Should You Keep Buying What You Cannot Measure?

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Article Takeaways:

  • Podcast analytics remains behind.
  • Podcast advertising is to radio what connected TV and Digital Out Of Home are too linear TV.

A few weeks after Google announced Chrome stopped supporting third-party cookies, experts are still discussing how programmatic buying will weather the storm. The reason is the entire digital advertising industry has relied for more than two decades on cookies to target in-market audiences, track impressions, measure ad viewability and attribute sales. Without cookies to provide granular measurement, some are already questioning the growth of programmatic display ads in the long term.

In the meantime, the podcast industry is booming, with eMarketer predicting it will reach almost $1b in 2020, a 100% growth in two years. Streaming behemoth Spotify has been on a buying spree with the acquisition of Gimlet and The Ringer and now reports that 16% of users are listening to podcasts every month. However, podcast advertising is very hard to measure, not only because it is still new, but also because of its very fragmented and mostly offline nature. Will budgets keep switching to podcast advertising without strong measurement standards?

No real standard today, even for the basics

Podcasts are a very challenging animal for marketing analysts and measurement solution providers. They come in very different flavors, whether on the web or through apps, consumed on specific platforms or downloaded from Apple or Spotify Podcasts. Because they are often played offline, the most basic currency in podcast measurement is the number of downloads, not even the number of plays, and obviously not the number of ad completions.

It’s like buying a TV ad on NBC at 9 pm on Sunday and counting rating points based on how many people recorded the show and may or may not watch it later. With even the most basic metrics hardly accessible, it is no surprise that podcast advertising’s impact on website/store traffic or sales cannot be proven unless you are using panels.

Offline-like measurement strategies

Panels, which were said to be an old school technique in the age of user-level measurement and data-driven digital attribution, are actually the best you can get for measuring podcasts when they are available. Nielsen launched in 2019 a product called Podcast Listener Buying Power Service, based on a 30,000-person database, to provide podcasters and advertisers with insights about interests and purchase behaviors of podcast listeners. It is a far cry from sophisticated metrics Nielsen has made available to brands for TV or Radio advertising for brands, but it is the first step towards audience addressability in the podcast space.

Audio Ads are not Podcasts

It may sound frustrating that ads in podcasts have to be measured like Radio, while from a user standpoint, it is consumed like a YouTube video. Moreover, programmatic audio is growing fast, with a focus on audio ads, not podcasts. For example, Google’s DSP Display & Video 360 makes it easy to create audio-specific programmatic campaigns targeted on Spotify, Soundcloud or Pandora, and report on ad completion and click-through rates. A brand can compare the performance of Display, Video and Audio strategies in one place, with similar metrics and unified workflow. However, nobody knows when and if this will be available for the rest of podcast advertising, because of the ad serving complexity and the way the commercial is purchased.

A cookieless future

Because there is no cookie involved in the podcast world and because marketers are giving up on the idea that every user needs to be tracked individually along each step of the purchase journey, there is a strong potential for addressable channels that live in a silo, but provide a compelling brand experience. Podcast advertising is to radio what connected TV and Digital Out Of Home are too linear TV and outdoor media, and there is no reason it does not keep on growing fast for marketers who need to engage with consumers where they are, even if addressable does not always mean measurable.

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