The Download on Podcast Sponsorship
Earlier this week, President Barack Obama sat down with comedian Marc Maron for an hour-long conversation in Maron’s garage. The conversation was recorded for Maron’s popular podcast, “WTF with Marc Maron”, where he conducts long-form interviews with personalities. Obama’s participation in a podcast signals the growing legitimacy of podcasting as a mainstream medium. And if it is good enough for the Commander-in-Chief, it is good enough for corporate sponsors. Brands have begun to recognize the potential of forming targeted and effective partnerships with podcasts that matter to their consumers. Podcasts are on demand audio programming listened through a mobile device or computer. Programming topics can range anywhere from broad topics like politics and sports to niche topics like gardening.
Podcasting is consistent with the shift in media consumption habits to a more on-demand approach. Much like how Netflix and PVR’s have replaced the need for scheduled viewing, podcasting is doing the same for radio. Despite being around for over ten years now, podcasting is still an emerging platform. In 2014 Edison Research discovered that 15% (39 million) of Americans have listened to a podcast in the previous month.
Why Podcast Sponsorship?
1. Target A Coveted Demographic: While still niche, podcasting offers an opportunity to capture a younger demographic, which is traditionally harder to reach. Podcast listeners skew younger as 67% are 18-34 which is significantly higher than traditional radio where 30.2% fall into the 18-34 demographic. Podcast listeners also tend to have some form of higher education; 58% of listeners hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. Big name brands like HBO and Heineken have taken note of this opportunity and have used podcasts as a form of sponsorship.
2. Reach Consumers On-the-Go: Given the dominance of the mobile phone in modern society, consumers spend more than ever before consuming content on-the-go. Podcasting creates a platform to connect with a consumer that transcends location (at-home, out of home, while commuting, etc.)
3. Complement Existing Portfolio: Brands can leverage the sponsorship of podcast that produces content in an area that is aligned to their existing portfolio. Whether your brand is heavily invested in sport, technology, or arts & culture, there are a wide variety of podcasts that can be used to amplify a brand’s activity.
MKTG has leveraged Google Consumer Survey to determine Canadian’s podcast listening habits. Approximately 500 Canadians were asked the following question:
How often do you listen to Podcasts?
Research indicates that podcasts are a niche market in Canada with 16% listening to podcasts daily or weekly. Of the high frequency listeners (at least once a week) 66% fall into the 18-34 category.
Case Studies - Sponsors of Podcasts
Podcasts have recognized their potential as a sponsorable property and companies like Midroll now specialize in selling podcast sponsorship. With that in mind MKTG studied three top podcasts and their sponsorship activity.
Serial (October-December 2014) – National Public Radio (NPR) released a 12-part series focused on the true crime story of a high school student accused of murder. Serial was a major hit. It was the fastest podcast to achieve 5 million downloads and the entire series received 40 million downloads overall. Email marketing service, MailChimp, sponsored the podcast and had an audio spot play during each episode. MailChimp’s key demographic is the young, tech-savvy professional – a natural fit with such a notable podcast. Thanks to a mispronunciation of the company name as “Mail Kimp” during the audio spot, MailChimp’s podcast sponsorship went viral. It became a frequent joke amongst Serial listeners with the hashtag #MailKimp used thousands of times online. Mail Chimp’s marketing director said their goal with that ad was not to increase sign ups but to increase brand recognition. He stated that with the online talk, they deemed the sponsorship a success and would continue their partnership when Serial releases its second season.
The BS Report with Bill Simmons (May 2007- May 2015) - Popular sports writer Bill Simmons hosted his own podcast for ESPN since 2007. It was frequently ranked as the top sports podcast and averaged 600,000 downloads per episode. Subway was a presenting sponsor of the podcast with notable asserts included logo exposure appearing in the podcast’s artwork and a 15 second audio spot that aired at the beginning and end of the show. Subway leverages many athlete endorsements to position themselves as a healthy and fresh meal choice. The brand’s usage of multiple athlete endorsers keeps them relevant with passionate sports fans in their 18-30 male target demographic – the same demographic that Simmons’ content resonates with.
The Tim Ferriss Show (April 2014-Present) - Tim Ferriss is a noted entrepreneur and New York Times bestselling author who hosts his own podcast. Ferriss interviews top performers from different fields (business, science, fitness, music, etc.) in search of best practices that listeners can apply to their own personal life and career. Ferriss is based in Silicon Valley and is closely linked with the world of tech-start-ups. With such an entrepreneurial and business focus, Ferriss has attracted Legal Zoom and 99 Designs as sponsors of his podcast. Legal Zoom provides solutions to people looking to incorporate their business and 99 Designs uses an online pool of graphic designers to help business looking for graphic design solutions. With both of these sponsors offering help to small businesses and Tim Ferriss appealing to the entrepreneur, they find a strong strategic alignment.
Risks & Considerations:
In order to drive value from podcast sponsorships, brands must be conscious of key considerations and challenges that the medium presents:
Restricted to an Audio Platform: Most brand integrations into podcasts do not go beyond the reading of a 15-30 audio commercial by the host. This provides little opportunity to bring a brand to life. Brands who extend the life of their sponsorship by offering exclusive discounts or extra content to listeners can breakthrough.
Limited Metrics Available: At the moment the success of a podcast can only be determined through the amount of downloads it has received. This can be a misleading stat as it will not tell you the amount of listens a podcast has received. It is possible to download a podcast and have it remain on your mobile device without ever finding the time to listen to it.
Public Radio vs Corporate Sponsors: A large amount of popular podcasts are produced by public radio (6 of the top 10 podcasts on Canadian iTunes are public radio podcasts). Public radio relies heavily on listener donations as well as corporate sponsorship. Much like municipal sponsorship, this creates a delicate relationship. Many people think that private influence can affect the unbiased reporting that is supposed to be found on public radio.
With the general population carrying their phones with them wherever they go, podcasting provides an opportunity to always be present. As the entertainment on-demand trend continues, look for brands to use podcasting as a way to find their way into your ears.