Our Stance: February 2019 edition
Welcome to your February installment of Our Stance, an irregular - but hopefully welcome - insight into the views of the Strategy and Insight Team. Do give us a shout if there’s anything you’re keen to hear more about. Or if we’ve said something you disagree with. We love a wee fight.
Spotify Invests in Podcast Production and Advertising
Spotify acquired Gimlet Media, a podcast production house, and is in the process of purchasing Anchor, a hosting and monetisation platform. We took it as an opportunity to talk about all things podcast.
I’ve actually been thinking a lot about podcast advertising in recent months - so here’s a selection of my (slightly disparate) musings when strolling down the street, struck by a podcast ad;
1. Frequency vs Reach
I’m an advertising professional in my early 30s – so I’m always surprised by the listening stats for podcasts. In my bubble pretty much everyone’s listening to them. However, in the UK, as of September 2018, only 11% of the population was regularly tuning into podcasts (mind you, that’s steadily rising). By their very nature, the podcast landscape is hugely fragmented. So of course, they’re not a channel you turn to when you’re after high reach. But you know what they’ve reminded me of? The importance of frequency in driving brand salience. There are a few brands that I hear about Every Single Week. And now I think I need a Casper mattress.
2. Globalised Advertising
Yes, you’ll now often hear radio-style ads spliced into podcasts. However, when you think podcast ads you’ll usually think native-style, presenter-led ‘live read’ endorsements. Because of that the US podcasts we listen to tend to focus on US companies, sometimes ones that don’t operate outside the states. Which got me thinking (alright Carrie Bradshaw…) – our media habits are getting less likely to stay within state lines each year. Podcasts are doing for radio what streaming services do to TV. And so, when you turn to tactics that are ‘baked-in’ to the content are you opting into a global buy? Not only does this mean that you may well end up reaching people outside your delivery zone, it also means brands should consider different cultural contexts when shaping their message.
3. Curation and the ‘Bubble’
I started this off by stating that everyone ‘in my bubble’ listens to podcasts. But I actually have multiple, niche, bubbles - and my podcast listening reflects that. Podcasts are yet another reflection of a media landscape where you can choose to consume whatever content you want, when you want. And that’s great for me personally – but I do worry that, as everyone burrows further into their own tastes and interests we’re limiting ourselves from experiencing the new, the uncomfortable, and the unifying. Perhaps that’s the guilt talking though – for every hour I listen to yet more West Wing Weekly I should probably turn on the news…
I’ve listened to the ‘Podfather’ for as long as I’ve obsessively followed LeBron’s NBA career, I clung on to Sarah’s every word about whether Adnan Syed did it or not and was inspired by John Zimmer’s story to keep trying to be a business mogul. I’m clearly still working on that last one.
In 2009 I joined Spotify, not only to listen to even more Blink-182 than I already did, but so that I could pester them to add the songs I’d recorded with my university band to the platform. I thought Spotify was finally our chance, way better than Myspace, to get more people to listen to our cover of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I’m writing this, so you can guess how that worked out.
I’ve tried to merge these two worlds in the past, but I’ve never enjoyed the podcast listening experience on Spotify and so I’ve stuck with other tools to listen to my podcast content so far. Spotify’s recent acquisitions were made to accelerate their growth in podcasting, which makes sense given they believe non-music listening will represent 20% of listening on their platform in the near future.
Currently iTunes dominates the market but the acquisitions give Spotify a point of difference in the battle for listeners.
Apple don’t create any podcast content, they simply provide a platform to access and listen on. Spotify’s move grants them ownership to differentiated and original content, but the rest of the market already has access to that very content and they let anyone listen for free.
The details behind the deal haven’t yet been released and annoyingly it’s that information that’s most interesting here. Will Spotify place their newly acquired original content behind their ‘premium’ paywall and if they do will they remove it from all other sources, or will they simply offer an ad free and premium service as they currently do?
Originality has real value, so putting it behind the premium paywall could be justified. Doing so could create an arms race, with platforms buying content creators and turning podcasting into something that closely resembles the video streaming market.
That begs a further question, how will advertising be treated if the content disappears behind a paywall? Podcast listeners are used to live reads and ad breaks, it doesn’t deter them. Spotify premium listeners are not. As I wrote about last month, ads and subscription platforms aren’t exactly a match made in heaven.
The assumptions I’ve seen from many are that ad revenues in podcasting are set to rocket with ‘big players’ now more involved. I’m not saying revenue won’t climb, I just think it’s more complicated than that.
P.S. there are a bunch of other sectors I think we should be paying a little more attention to, rather than getting so hung up on the latest acquisition all of the time.
I should probably start by confessing that I am not one of the 6 million adults that tunes in to podcasts on a weekly basis. With comedy being the most popular genre followed by music, TV and film, it could be that I am yet to find the podcast that works for me. Maybe I have a narrower set of interests than I thought?
I am, however, well aware that there is a lot of love for podcast listening and it continues to boom in the UK. With the introduction of personalised podcasts (Acast 2018), and audio giant Spotify announcing they’re investing over £300m into podcast-related acquisitions in 2019, the format is going to go from strength to strength.
As the format of the podcast evolves, a vital question strikes me: are listeners going to be willing to have their podcast interrupted to engage with adverts? The obvious argument here is that it has worked for commercial radio, who reported a record breaking year in 2018 with over £700m revenue. But, radios are often played in the background as a distraction or comfort and podcasts are not. Podcasts are a very personal medium with a passionate audience, most often played through headphones in moments when people are alone, such as their morning commute or at the gym. I worry that the introduction of advertising could be too intrusive and prevent people from tuning in as often
RAF tackling the gender cliché by Moira Garden
Last week the RAF launched a TV campaign that has set out to tackle gender stereotypes. Challenging the objectification and sexualisation of women, the campaign’s narrative features stereotypical phrases that would be heard in other mainstream ads. For example, “fine lines and wrinkles? I want to combat the signs of ageing.” The ad, created by Engine, is this year’s winner of Channel 4’s Diversity in Advertising award, beating brands such as Cadbury Milk Tray and eBay to obtain £1m of C4 airtime.
While I find the advert quite refreshing in the way it so openly mocks other advertisers and challenges gender stereotypes, I must admit, I had to watch it a few times to understand the narrative. Watching the ad for the first time online, I did think another ad was playing elsewhere and had to pause. And from reading the comments, I’m not alone. The question is, does that reinforce the message or just cause initial confusion?
Overall, I do think the advert is great with a clear message that no matter who you are, you are welcome in the RAF. Personally, what is so interesting is Channel 4’s decision to support the message as the everyday ads that do feature gender stereotypes (and not in a mocking way) feature heavily across C4 platforms. Does this mean that going forward they’re going to question the advert’s narrative and potentially turn down advertiser’s money? I think not. But, I do think it’s really energising to see a well-known, traditionally male focussed brand working with such a recognised media partner to tackle stereotypical issues that are quite frankly, outdated, frustrating and no longer wanted.
Our quick thoughts on... IAB and the Debut of a Great New Marketing Buzzword – ‘Clickheads’
The Internet Advertising Bureau UK sent an open letter round some of the biggest advertisers in the UK, criticising the use of CTR to measure overall success of a campaign. They also proclaimed the 12th of February as National Anti-Click Through Rate Day.
Who would’ve thought Valentine’s Day would be the second crappiest holiday of last week? I’m all for doing away with vanity metrics, but if there’s no cut-price chocolate the day after National Anti Click Through Rate Day, I’m out.
Just as social network users have gradually developed a dopamine addiction from likes and shares on their Facebook posts, so have marketers who get the same chemical boost when they read their weekly digital reports. It might feel good to see engagement rate and click-through-rate rocketing, but is it really contributing to the overall objectives of a campaign?
I think every advertiser needs to ask themselves that question more.
To be honest, I’m not sure why it has taken so long for the IAB to make this point. The metric has been widely criticised for years so hopefully agencies, and clients alike, now know that we’ll never reach the dizzy heights of 1994 (hello 44%).
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