Podcasts are at the center of cultural moments: Why advertisers and publishers need to tap into the medium in 2024

Emma Vaughn, head of advertising business development and partnerships, Spotify

In 2023, the world went pink in the wake of the release of the highly anticipated ‘Barbie’ movie — so much so that there were even global shortages of certain hues of pink paint.

‘Barbie’ painted the digital world pink, too. In addition to an explosion of social media posts unpacking the film’s themes, the entertainment and pop culture spheres buzzed with Barbie-focused hot takes. Spotify, for instance, saw a 967% week-over-week increase in Barbie-related podcast streams the week after the film’s debut. According to Spotify data, when director and screenwriter Greta Gerwig appeared on ‘The Big Picture’ podcast, it drove a 215% increase in first-run listeners (those who listened within the first eight weeks of the episode’s release).

This substantial digital engagement underscores the increasingly pivotal role of podcasts in shaping and reflecting the zeitgeist, especially among younger generations. 

According to Spotify’s ‘Culture Next’ report, more than half (58%) of Gen Zers feel that podcasts get them closer to modern-day culture than any other form of media. Podcasts are also a prominent way listeners engage with brands. Three-quarters of U.S. consumers say podcast hosts are the most influential figures driving their purchasing decisions — even more so than social media influencers.

Advertisers and podcast publishers are leaning into the surge from vital cultural moments to make the most of the powerful medium podcasts have become. By recognizing that the space is a more intimate one — ripe for deeper connections — and that these listeners are highly engaged even during ad spots, delivering relevant, interesting messaging will be crucial. 

Podcasts offer listeners a space to continue conversations around cultural moments

‘Barbie’ wasn’t the only pop-culture phenomenon to make an impact in 2023. This past year was marked by a slew of culturally significant moments — and podcasts were there to drive the conversation around each one.

For example, according to Spotify data, during the final week of May’s Eurovision Song Contest, relevant podcast streams increased by 492% compared to the previous month. Podcast engagement around Eurovision content even outlasted Google search trends for this event, extending into June and July.

In the summer of 2022, the release of Beyoncé’s ‘Renaissance’ album set the stage for heightened fan anticipation, which escalated into a surge of podcast listens in January 2023 as rumors of a tour grew. After the tour announcement on February 1, there was a significant spike in related podcast listenership (+1,025% month over month), with marked increases seen again around the tour’s start in Stockholm on May 10 (+433% month over month) and the first U.S. show on July 12 (+323% month over month), according to Spotify data.

Over in the world of sports, soccer player Lionel Messi triggered an increase in podcast engagement after he announced his move to Inter Miami CF. This news in June accompanied a 531% week-over-week jump in podcast streams — a higher and longer-lasting spike than Google’s peak in relevant searches, according to Spotify data and Google Trends.

Podcasts don’t just reflect cultural trends; they amplify them, too — offering listeners a direct link to the content and conversations that matter most to them.

The intimate nature of podcasts produces deeper connections than social media

Podcasters can foster deeper connections with their listeners than social media influencers and video creators can with their viewers and followers. Podcasters can connect with their audience by creating content around the culture that matters most to listeners. Sixty-eight percent of U.S. listeners report feeling a deep connection with their favorite podcasters.

The intimate nature of podcasts also allows hosts to talk profoundly about trending cultural stories and even create their own zeitgeist moments, like when Zayn Malik joined Alex Cooper on ‘Call Her Daddy’ for his first sit-down interview in nearly six years.

Podcasts are available across a range of categories and areas of interest, allowing listeners to tap into niche communities and find the shows that match their unique preferences. According to the ‘Podcast Trends 2023’ report, the top five podcast categories among global listeners in the first half of 2023 (as measured by total listening hours) were comedy (30% of total podcast listening hours), society and culture (18%), lifestyle and health (15%), true crime (10%) and educational (7%). 

Listeners are highly engaged and usually ready to purchase, too

By advertising in podcasts, brands can become a part of the intimate connection created by podcasters and engage with their core audiences. For example, 58% of a listener’s engagement with a podcast rolls over into the ad experience.

And podcast listeners aren’t just tuned in — often, they’re ready to buy. According to the ‘Podcast Trends 2023’ report, 1-in-10 of those who visit an advertiser’s website or app after listening to a podcast go on to make a purchase, and 1-in-6 go on to complete an action such as signing up for an email list — making podcasts a crucial part of a brand’s media mix.

Next year, new movies will make waves, iconic artists will announce tours and world-class sports stars will take their team one step closer to victory. And as they do, podcasts will likely be a reliable channel for listeners to hear from influential voices and join the conversation. Getting on board with podcast ads may be prudent for brands wanting to participate in that dialogue.

As listeners flock to podcasts of all sorts to discuss the latest happenings or hear from their favorite host with whom they have a deep connection, advertisers that engage with the medium and remember that this is a highly engaged audience will establish themselves as key players in the space. 

Sponsored by Spotify Advertising

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