Aug 10, 2022

The Future Of Digital Audio Advertising Belongs To Podcasts—And Radio

Original article by Paul Kelly, CRO at A Million Ads, in Forbes here.

Where to spend advertising dollars is a quandary that has kept marketers awake forever—and as Cannes Lions recently showed, it’s only getting harder to find the budget in this constantly-shifting economy. This is only compounded by the need to reach multiple shifting audiences across multiple platforms. Given the highly volatile nature of digital, it’s natural for marketers to want to adopt a wait-and-see approach. If there is one area that continues to deliver big for brand awareness, however, it’s digital audio.

In an era of constant information, audio presents some unique benefits: It’s fraud-free, it doesn’t compete with multiple tracks at once and it’s typically sandwiched in between content we all love.

Traditional radio currently still outpaces digital audio in audience, reaching about 217 million to digital audio’s 169 million last year. According to Statista’s Advertising & Media Outlook, however, those numbers are shifting dramatically, and in the next three years, they’ll compete neck and neck—phenomenal growth for digital audio. Not surprisingly, digital audio spending is on the rise, projected to reach nearly $8 billion by 2025, which will account for more than 40% of all audio ad buys.

While investing in audio makes sense for marketers, less clear is whether to funnel that investment into traditional radio or podcasts. The truth is, podcasts and radio do completely different things at different ends of the funnel. Podcasts, for example, attract incredibly niche audiences. These audiences may be small in number, but listener attention is great, and there is a strong possibility of eliciting a behavioral response.

Radio, on the other hand, has a much higher listening audience but with a much lower attention rate. Radio is an ideal format for creating memory structures with its audiences, opening up “mental availability” through repetition. It is a wonderful source for introducing an audience in a light-touch way to your brand.

While both formats are valuable, how they are used is critically important.

Consider timing and flexibility.

As discussed, podcasts tend to draw in niche audiences—but these niche audiences are also extremely strong evangelists. The new listeners they bring in are then drawn in to work their way through the archives of content, potentially exposing them to a significant amount of advertising for your brand in a short amount of time.

These very niche audiences also offer the potential for more targeting. For example, platforms make it possible to target by listener profiles—not just the main show that you’re buying for, but other shows that indicate their demographics and interests.

Meanwhile, terrestrial radio presents a lot of opportunities in terms of flexibility and broader reach. Radio still reaches over 80% of American adults every week, and there are thousands of radio stations out there serving both national and local markets. It doesn’t require much targeting to reach a huge audience.

With all of that, however, comes a problem of anonymity. It is hard to draw in the kinds of data that digital audio provides in terrestrial radio. It’s much harder to know who is listening in and when with terrestrial radio.

Consider how your message plays live.

Speaking of timing, however, radio provides a live factor that podcasts don’t. Live-read advertising has a long radio history. With highly contextual ad copy, quickly put together, advertisers can reach an audience with memorable content that creates stickiness and awareness that wouldn’t be there in a more traditional ad.

The rise of dynamic audio content also adds a live factor, even to podcasts. Dialogue-based voice ads, enabled by AI, can turn listening into an active experience. Combined with high contextuality, the back-and-forth of a dialogue ad can create a lot of stickiness where there wasn’t before.

More traditional podcast advertising, however, requires taking a longer view. Podcast binge-listening is quite common. Instead of relying on timeliness or references that will be out of date in just a few weeks, podcast advertising is better served by evergreen messages that work just as well upon release as they do six months after.

Consider who is delivering your message.

Finally, it’s not just about the message that’s being delivered—it’s about who is bringing that message to your target audience, and both radio and podcasting offer the ability to leverage personalities.

The reason that live-read advertising on radio is so successful is the host. Radio listeners are loyal; they’ll listen to the same morning show year after year because they develop a connection with the voices that keep them company on their commutes. That connection makes them more likely to act on ads they hear. Live reading inspires higher response-and-recall rates, too.

It’s the same thing for podcast advertising read by the host. Podcast hosts build the same connection with their fanbases through the content that they produce. They also have leeway to add color to their ads by mentioning how they themselves use the product, for example.

These connections are important to leverage with advertisers, but it’s just as important to know the kinds of personalities they’re choosing to associate with their brand. Advertising a home safety system on a true crime podcast, for example, might come off as being in poor taste. Hearing a favorite podcaster discuss the home cooking delivery service they use, though, might just make your KPIs achievable.


With the rare exception of very niche brands, the question of whether to invest in traditional radio or podcasts is not an either/or proposition. A brand can be highly successful using traditional radio to create brand awareness and initial interest, then convert that interest into action by targeting audiences via an endorsement from their favorite podcast host.

A strong digital audio plan involves understanding the audience you need to attract and embracing a mix of platforms and models to reach them. Digital audio offers a dynamic, engaging format for reaching your audience.

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