This interview was first in the Podcast Business Journal newsletter, with the latest podcast news and data. Subscribe free today.
Lisa Jacobs is SVP of Media Operations at Ad Results Media — this interview has been lightly edited for style and readability
LJ: Ad Results Media is a leading audio focused agency. Everything we do is around spoken word: whether it’s local Radio, national Radio, Sirius XM, podcasts, streaming and YouTube, we help our clients find the right creators and content to be a part of.
JC: I gather that your company posted the first ever podcast ad.
LJ: We did. I wasn’t here for it, but we worked with Adam Corolla to place the first ever ad as podcasts started to pick up. We started in the radio space, and found the power of that for our clients - and as podcasts started picking up, we saw a lot of radio personalities moving to the new medium and creating their own content. We found a lot of the same principles that we leveraged in radio, working with the hosts and endorsing, applied to podcast: but we had even more flexibility. It opened up this new avenue for our clients. Now, the majority of what we do is podcast advertising.
JC: You work a lot with Audacy, which is a large broadcaster of course in the US. There was a study from AlterAgents and Audacy, which suggested that brands are playing it too safe, arguably. What does that study say?
LJ: It’s quite in-depth, I like the way that they executed it. A lot of what we do when we’re talking to clients and even to creators, is to think about how the audience is going to react - because at the end of the day, that’s who we’re trying to influence. I like that the study took the perspective of what podcast listeners think.
It said a lot of things that we’ve been telling our clients for a while. Podcast really is an opt-in medium, so you choose the content that you’re interested in because you like the host, because you like the subject matter, because you want to learn something. Because of that lean-in nature and that opt-in nature, people were very lenient when it came to controversial content not negatively impacting their perception of the show, of the host, or the brands that advertised in content.
JC: That’s the important finding, isn’t it - that 73% said that even if it’s a controversial podcast topic, if you’re advertising in there, there’s no impact on that brand. About half would think more positively of a brand after pairing with controversial content. I mean, I guess it depends what type of controversial content of course.
LJ: It was interesting - their line in the sand is very similar to where our line has always been. If you get into like hate speech, or racial slurs, or things like that - that’s where the audience says that this is no longer okay. That’s always been our line in the sand - have your content, have your conversations, talk about what’s important to you and what your audience wants to hear about; but we will pull our dollars and brands out if you have hate speech or you degrade another person or brand. It was interesting to see that.
JC: There was a study that came out in August from Urban One, saying that using the standard keyword block-lists, a lot of Ubran One’s podcast content was marked as problematic by some of these brand suitability tools because it didn’t really understand the language that those particular shows were using. I wonder how much of of advertising is being unfairly marked down by AI that doesn’t really understand culture or indeed the way that we talk?
LJ: All of the brand suitability and safety tools had to start somewhere. So they started with transcribing the episodes, looking for keywords, looking for chains of keywords. It’s getting better and better every time we check in with these tools: but we still see the wrong things get flagged. I think that it takes a while to train AI, and if you’re training these models on how one podcast host speaks versus another, that gets very complicated. So at Ad Results Media specifically, we leverage some of those tools to monitor what’s going on; but we also have team members that, when things are flagged, actually go listen to check the context.
JC: In my dim and distant past, I used to be a commercial copywriter, so I used to write radio ads. One of the things that came out of the study, which I thought was quite interesting, was that the quality of the ad matters a lot to people. Have you have you spotted that that that sort of learning from podcast audiences as well?
LJ: Yes, definitely. And I think it holds true, whether it’s a host endorsing or producer read or a produced ad, you want the ad to fit with the content. You don’t want that jarring experience that we’ve all had when you listen to a podcast and you’re like - whoa, where did this come from? So whether it’s the host doing it, the producer or a produced ad that’s placed, it’s making sure that the tone and how you’re speaking to the audience remains consistent - that’s performed a lot better.
JC: The study also came out with lots of very positive comments about podcast ads in general. Turns out that people aren’t really skipping them either, which is which is a nice thing. What were the figures there?
LJ: 80% of consumers say they listen through ad breaks, which is a significant portion. That’s one of the things that’s great about podcasts, like we were talking about earlier, because it is opt-in, because people are choosing to listen to a specific host, they want to hear what the host has to say. If they recommend a brand, audiences are going to take it more seriously than if they see an ad on Instagram or somewhere else. So I’m not surprised by the 80% figure. It tracks with what we’ve seen.
JC: Host-read ads versus produced ads: all of the research says host-read ads behave much, much better, I’m going to guess the survey says too?
LJ: Yeah they definitely do - for the exact reason that I was just mentioning: the audience feels like the host is a friend. If they’re listening in every week, they feel a connection with that host when the hosts authentically endorse something. I think that’s the key: authentically endorsing something. On the flip side of that, the audience can tell when the host is not being authentic or trying to promote something that they don’t actually use or care about.
JC: What was your takeaway from the data that you saw in this report?
LJ: I’m really happy to have data to support a lot of what we have been sharing with clients. I’m going to use a lot of these stats when talking with clients because it has been a hot topic, especially over the last couple of years - there have been a lot of controversial moments, a lot of backlash on both sides. So having actual listener data to share with brands, to say, look, the people that you are trying to reach, the people that you’re trying to make take action, here is what they care about. And here is where it’s okay to continue advertising, even if you don’t see the exact brand alignment. I think that’s the other thing - where it talked about some brands which don’t want to be in true crime because they don’t see a brand alignment. But it’s really about going after your audience. Meet your audience where they are, not where you think they should be. That’s what’s going to drive performance and the behavior that you’re looking for.
JC: Everybody wants their podcast ads to work well, right?
JC: Lisa, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.
LJ: Thank you.
Get interviews like this every week, plus podcast business news and data. Subscribe to our newsletter free today.