2021: The year branded podcasts take centre stage

2021: The year branded podcasts take centre stage

Written by Jack PrestonAcast Creative Director, UK+ and US2021.02.18

“Why do we want to launch a branded podcast?”

There was a time when, despite having their hearts set on creating one, many brands would struggle to provide an answer to this simple question. The truth is — and we’ve all been there at some point or another — that many just felt like a podcast was the sort of thing they should be doing, without any clear strategy backing it up.

This question is still one of the first I put to clients when discussing a potential campaign, but thankfully it no longer tends to result in a long pause or confused expression.

Once upon a time, branded podcasts would often operate in their own silo — with many of them picking up few listens in the process. But, today, there’s a much greater level of understanding about the role they can play in a brand’s media mix.

Over the past year in particular, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of brands who’ve wanted to work on cross-platform campaigns with us. Now, brands will often want to build out a podcast strategy that complements and feeds into what they’re doing on social media, print and even TV.

Podcasts have found their place

While access to well-known talent in a unique, high-trust environment has clearly been a big pull for brands, it’s by no means the only draw. Podcasting is home to an incredibly diverse and innovative array of creators, who all have a close bond with their audience — one they’ve worked hard to grow, often over the course of several years.

And that offers unbeatable levels of engagement. One compelling stat I often quote is that the average listening time to an episode of a branded podcast hosted by Acast is 28 minutes. Twenty-eight. I can’t think of a media channel where branded content comes close to that, and it’s even more powerful when you consider listening to a podcast is a lean-in experience.

Given all of this, we’re now starting to move past the point where podcasts are just one part of a wider campaign. In many cases they are the campaign.

A great example of this is The Road Less Travelled, an original branded podcast from Belstaff that took centre stage on all of its channels — with cover art and images of guests being displayed across digital inventory and out-of-home sites.

Another client that recently showed similar ambitions was The Open University (The OU), with whom we’ve just launched an original series in collaboration with Havas and Listen called Life…On Our Terms. It tells the stories of a collection of inspirational individuals, from George The Poet to Sharmadean Reid, who have reached the top of their chosen fields on their own terms — with listeners given practical advice as to how they can start to do the same through The OU.

January is always a key time of the year for The OU to speak to people, so it spoke volumes that the client was willing to put both its trust and its budget into a campaign with a podcast at its heart.

In fact, I’ll borrow a quote from Shea Halsey, The OU’s Marketing Manager — who has been instrumental in getting the series off the ground — to help illustrate my point. He recently said to us: “Podcasting is the fastest-growing medium for under 30s, and it’s ‘P2P’. We often hear about B2B and B2C, but podcasts are about P2P — people to people.”

Brands are investing in creative podcast campaigns

You might not be too surprised to read that advertiser investment in podcasting is continuing to grow every year. From my perspective, however, what’s most exciting is that this growth is being led not only by more traditional ads and sponsorships, but by big, creative campaigns.

A year ago I made the prediction that 2020 would be the year of the branded podcast. And, despite the obvious physical limitations and subsequent adjustments to production processes, this still came to fruition.

Last year we worked with 30 brands in the UK to launch their own podcast, a figure more than double what we’d seen in 2019. And creative campaigns in general made up 24% of Acast’s total revenue in the UK, representing more than 70% growth versus the year before.

And, alongside this increased understanding and investment from brands, Acast Creative has big plans. We’re hiring more people for both our UK and Ireland team, and our wider European creative team, and officially launching Acast Creative as an offering for advertisers in the US.

Our aim, both locally and globally, is to give as many advertisers as possible the ability to tell brilliant brand stories through podcasting. But we’re acutely aware that those stories are just the first step — we also need to make sure they’re listened to by the right people.

Too many brands have fallen into the trap of creating fantastic content that is never seen, heard or experienced — and we’re determined to put an end to that, in podcasting at least.

If you represent a brand that wants to reach engaged audiences in a unique environment, we have the best, most-listened to creators to collaborate with. Or, if you want to go it alone and launch your own podcast, we have the biggest global network and the most in-depth audience insights to help you build and grow your own listener base.

Acast is also investing in new products designed to give both advertisers and creators more flexibility, as well as providing a better experience for listeners.

Our new Sponsored Stories product lets brands create longer, more immersive and contextually relevant pieces of creative with our hosts, for example — opening up new routes for brands and creators to work together, in a way that’s already proven to resonate with listeners.

Next week, I’ll be writing about some of my favourite examples of brands using podcasts as a unique way to reach and engage their audiences. Watch this space.

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