It's time UK brands tuned into podcast advertising

If brands can find the right sound, the growing popularity of podcasts offers a rich marketing opportunity, writes MC&C's digital client director

Last week the IAB announced the introduction of the IAB Podcast Playbook, a buyer’s guide to podcast advertising in the US. You only have to listen to a few podcasts to realise that US brands are streams ahead of UK brands here, with the likes of Blue Apron and Squarespace having well and truly infiltrated this space.

But it’s about time UK brands got on their wavelength.

The popularity of podcasts is soaring in the UK. According the 2016 Rajar Midas Winter report, the number of Brits tuning into podcasts grew 27% from 3.7 million in 2015 to 4.7 million in 2016. Plus British podcasts are producing global hits. The team behind My Dad Wrote a Porno, for example, have recently toured to Australia and will perform in the US in October.

Brands need to find their sound

A major problem standing in the way of brands jumping on the podcast bandwagon is the issue of brand sound. Simply the fact that most brands do not have a clear set of guidelines that describe what their brand should sound like when played.

This can apply to everything from radio ads to TV ads – all of which act to reaffirm a brand’s position via audio associations.

Of course, we can all instantly recognise McDonald’s "I’m lovin’ it" song, Intel’s four note theme, and M&S’s seductive tones to their owners – but could you begin to describe what David Lloyd or TM Lewin sounds like?

While brands are able to hand over a brief that describes blacklisted words, colour palette or language, the lack of a defined sound means that there is no common thread to unite cross-channel advertising, ensuring a consistent brand image that delivers the ever elusive "brand fame".

It will become increasingly important for brands to address this issue, particularly now that Facebook has introduced autoplay with sound on videos in the feed.

A way to be heard

Due to the lack of these guidelines for most brands, the idea of handing your brand reputation over to a podcast host, many of whom are comedians, is terrifying.

But podcasts are so much more than this – audiences are becoming increasingly difficult to communicate with through traditional forms of advertising, particularly considering that younger generations don’t watch as much linear TV and use ad blockers when online.

Podcast listeners have made a conscious choice to tune in and engage with the content of the show, so brands really have an opportunity to speak to someone who is actually listening and to capture their full attention.

In an advertising climate when most want to shut out traditional methods of marketing, a podcast can really stand out loud and clear as a unique and effective way to reach niche audiences.  

In order to be successful here, brands will really have to commit to the format – working collaboratively with the podcast host and producers to curate messaging and sound that is appropriate to the tone of the show, over the course of a few episodes.

Ultimately, if you can find a podcast that fits with your brand messaging and that has a loyal following, the possibilities for those willing to take that leap are huge.

If brands are willing to throw money at YouTubers, with the prospect of a brief, uncontrolled mention and the even briefer chance a social influencer could become a brand ambassador – then why not dip your toe into the world of podcasts?

Ben Foster is digital client director at MC&C

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