Cannes Lions | Article
Will Brands Ruin Podcasts?

It’s no secret that podcasting changed in 2014. On October 3rd, Sarah Koenig released the first episode of ‘Serial’, and in just one year, the show was downloaded 90 million times as Koenig enchanted audiences with her flawless storytelling and perfectly-curated soundtrack.

There was another significant, often overlooked change which took place a few weeks before though – on September 17th, the Apple iOS 8 release introduced the native podcasting app. Instead of there being a long drawn out process of finding, downloading and listening to a podcast, it was now so easy, and brand new listeners were flocking to podcasts as a new form of entertainment.


Podcasting has been around since the early 2000s, but in the last 2 years, there has been a noticeable growth in listeners all around the world. Despite this, there are still large swathes of people who have yet to come across the medium at all – only a third of the US audience have ever listened to a podcast.

But I’d argue that this lack of full penetration is one of the reasons people love podcasts so much – they don’t quite feel like they’ve been infiltrated yet. Some of the biggest shows are still lacking in sponsors as, unlike other forms of growing (social) media, brands in general haven’t quite been fully convinced by the benefits of coughing up the cash due to the difficulties in proving audience numbers and demographics.

So podcasts feel a little bit purer.


Today at Cannes Lions, podcast network PodcastOne CEO Norm Pattiz took to the Entertainment Lions stage to talk about the opportunity for brands and advertisers in podcasting. He spoke about how the quality of the audiences is that much higher due to the personal nature of solo listening, and the trust in the hosts and guests. Podcasting is basically radio on demand – and in our world of immediacy and choice, podcasting’s simplicity has won over the much sought after young metropolitan consumer.

Advertising is weaved into podcasts in 2 ways: either by the host ‘recommending’ a product or service as part of the show; or through pre-, mid- or post-rolls – but crucially with the host pointing out to the listeners that the sponsors are the ones who bring them the well-put-together content for free. PodcastOne only runs about 4 ads an hour, as opposed to broadcast radio which averages about 16. Adding in to the mix the nature of the trusting relationship between the audience and the host, PodcastOne has found that the ads are super effective due their humbler execution and frequency.

My question therefore is this: if advertising becomes more of a staple in podcasting – if brands jump on the bandwagon and begin treating podcasting like their other media channels (with automation, personalisation and sheer volume) – will the advertising be as effective?

Won’t consumers be put off by the blatant ‘buying’ of opinion and recommendation? Will the trust in the hosts start to dwindle? Will we all be downloading ad-blockers for podcasts? (This is a more complex question as right now podcasts are just MP3 files – they are not modular pieces of content, with sponsored sections tagged as ads – but that’s another story.) Will it start to stunt the recent growth of my beloved world of podcasts?

And crucially – is it worth the risk to find out?

Gemma Milne is co-founder of the Science Disrupt podcast.

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