Host-Read Podcast Ads Aren't Always The Right Answer

Everyone agrees that pre-produced, lifted-from-radio ads suck on podcasts, and that host-read ads are the clear winner. But is that true for every podcast? More importantly, is it true for your podcast?

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I hope you won't find this too shocking, but I've an opinion that runs contrary to the best practices of podcast advertising. Specifically, I think we put too much emphasis on the idea that host-read ads are the be-all end-all for podcasting.

Not that I have any doubts about the myriad case studies and the reports that provide ample evidence to the fac that yes, podcasting's host-read ads beat the pants off of just about every other form of audio advertising.

From unaided brand recall to an increase in purchase intent to higher affinities and familiarities—host-read ads are clearly superior to announcer-read ads. At least that's the story we're told. But is it true?

Well, yes, most often, that is true. But it's only true if your podcast (or the podcast you work on) has cultivated an intimate relationship with the listeners of the show.

It's possible that phrase sent you scrambling for a drink if you're playing the "Podcasting Is An Intimate Medium Drinking Game". (The game has one simple rule I'm sure you can figure out on your own.) Or perhaps hearing that phrase set off alarm bells for you because you haven't cultivated said intimate relationship. (Yes, drink again.) And maybe you can't?

This is the part of the episode where I remind you that podcasting more describes the distribution medium we utilize then it describes the content we create.

If you've been reading, listening to, or watching me for a while, this will come as no surprise. But if you're brand new to the show, let me state this clearly; podcasting is not a content format. Podcasts do not, and should not, sound the same. Nor do or should they follow the same content flow.

And it's precisely because of that (and this might also be shocking to you) that not all podcasts have a host who cultivates or earns an intimate relationship with the listeners of that podcast.

Without that intimate relationship (you might, by the way, want to pause the drinking game or you're going to get really drunk even before the sponsor break), host-read ads just don't work as well. Sometimes announcer-read ads actually work better.

Before you brand me as a heretic, let me make my case.

The reason host-read ads work really, really well is not because the host is reading them. And yes, I know that sounds weird. The reason hey work really, really well is because they are being communicated by host that has developed an intimate relationship with the audience. So not just any host! They work for shows when the audience has come to trust the recommendations of that host. Or they personally want to do something to help the host, like perhaps buy something from a sponsor that they know benefits that host.

It's not the host reading that does it. It's the audience trusting the recommendations of the host. Thats why they work so well. When the audience is deeply connected to the host—or at least feels they are deeply connected to the host—the audience is receptive to receiving recommendations from that host. And so a host-read ad is—and I know I'm oversimplifying, but not much—a recommendation. Albeit one the host is paid to make.

But that "recommendation power" only extends so far. It's delineated, more or less, by the domain of the topics and issues discussed on the podcast. By way of example: would I take either Andrew's or Don's recommendations on what car I should buy? Well, sure. They both host car-focused podcasts. But would their recommendations on life insurance be as effective on me? Probably not.

If Suzy recommended a good quality pair of binoculars on her podcast (and if I was in the market for binoculars), I'd absolutely take her advice and not do any more research because she's a trusted and avid birder. But would her endorsements of patio furniture work on me? Less so.

In those instances where the subject of the ad read is orthogonal to the topic at hand on the podcast, an announcer-read ad would likely be just as effective as a host-read. Perhaps even more so since I wouldn't be listening with my head cocked to one side wondering why the host is reading an ad that doesn't match the content of the show.

And then there's the fact that a lot of the podcasts I listen to are fiction, news, or straight-up educational programs where there isn't a strong and central host. I love the shows and have developed an affinity for the content of their episodes, for sure. But for many, the host fades into the background, if there's one at all. In all of those cases, there's not even an option for a true host-read ad. I'd much rather hear an announcer-read ad which will at least have all the talking points covered rather than hear from someone trying to fake a host-read. I bet you would too.

This bears repeating: If your listeners realy do have an intimate relationship with the host of your show, then roll on with those host-read ads. The'll work great!

But if that is not the case, and I assure you not every listener has to have an intimate experience with every podcast they listen to, then recognize the case studies everyone else is referencing may not line up with the type of podcast you produce. It's very OK for you to rely on announcer-reads messages for your ads or your sponsor breaks.

With that, I shall be back next week, with yet another Podcast Pontifications.


Podcast Pontifications In Your Inbox is written by Evo Terra. He’s on a mission to make podcasting better. Allie Press proofed the copy. Podcast Pontifications is a production of Simpler Media.

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