Publishers see traction in branded podcasts

Branded content renewals are generally a tough sell, with renewal rates historically hovering below 40 percent. But branded podcasts appear to be bucking that trend, as advertisers continue to hunt for ways to spend uninterrupted time with audiences.

On Thursday, the second season of “DTR,” a podcast produced for Tinder by Gimlet’s content studio, Gimlet Creative, launched, getting a featured recommendation in Apple’s podcast app. “DTR”’s renewal is just one of many that have come through this year. Every single show produced this year by Pacific Content, a podcast company that’s produced shows for advertisers including Prudential, McAfee, and Slack, has been renewed. The first two shows that Gimlet Creative has produced a full season of have been renewed for a second season. An upcoming branded podcast that Midroll produced for a non-profit so pleased the client that they ordered more episodes before the first episode was released.

Branded podcasts have a long way to go before they’re produced on the scale and volume of other kinds of branded content. But the positive early returns suggest that they deliver on the promise of the format for advertisers.

“Consumers are so empowered now that they can bypass almost any kind of marketing they want,” said Steve Pratt, a partner at Pacific Content. “People will ignore or skip anything they don’t like. So brands have to start making things they love.”

Branded podcasts are a small, pricy purchase. A full season of a branded show requires a mid-six-figure investment, and one with high production values can cost quite a bit more. “It’s a half million dollars to even think about it,” said Russell Lindley, the president of media agency Ad Results Media. “A million for a really well-produced one.”

In exchange, advertisers are cautioned that they should expect reach a very limited audience. While a hit like GE’s “The Message” can amass millions of listens, a more specialized show like “.Future,” which is aimed at decision-makers that invest in technology at businesses, might reach an audience in the high five figures.

“Original podcasts for brands are not a reach play,” said Matt Lieber, the co-founder of Gimlet Media.

Getting those shows in front of the desired audience also requires substantial investment. Advertisers that pony up for original shows have to buy ad space on other podcasts to ensure they’re discovered, and they’re regularly advised to use their own digital channels to distribute them.

For example, to promote “IRL,” a podcast about the health of the internet that Pacific Content produced for Mozilla, the nonprofit would load episodes of the show into new tabs of the Firefox browser. To promote “DTR,” Tinder created Tinder profiles for the show that lived inside its mobile app; users that swiped right would direct to a podcast player and start an episode playing. Steve Pratt, a partner at Pacific Content, pointed to that tactic as a key factor in “IRL” piling up over 1 million downloads within its first seven episodes; “IRL”’s second season is being promoted now.

“Brands have some very unfair advantages over other podcasts,” said Pratt. “When you look at all the channels and assets that brands have, by shifting or tweaking them a bit, when you have a compelling show, you can reach a lot of people very quickly.”

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