Will Serial’s Second Season Bring Ad Dollars To Podcasts?

Will Serial’s Second Season Bring Ad Dollars To Podcasts?

Podcasts are reportedly becoming hot new ground for brands and advertisers to experiment in, and with Serial quietly dropping its second season last week on internet radio site Pandora, advertisers are said to start flocking to the service.

Emma Mackenzie
Posted by Emma Mackenzie

The first season of Serial was beyond a success. As a spin-off on another podcast group This American Life, Serial followed a true murder case and the evidence in an attempt to figure out what happened. A conclusion was never reached, however the series was apparently a “record-breaker” in download numbers in iTunes.

While Serial may have given podcasts a fresh breath, they’re not a new thing. However over the past few years publishers have started investing more into their own podcasts, with brands jumping on board. Josh Butt from MediaCom Beyond Advertising recently hailed podcasting as the new trend for advertisers to get in bed with, with Serial being a catalyst.

Serial reshaped podcasting, 100 million downloads and series two on its way, it was the tipping point for audio content on demand,” he said in an opinion piece a few weeks ago. “A few companies made it their marketing strategy to support podcasts and since mid 2014, this cash injection has encouraged the industry to grow and delivered successful content for those brands.”

It’s not all smooth sailing though, as many media buyers apparently don’t understand the potential of podcasts.

With the return of Serial US publication AdWeek wondered whether it will finally pull advertisers to the platform, as Serial has helped increase the download of other podcasts alongside it.

“The sheer scale of its listener base—tens of millions—can be attributed as a key catalyst for the medium to be considered in planning discussions,” Laura Correnti, group account director at OMD and Giant Spoon partnership, The Grid, told AdWeek in its recent print edition.

However, radio futurologist and managing director at media.info James Cridland questioned whether the uptake increase is equivalent to the large amount of coverage about whether advertisers should invest in podcasts.

“People all of a sudden are talking about podcasting and then investing in it,” he told B&T. “Weirdly, what we’re not actually seeing is a massive increase in the amount of consumption of podcasts.

“What we are seeing, particularly in America, is people jumping on this as being the next big thing in terms of where to stick your investment cash into.”

That’s not to put podcasts down, he stressed, “it’s just saying all of the investment community have woken up to what great speech radio programming can do, which just happens to be on-demand and just happens to be a podcast.”

There’s quite a few articles about podcasts’ potential, we’ve written a number as well, and while there may be confusion about consumption versus investment, Cridland believes “anything that raises the profile of podcasts – like Serial – is a good thing for revenue, both advertising and also investment in the industry”.

Email marketing platform MailChimp was one of the first sponsors of Serial, and the ad at the beginning of each episode became almost as ingrained within the listener’s mind as the program itself, said Radiocentre on the D&AD website. No surprises the brand has signed back on for the second season.

“As MailChimp has proved, advertising and sponsoring a successful podcast can be a lucrative move, with each listen equalling a listen of a brand’s advert and it’s this direct and targeted engagement companies are after. Podcast listeners tuning into the same program each week, attentive and responsive to what they’re hearing is an attractive quality for many brands.”

The BBC’s tech correspondent Rory Cellen-Jones also added: “What this means is that podcasting, which has long struggled to prove its commercial viability, suddenly looks an attractive destination for advertisers – and investors.”

Both the D&AD and BBC articles point out gaining solid funding for podcasts has been tricky as there doesn’t appear to be any standard on how to do it properly.

D&AD’s Radiocentre said: “However, keeping in mind a prospective podcast’s ranking and popularity, its geographical spill and an awareness of the content and audience of a podcast, the beginnings of a basic strategy can be formed by brand when considering advertising opportunities.”

In Australia, MediaCom’s Butt said there’s not a huge amount of podcasts which have made it mainstream, and while the ABC creates a large amount of podcasts, in order to get brands and advertisers involved they’re going to have to go outside the public broadcaster.

“The audience is rising, thanks to the podcast app on iPhone and Android. Digital car radio hasn’t hit a tipping point but it will soon, so get ready,” he said.

“For now, there are many podcasts in their embryonic stages with opportunities for brands to cleverly integrate and help with distribution.”

Butt pinpointed publishers like Mamamia as big creators of podcasts, and with Mamamia recently reiterating its commitment to podcasts at its recent Upfronts in Sydney, only time will tell how the medium goes.