Wondery Ad Week Hernan Lopez

U.S. Adults spend 11 hours and 27 minutes per day connected to media, according to Nielsen and a growing portion of that is with content consumed on a smartphone. Hernan Lopez, founder and CEO of the podcast company Wondery, thinks that as audio competes for its share it has a unique selling position. “In order to get to a consumer’s head, social media and search are great ways to do it—you have scale and you have reach,” he said. “But if you want to get to a consumer’s heart and through their wallet, you need the emotional power of sound.”

Speaking to an Advertising Week audience on Tuesday, Lopez said that emotional tie between a listener and podcast is already well-known by listeners. Now a new study Wondery did with Mindshare’s NeuroLab is helping put some hard data behind that perception. The two companies unveiled the study at this month’s Podfront San Francisco presentation to West Coast advertisers. Speaking in New York this week, they shared more of the results with emotion closely linked to the numbers.

“They found audio storytelling is more emotionally engaging than visual podcasting across categories,” Lopez explained to marketers. The NeuroLab data showed the average audio ad had a 21% greater emotional intensity score than when the same brand story is told using only visual elements. “For many years audio-visual ads were considered the gold standard of marketing. They had sight sound and motion,” said Lopez. “We’re now learning that audio-only ads are 89% as powerful. And it gets better because with an audio-only ad you’re more likely to have consumer attention through the entirety of the ad.”

In more newly released findings, Lopez said the same emotional advantage is also at work for the content. When NeuroLab played the same segment from the Wondery podcast “Dirty John” and its companion television show on Bravo, the results were illuminating. “People were more likely to feel empathy for the characters on the podcast than the characters on the television show, even though they were exactly the same people and the same story,” said Lopez.

That emotional element of podcast is being exploited by Wondery. He said its writers and producers are making sure each show episode includes a “constant cliff hanger” in order to keep a listener engaged. The result an average 80% of a show’s listeners make it through to the end of an episode. Lopez said that model has also worked for non-fiction podcasts like the Gladiator, which it co-produced with the Boston Globe, and the new sports daily podcast The Lead that it’s working on with The Athletic.

“When you look at it closely you can quickly realize that telling stories in an emotional way, but at the same time being factual, is not mutually exclusive,” Lopez said. “When any company achieves that, it’s a recipe for a story that will remain with you for many years.”

Emotion, however, only gets an audio company so far. Recognizing that marketers need more than just warm-and-fuzzy feelings about a podcast buy, Wondery has for the past six months partnered with Podsights to use its proprietary system to track how podcast listeners convert into actual sales. Its performance dashboard allows an advertiser to see in real-time how many times a podcast episode has been downloaded, what the estimated reach of the campaign is, how many listeners added the product to a cart, how many actually bought the product, and what the company’s revenue from those sales was. Lopez said ad buyers are demanding attribution be seamless, direct and easy to access and he anticipates the sort of data that Podsights provides will become the standard way of measuring the effectiveness of podcast ads for most products that are sold online.

As more consumers embrace podcasts, Lopez said he expects more will gravitate to the sort of highly-produced shows that companies like Wondery are creating. He thinks they’ll also become a taste-setter. “Maybe a show that doesn’t have as good production quality isn’t as relevant as it used to be,” he predicted. Lopez also said that because younger consumers tend to favor shorter-length content, he expects studios to slice down episodes. “You’re going to see episodes that are shorter than they were before,” he said.