Pair Eyewear, a direct-to-consumer brand that sells customisable eyewear, has an unusual requirement before it will advertise on a podcast: the host must wear glasses.
“We want to make sure it’s a cohesive story, and one that really speaks to the host, so they can convey that to their listeners,” explained Grant Goldman, the brand’s head of growth.
This is Pair’s second attempt at podcast advertising, after a brief experiment in 2019. At that time, the ads showed “promising results,” but the payoff wasn’t big enough for the effort required, Goldman said. Now, the changing advertising landscape makes the medium a more appealing option.
“If you’re scrolling on Instagram, you’re going to see a dozen ads in a matter of a couple of minutes at least,” said Goldman. “Whereas podcasts, you can really own the share of voice not just within a show, but across multiple shows or multiple episodes in one show.”
Spending on digital audio advertising, which includes podcasts, music streaming and radio, grew by 58 percent last year, faster than any other category, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PWC. Even so, at $4.9 billion, audio ads remain a tiny share of the overall digital market, which totalled $189 billion in 2021.
While certain industries have tapped the power of advertising on podcasts — mattresses, technological services and meal kit companies, to name a few — fashion, which tends to favour more visual mediums, has been a bit slower to the uptake. While some direct-to-consumer brands, including ThirdLove and Rothy’s, have made heavy use of audio ads, none of the top 15 podcast advertisers is a fashion or beauty company, according to eMarketer.
That may be changing; Lisa Ryan Howard, global head of advertising at the New York Times, said they’ve inked podcast advertising partnerships with brands like Tiffany and Cartier in recent months.
Social media ads are more expensive and privacy regulations have made targeting consumers on these platforms trickier. Fashion and beauty companies that advertise on podcasts say they offer unique benefits: a vocal (literally) supporter in the form of a host, an opportunity to go into detail with consumers and reach a highly targeted audience.
“This channel drives really high-quality customers to our brand,” said Maddie Savant, director of growth and partnership marketing at vitamin and supplement brand Ritual, which has been advertising on podcasts for four years and counts the medium as a major channel in its media mix. “Someone that’s willing to listen to an entire podcast episode, hear an advertisement, and then seek that product out online and purchase tends to be an extremely dedicated customer.”
It’s All About the Host
Some podcast ads resemble traditional radio spots, with marketing copy read by actors, an approach still often preferred by luxury brands that want to carefully control their messaging.
But many brands, especially newer, direct-to-consumer fashion labels, prefer for the host to create their own script, offering a more personalised endorsement – an Instagram sponsored post read out loud.
“Podcasts have that direct one to one connection,” said Bess Browning, media director at digital media agency EchoPoint Media. “It’s you and the sound, which creates a stronger connection than some other passive mediums.”
That’s why Pair works with bespectacled hosts, and other brands seek out talent who come across as a natural fit for their products. The size of their audience can be of secondary importance: a host with a massive fan base can get the word out about a product, but one with a niche but highly engaged following might generate more sales per listener.
One advantage of pre-produced spots is that they can be placed through programmatic advertising, which automates the placement process and allows brands to target more specific groups within a podcast’s audience, such as targeting by household income or interest in fashion and beauty, which will “eliminate some of that waste,” said Browning.
Colleen Conkling, ThirdLove’s vice president of brand marketing and communications, also recommends finding promising shows that are a bit more under the radar as well, which allows for a deeper relationship with the host.
“We found over time, as we invested in these shows, it was about building your brand alongside these hosts and their shows, especially as they became more popular,” she said. “It’s gone from being a pure performance play to being a place where we have high profile celebrities and public figures become brand advocates.”
Podcasts also allow brands to meet their fans in unexpected places. Ritual advertises on health and wellness podcasts, but also on true crime and comedy shows, which are popular with Millennial women. On interview-driven shows, brands can also negotiate a guest spot for their founder, providing an even larger platform to discuss its history, product and more, said Scout Sobel, chief executive of Scout’s Agency, a public relations firm specialising in podcasts.
Navigating the Space
Podcast advertising has its challenges. Podcast download data is scarce, and it’s a heavier lift for a consumer to go to a brand’s website on their own after hearing about it on a podcast versus just clicking a link on Instagram. As well, even though some podcasts have a video component, ads have to be able to stand on their own without visuals. That means fashion brands have to showcase the brand without displaying products, such as discussing a brand’s history or other different differentiating factors, like a sustainability initiative.
“It’s all about the human story,” said Sobel. “So it’s not necessarily about the product all of the time, but it’s a lot more about what inspired you to create this line in the first place.”
Despite these hurdles, the potential for a deep connection with a consumer is worth it, said Heather Osgood, co-founder of podcast ad agency True Native Media, adding that brands shouldn’t evaluate the success of their podcast ads by conversion alone.
“Even the association with the correct kind of content can be good,” she said. “What you’re trying to do from a brand perspective is say ‘Hey consumer, we know you, we get you, we know that you’re listening to this podcast for a reason, and we are showing … that we’re a brand who would support the content that you like.”