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For some podcasts the pre-roll ad may soon become an endangered species. At last week’s Podcast Movement conference, several producers said they are toying with how to place the first spot break in their podcast, since there’s a growing sense that some listeners are becoming conditioned to simply skip past the first few minutes of a show.

“We’ve been starting to move into having an early mid-roll and away from having a pre-roll to let people get into the content first, because sometimes pre-roll is tough because people just want to get there right away,” said Erica Osher, Senior Director of NPR Sponsorship Product, National Public Media/NPR. But she told the Orlando conference that it will remain “a balance” with some shows sticking with the current format. “There are still people who are going to want to buy pre-roll because they think they have higher listen rates,” said Osher. The most critical element, she said, is putting the ad breaks where they feel most natural in the content. “You don’t want to get into a good story and then have a cliff hanger that’s going to make people scatter,” she said. Osher also said that survey work conducted on mid-roll ads has revealed some of the most common complaints are that the same spots run too frequently, the ads are too long, or are just not relevant to the listener.

National Public Media/NPR has been working with the Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology and solution provider firm Veritonic on how it creates podcast advertising. At Podcast Movement, the two companies shared several of the insights they have drawn from that work.

  • Build An Emotional Connection: NPR/NPM did a test on its mid-roll ads and the results showed getting personal is a successful strategy. “Make people feel things and they will be more likely to remember the messages that they heard,” said Osher. “When there was a personal story involved—things making them laugh or cry—you get much higher recall, which especially for a branding campaign is very important.” Her advice to podcasters is to open up. “You can get personal. Don’t be afraid to have some emotion in the reads that you have,” she said.

Scott Simonelli, CEO of Veritonic, said their research has found similar results. They analyzed a large number of ads that have won Clio Awards and Radio-Mercury Awards and discovered that being relatable is how to make an ad work for a client. “When you brought storytelling that is relatable within the spot, there was a huge uptick across the board in purchase intent and that influenced those ads dramatically,” he said. “It sounds obvious but when you bring that personal story to the table it really grabs the end-user that you are targeting. And that can bring a tremendous lift in outcome and it also doesn’t have to sacrifice creativity.”

  • Tell The Brand’s Story, Too:“People like to know the stories behind the brands that they buy,” said Osher. The data backs that up. Veritonic data shows when there’s a brand story in the spot, there is a 50% increase in purchase intent to purchase that product. Osher said when NPM/NPR tested a better spot, the traditional ad that talked about the product did just fine, but the numbers shot up when another tested ad talked about the story behind the beer brand. “It was something that people felt inspired by,” she said. Simonelli said it’s similar to “massive influence” that putting a personal story in podcast ad can have.
  • Music Helps The Ad:There’s a reason most radio ads have a music bed. The data shows it helps make the spot more impactful. Veritonic data showed that when music is used correctly, it can create an emotional connection with the listener and that leads to a 36% increase in purchase intent and 18% increase in completion rates.

“Nothing is more powerful and can grow emotion more quickly. It can do it really fast and bring visceral reactions. Done well, music can be hugely powerful,” said Scott Simonelli, CEO of Veritonic. But he said there’s also a responsibility to use music correctly, because if the wrong song is picked it could have the opposite effect.

  • Get Specific: The research shows other factors resonate with listeners, such as offering a money-back guarantee, citing customer usage rates, and other specific data points. Each help boost a brand’s trustworthiness rates.

“One of the best ways to think about brand lift is if people love your podcast, they’re going to like the brands that support your podcast. So in your messaging, call that out,” said Osher. “Talk about the fact that when you support or use a brand that supports a podcast, that helps it survive and continue to make content. Don’t be afraid of that messaging. It’s important and what we see is that actually gives more positive opinions to the brands that support us, drives higher action rates – they are more likely to purchase a product that supports a podcaster or a piece of content that they care about.”

Simonelli, whose company uses AI and a variety of machine learning and data culled from real people to help its clients, said he believes nearly half of a commercial’s ROI comes from the creative. “The content has a huge influence on how people respond,” he said. He bases that conclusion on data tied to things like a brand’s recall rates, the memorability of the ad, the pre- and post-ad purchase intent rates, and other factors. “There’s no great podcast ad that will work all the time,” Simonelli told podcasters. “You always want to see what’s working and understand what’s working. It’s not a quick fix. You have to do it all the time. Once you stop, you will lose touch with your audience.”