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Best Practices: and other foods for thought

· By , from his I Hear Things newsletter · 4.2 minutes to read

In the very first issue of my newsletter, I talked about Joe Rogan moving to Spotify and speculated on what that could mean for podcast advertising:

With Rogan available only on Spotify, he (and PMM, which reps Rogan) are going to be able to give advertisers one simple report with listens (or at least streams, which surely is a closer proxy to a listen than a download is) plus data on who listened, and the ability to target specific listeners with differential advertising. So, if you are a major brand, you are getting the kind of data, targeting, and attribution that podcasting to date has not been able to match. When advertisers see that data, they are not then going to “unwant” it when they advertise on podcasts.

Well, be careful what you wish for. Omnicom has agreed to buy $20 million worth of ads on Spotify in the next six months in an actual, honest-to-goodness “upfront” buy. I’ve been traipsing around the country for the past few years presenting data at a variety of Podfront/Newfront/FrontTowardsEnemy events designed to do just that—entice buyers into advance commitments—and the Omnicom deal is another sign that our little pod is growing up. It’s also a sign, as I noted in my quote above, that brand dollars flock to safety, and Spotify’s rich data and targeting capabilities do indeed tick many of the “don’t lose your job” boxes for media buyers.

Here’s the part from the Omnicom story that has me thinking: “The deal also includes the development of joint research and best practices around podcast ad targeting, performance reporting, and measurement solutions.” The “research” piece obviously made me perk up—on any given day I’m working on 2-3 podcast brand lift studies—but the “best practices” part of this is something I haven’t seen anyone in the space comment on yet. But it’s a conversation more of us need to have, because Spotify and Omnicom are having it, like it or not.

First of all, there are “best practices,” and there are Best Practices™. Here’s the truth about podcast ads: you can have live host reads, dynamically-inserted host reads, pre-produced radio spots, and underwriting mentions, and, it turns out, they all work. You might not like that produced insurance company spot, and you might prefer instead to have your favorite host talk about umbrella coverage, but that doesn’t mean pre-produced spots don’t work. They do!

They just don’t work as well as live host reads, and we do have a lot of data on that. Best Practices™ might be :30 units spaced out every 15 minutes in pods of 2-4. But “best practices” are pretty much anything Joe Rogan has to say for 4 minutes about a CBD brand, or Neil Strauss making me feel all creeped out and murdery on To Live and Die in LA and then telling me about SimpliSafe (PROTECT ME NEIL STRAUSS!!!) I’m always reminded in conversations like this about how brilliant Howard Stern and Don Imus both were at live reads on their syndicated radio shows. Imus, a noted recovering alcoholic, used to do live reads for Buckler Non-Alcoholic Beer that ended “Buckler—B U C K L E R. You’ll pee just as much, but not in a phone booth.” Brand safety? Maybe not. Brand awesome? You bet.

Anyway, I don’t have any issue with Spotify and Omnicom collaborating on best practices. Ultimately they are doing it because a) they can, and b) more importantly, they have to. Nature abhors a vacuum, and one thing the podcasting industry lacks that the radio industry, for example, has is a body that is invested in the success of the entire medium (the RAB) that serves as a clearinghouse for all of the great research extant on the efficacy of radio advertising, benchmarks, and yes, best practices. You might argue that this is the role of the IAB, but is it? Yes, they have published a measurement specification that has been widely adopted by the industry, but the IAB has to serve many masters, and for people used to parsing the census-level data you get from online display advertising, podcasting is always going to come up short. Audio is its own dog, after all. Also, on the surface, the Interactive Advertising Bureau isn’t the most natural organization to serve as the clearinghouse for all things ad-related when it comes to podcasts. There is nothing “interactive” about a podcast. The most awesome ads you have ever heard can’t be clicked, and they aren’t tailored to customer data. The most effective form of podcast advertising is the transmission of passion for a brand from a trusted host. And you can’t set a cookie for that.

All of this is to say, however, that there actually ARE a lot of great data on the efficacy of podcast advertising. I know we have cranked out over a hundred custom brand lift studies, and we aren’t the only ones. Plus, the leading performance marketing/direct response agencies are sitting on tons of data about just how effective DR is by category. Most of that data is viewed as trade secrets, but at some point, it might be time to get some of that out there. I continue to believe that podcasting needs its own, separate organization to promote its interests and unique benefits to the advertising community, just as The Podcast Academy promotes and celebrates excellence in the craft. We all have a stake in Best Practices™.

(P.S. - Best Practices are what I call Nacho Data. Because, you know, it’s someone else’s.)

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The above is adapted with permission from Tom Webster’s newsletter, I Hear Things. Subscribe here, and get the whole thing, free, every week.

Tom Webster is Senior Vice President at Edison Research, and is co-author of a number of widely cited studies including The Infinite Dial, The Podcast Consumer and The Podcast Consumer Tracker. He lives in Boston MA, USA.

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