Podcasts — everyone seems to have one these days. From celebrities to authors to therapists, a wide range of people are now hosting or contributing to well-known podcasts around the world.
But what does that have to do with your brand? Well, as a growing and popular medium for learning and entertainment, podcasts provide a great opportunity to increase your brand awareness through sponsorship. A recent study predicted that by 2024, there would be over 100 million podcast listeners in the US alone.
And the best part? You can not only choose podcasts that align well with your target audience to increase brand awareness, but you can also be mindful in your choices and partner with podcasts that align with your brand values.
While it’s great to increase brand awareness within your target audiences, it’s even more impactful when the podcast you choose to sponsor upholds similar values as your brand — therefore improving your brand integrity and loyalty.
This article will take a look at the how and why of podcast sponsorship — as well as a couple of great examples of brands that have partnered successfully with podcasts. Plus, a few tips for brands that would like to start sponsoring podcasts.
How and Why Does Podcast Sponsorship Work?
Though podcasts have been around for a while, it’s only in recent years that they’ve really started to gain traction in a larger part of the population. As of 2021, 57% of US respondents stated that they have listened to a podcast — a 58% increase over the last five years.
When asked if they’d listened to a podcast in the last month, a 2021 survey found that 56% of US respondents aged 12-34 said yes, the highest percentage of all age groups. What does this tell us? Podcasts are an effective way to advertise your brand, and they’ll likely become even more popular as time goes on.
Plus, when it comes to attitudes surrounding free ad-supported podcasts versus paid ad-free podcasts, a June 2020 survey found that most respondents are happy for both options to exist — with 56% of respondents aged 18-34 and 63% aged 35-54 agreeing. Therefore, we can rest assured that podcast ads are here to stay.
Regardless of which side of the equation you’re on — whether you’re finding the right sponsor for your podcast or the right podcast to sponsor — it’s important that the fit is right. Otherwise, you’ll risk raising brand awareness for an inappropriate audience, leading to an unsuccessful partnership.
After all, what’s the point of advertising your brand’s vegan food line on a podcast dedicated to ranking the top BBQ joints in the US?
So, first, let’s discuss how podcast sponsorships work. For the sake of clarity, we’ll be analyzing this situation from the point of view of a brand looking to sponsor a podcast.
In this case, the first thing you’ll need to do as a brand manager is to define a few specifics — such as the target audience you want to reach, the budget you can dedicate, and which KPI(s) you’ll measure to determine success.
Once you’ve figured these details out, you can then make a list of podcasts that fit your requirements and start reaching out. After you’ve received a good amount of responses, you should compare the cost, reach, and previous success rates of each potential podcast and see which one, or ones, would work well.
Keep in mind, you’re looking to increase brand awareness. So when deciding which KPI to measure to determine success, it should be more top-of-funnel. After all, if your goal is to increase brand awareness, you can’t really measure success by purchases.
Instead, you should stick to something more relevant — such as website visits, social media follows, or online mentions. This way, you’ll be able to more accurately see if brand awareness has increased.
Another option to measure brand awareness is to use advanced brand tracking software. With the ability to track important KPIs like brand awareness, consideration, usage, associations, and more, brand tracking software provides reliable, statistically significant data that you, as a brand manager, can use to make better-informed decisions.
Next, let’s talk about why brand sponsorship of podcasts works. To begin with, it’s flexible — there are lots of different options you can choose from when sponsoring a podcast.
From buying pre-rolls to mid-rolls to sponsoring the entire podcast, there are a variety of different ways you can test out podcast sponsorship. If you’re looking to start conservative, it would make sense to buy a few week’s worth of pre or post-rolls, which are usually a bit shorter and less expensive than a mid-roll.
This way, your trial will have enough time to really be tested and you’ll have enough data to see if a more involved sponsorship is worth it.
However, if you want to really give it a go, buy a few week’s worth of mid-rolls. As they occur within the podcast itself, they are often more involved and longer — and, understandably, more expensive. However, if they prove successful, you could then consider becoming the podcast’s main or only sponsor.
Another reason why podcast sponsorship works so well? You have an engaged audience. Because many podcasts deal with niche subjects, you are able to get your brand in front of a high-quality, active audience.
Plus, many people listen to podcasts on the go, meaning podcasts become a well-loved part of their daily routine. Additionally, with the placement of podcast sponsor ads — which are often added within the content itself — listeners are less likely to skip them over.
According to Midroll, a staggering 81% of podcast listeners say they sometimes or always pay attention to podcast ads. The same group of respondents admitted to sometimes or always ignoring billboard ads 61% of the time and ignoring digital ads 66% of the time. These numbers weigh heavily in podcasts’ favor.
Finally, the quality of podcast listeners is quite high, as the “shows that people listen (to) are carefully selected and curated by topic.” Because the audience has made a conscious decision to listen to this podcast, they’re more likely to be invested in the topic, and “by association, the products and services advertised.”
According to a 2020 survey by Morning Consult, the most popular podcast genre is comedy at 22%, followed by news at 21%, true crime at 18%, and sport at 17%. Of course, the list goes on, which is another reason why podcast sponsorship is often so successful — there’s variety.
Pro tip: When testing podcast sponsorship, it’s a good idea to try out a variety of different setups. From different ad types to different podcast genres, you need to see which of your target audiences respond best to this medium of advertising.
Brand KPIs Podcast Sponsorship Can Improve
Before we look at a few examples of successful brand podcast partnerships, let’s talk more specifically about the brand KPIs that podcast sponsorship can improve.
First and foremost, we have brand awareness. The primary goal of most podcast sponsorship is to increase brand awareness — specifically with a brand’s target audience.
By partnering with a relevant podcast to promote their products or services, brands can work more effectively to increase brand awareness levels where they matter. But how can you know if brand awareness is increasing? There are a few methods.
First, you can keep an eye on direct and referral traffic. After your podcast sponsorship goes live, you should see an uptick in users directly searching for your brand name or arriving on your website via a referral link.
Pro tip: Make sure you’re also counting direct traffic that uses misspelled versions of your brand name. As an auditory medium, it can often be difficult to get a brand name right — especially if your brand doesn’t pass the Radio Test (aka are consumers able to spell your brand name from hearing it).
While you can’t always know exactly how direct traffic originally heard of your brand, seeing an increase post-sponsorship is a good sign.
Another KPI that podcast sponsorship can increase is brand engagement. When potential customers arrive on your website or social media profile because they heard about you on a trusted podcast, they’re most likely to be engaged with your brand.
One way to see if their engagement is really increasing? Offer an exclusive discount or promo code — which is unique to the podcast sponsorship. This way, you can see if any new customers can be attributed to your recent podcast activities.
You should also keep an eye on other key engagement indicators — such as bounce rate, unique page views, time on site, and average pages visited.
An ideal mix would be a low bounce rate, high unique page view count, high time on site, and high average pages visited, as this would indicate the most engagement.
If possible, make sure to filter out which users came via referral in Google Analytics, which will allow you to measure the engagement metrics more accurately.
Finally, podcast sponsorship can also do wonders for brand associations, which are the traits and characteristics that consumers associate with your brand.
Ideally, your brand associations should match up with your brand values. For example, if one of your brand values is that you care about the environment, you’d hope that consumers associate your brand with being “sustainable” or “eco-conscious”.
One way to enhance and support your brand associations is to partner with podcasts with similar values.
For example, say you’re the brand manager of a fun, new inclusive dating app. Ideally, you’d then look to sponsor a podcast that aligns with your values — such as “Why Won’t You Date Me” by Nicole Byer or “Nancy” by Tobin Low and Kathy Tu.
And while there are a few ways to track brand associations — such as DIY surveys or social listening tools — the best method is with brand tracking software. It allows you to gather detailed, reliable data that you can use to decide whether or not your podcast sponsorship has been successful.
Two Successful Brand + Podcast Partnerships
When it comes to what’s deemed a “successful” brand + podcast partnership, we have to be a bit circumspect and rely on a few key indicators to make our judgments.
As we don’t have access to the individual brands’ data on performance, we must look to two factors: namely, the success of the podcast itself and the length of the brand sponsorship.
If both the podcast and the sponsorship are relatively long-running, we take this as an indication that it’s been a successful partnership. Additionally, we’ll be looking at partnerships where the values and personalities match up — another indication of a strong partnership.
So, let’s take a look at two different partnerships and why they’ve been successful.
1. P&G + The Man Enough Podcast (2021 - Now)
The Man Enough Podcast, which is sponsored by launch partner P&G, is relatively new — only having started in June of 2021. However, the partnership between the podcast’s main host, Justin Baldoni, and P&G is a bit more extensive than a simple podcast sponsorship.
Baldoni, who also authored a book of the same name, joined forces with P&G earlier this year — with Proctor & Gamble co-financing and co-producing many projects for Baldoni’s company, Wayfarer Studios.
According to P&G’s Chief Brand Officer, Marc Pritchard: “Wayfarer is creating authentic content and stories that bring much-needed love, light and positive energy into the world.”
So, how does this sponsorship playout for The Man Enough Podcast? Within the first five minutes of each episode, Baldoni includes a detailed, minute-long explanation of why he’s partnered with P&G — which outlines their shared values and goals.
“Our amazing partner P&G aspires to build a better world where boys and girls, men and women of all backgrounds and abilities can learn, grow, succeed, and thrive with equal access and opportunity. (...) P&G, the maker of brands like Tide, Swiffer, Mr. Clean, Pantene, and Braun is dedicated to supporting communities like ours, like Man Enough, where we undefine masculinity. (...) So thank you, P&G, for stepping up as a force for good in the world. Visit P&Ggoodeveryday.com to learn more.”
While this is only a portion of the explanation provided, we can see how strongly Baldoni appreciates this partnership and the pride he has to be associated with P&G. By providing context for their partnership through a heartfelt message, Baldoni increases his listeners’ interest in his sponsor.
While we can’t say for sure that this podcast will last the test of time, the extensivity and honesty of the partnership between P&G and Wayfarer Studios is a good indication that it will remain strong for the foreseeable future.
Why Does This Partnership Work?
To be fair, there are a couple of important reasons why this partnership works so well.
First, we need to consider the shared values involved. According to Pritchard, this partnership works because both parties are on the same page, stating: “P&G is committed to creating even more content for good through this unique first-look deal with a wonderful partner that shares our values.”
Through its program, P&G Everyday Good, P&G is looking to make a positive impact in the communities it serves. From equality & inclusion to environmental sustainability, this brand is doing its part to make the world a better, more equal place.
And for these exact reasons, P&G is the perfect sponsor for The Man Enough Podcast — as their shared values provide an incredibly strong basis for this partnership to be successful and long-lived.
Another reason P&G is smart to sponsor this podcast? The content that The Man Enough Podcast puts out strengthens P&G’s brand associations. It’s one thing for P&G to say they support equality and inclusion, it’s another thing entirely to put their money where their mouth is and support groundbreaking podcasts like this one.
Our advice? At the end of the day, partnerships like this work — and will continue to work — because both parties want the same things.
Aligned values and goals will go a long way to make this kind of partnership successful, so when looking for a podcast to sponsor, make sure your values line up.
2. Mailchimp + Serial (2014 - 2015)
Mailchimp, a marketing automation platform and email marketing service, began as a sponsor of the Serial podcast as its start in 2014.
As one of the early adopters of podcast sponsorship, Mailchimp reaped the rewards of this partnership for years.
In an interview with The Guardian, Mailchimp’s Marketing Director Mark DiCristina stated that their sponsorship was “not intended to boost profits, but to raise awareness of the service.” How nice, someone who understands the importance of brand awareness!
So how was this ad set up within the Serial podcast? As an unintentionally funny 19 second pre-roll ad.
Instead of a traditional ad where the podcast host talks about why they chose their sponsor, this ad consisted of the show’s producer approaching strangers on the street and asking them to pronounce the company’s name.
The result was surprisingly successful, as some of the people approached seemed to struggle with the pronunciation — with one woman even saying something akin to “Mail kimp”.
Of course, this was not planned. Yet, the ad went viral and got people on the internet buzzing about the brand. Whether or not the goal of this podcast sponsorship was or is to drive growth, it has been pretty successful in doing so.
Engagement Labs reported that Mailchimp gained 6,891 new Twitter followers between the ad’s start in early October 2014 and when their article was published at the end of November 2014. That’s no mean feat!
Furthermore, Amobee Brand Intelligence calculated that there are 2,488 tweets that mention Mailchimp and Serial together. While this kind of organic virality is hard to replicate, Mailchimp’s early success in sponsoring the Serial podcast led them to continue the relationship through the second season.
As of June 2020, Serial was purchased by The New York Times and all sponsorship now goes through them. That being said, Serial’s third and subsequent seasons found new sponsors among the likes of Accenture and Clickup.
Why Did This Partnership Work
While Mailchimp and Serial don’t necessarily seem like the most logical pairing, it was still a good choice for both parties. Mailchimp was able to raise awareness of its product with a fairly suitable audience and Serial got the funding it needed to get off the ground.
As of September 2018, seasons 1 and 2 of Serial have been downloaded over 340 million times — which is an ongoing podcast world record. In terms of exposure and brand awareness, that is a pretty large audience for Mailchimp to reach.
According to the Financial Times, brands like Mailchimp, “themselves products of the digital revolution”, saw “opportunities in the close connection that forms between listeners and the voices in their ears.” Because of this connection, listeners are more open to the advertisers that podcasts choose to partner with.
Based on data from Midroll, a podcast advertising company, Mailchimp said they paid between $25 - $40 per thousand impressions for their ads on Serial — which is more expensive than traditional radio advertising, but still worth it.
And with “downloads far exceeding the producers’ initial estimates”, Emily Condon, one of Serial’s producers, stated that Mailchimp was “getting a very good deal.” Add in the additional benefit of social media buzz that this podcast ad generated, and we can see why this partnership worked out so well for Mailchimp.
Our advice? When creating an ad for the podcast your brand has chosen to sponsor, consider who your audience is. While some brand + podcast partnerships benefit from more straightforward, honest approaches, others do well with more humorous, lighthearted ads.
Consider your own brand personality and that of your chosen podcast to decide what kind of ad you want to create. Be it pre-roll or mid-roll, it should be enjoyable and, more importantly, memorable.
While choosing a podcast to sponsor in order to increase brand awareness can seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be. As long as you ensure your values are aligned and your brand personalities fit, it’s worth a shot.
Keep in mind that the goal is not necessarily to drive purchases, but to generally increase knowledge of your brand within your target audience. So whether you go for a short pre-roll or a longer mid-roll, keep our advice in mind and you’ll be just fine.
After all, with 41% of the US population saying they’ve listened to a podcast in the last month, chances of you reaching members of your target audience are pretty good.