll be more willing to read an ad that praises a product.

Unlike radio commercials, podcast ads don’t always have a required duration. Despite this, marketers should be mindful of listeners and only write what’s needed to get a message across.

Tell a story

At their core, podcasts are just a collection of stories. Podcast ads should be inspired by this platform by intriguing listeners with stories instead of hard sells. Listeners are more likely to repeat, remember, and relate to stories over sales pitches, making ads much more effective.

Studies show that our brains react the same to great stories regardless of whether they’re audio, video, or text. However, some audio formats are more effective than others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, research shows that dialogue resonates more with people than voice of God narration.

Instead of writing a sales pitch for the host to read, think of a way to create rich visuals in listeners’ minds through conversation and storytelling. For example, a host could flat-out tell people that a meal kit delivery service is convenient for young professionals. Or, the host could engage listeners with a story about the perfect Sunday—eating eggs benedict, driving with the windows down, catching up on Game of Thrones—and pointing out that it doesn’t include meal planning and grocery shopping.

Marketers looking for inspiration should check out ads in Marketing Over Coffee, which does a great job of incorporating its hosts’ personalities and banter in sponsored content.

Explain value in simple terms

People don’t remember everything they hear, and audiences tend to be multitasking while listening to podcasts. Marketers need to make sure podcast ads are memorable and easy to remember later on when someone is ready to purchase or learn more.

The best podcast ads are short and to the point. This way, the core message is obvious and easy to remember. Marketers should tell targeted customers exactly what a product will do for them by focusing on one or two benefits instead of features. In-depth information can be saved for a landing page or another next step.

Marketers can also increase ad retention by sponsoring a podcast over the long term instead of running ads now and then. The more regularly people hear a message, the more likely it is to stick. However, it’s important to change ads up over time to make sure listeners aren’t annoyed by repetitive content.

Tell them what to do next

After explaining value simply, marketers need to tell people what to do next. This should be easy to remember as people aren't likely to visit websites or make purchases while listening to podcasts.

The most effective ads will offer a special incentive for signing up through the podcast and lead people to a special URL to track conversions. This usually looks like

Setting up a special landing page provides marketers with more insight into the effectiveness of podcast ads, which offer scarce metrics. However, this number could be lower than it should be if customers sign up through the homepage or another path after hearing the ad.

Marketers should end podcast ads with the special URL and maybe repeat it twice to make sure people remember it. Most podcasts will also add this URL and a short description to the show notes and website.

Podcast ads in five steps

Podcasts have seen a renaissance in the past few years, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down. Marketers can reach targeted audiences through this intimate platform by sponsoring shows that specifically cater to future customers.

Effective podcast ads are a natural extension of the host, have muted messaging, tell a story, are easy to remember, and make next steps clear. With these best practices in mind, marketers will be able to write amazing podcast ads that resonate with audiences and drive results.

Ready to reach your targeted audience with podcast ads? Learn more about our podcast campaigns.