Man at computer with headphones on

Do You Hear What I Hear? The Rise of Podcasting — Especially During the Pandemic


Podcasts — those small digital audio programs people listen to — well, they’re not so small anymore. While the first digital audio podcast occurred in 2004, the powerhouse audio platform has grown exponentially since then, and it is now actively competing for the media dollars of both big and small advertisers … and getting them. Experts predict that podcast advertising will pass the $1 billion mark by 2021 (Search Engine Journal), taking money from both traditional and digital vendors and carving out its own niche for advertisers.

In general, more Americans are familiar with and listening to podcasts than ever before. At the start of 2020, 212 million Americans were aware of podcasts, which is up 10 million year over year (Convince And Convert). In addition to these natural stats showing year-over-year growth, the COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated the natural rise curve of podcast listening, with global usage up 42% (Voxnest). In the U.S., 18% of adults said they are listening to more podcasts since they started isolating and social distancing, and there is also large growth among Millennials and Gen Z (Morning Consult). Why are podcasts drawing all of these listeners and advertising dollars? Well, here are just a few of the top reasons.

1. On-Demand Audio Entertainment

Podcasts episodes differ by episode length and frequency, but they are always available for listening, whenever a listener chooses. With consumers’ schedules being different than ever before with the COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunity to listen to podcasts when it is convenient is a very large draw, plus the programs being audio and not video allow consumers to multi-task at home while they listen. Also, with consumers feeling stressed and unsure during the pandemic, podcasts with familiar voices can offer comfort and escapism for listeners (Niemanlab). The good news with everyone being at home is that home smart speakers and smartphones have made it much simpler to listen. Before the pandemic, listening times were higher during commutes and daytime hours, and now listening has evened out throughout the week (Morning Consult). Although some podcasts are owned by larger companies, a lot are still independently owned, allowing them to communicate with their audience in the most authentic and honest way possible.

2. Active/Engaged Listeners

No matter what someone’s interests/hobbies are, chances are, there’s probably a podcast out there that would pique their interest and engage them in listening. Podcast.co notes that the top 10 podcast topics range from food and sports to mythbusting, feminism, current news and events, and TV and movie discussion … and the #1 topic for podcasts is true crime. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there’s also been increased listenership in the U.S. to podcasts involving design, food, music interviews, medicine and music history (Voxnest). Given the breadth and focus of those genres, it’s clear that consumers want audio content they can really listen to with intent, regardless of what they’re doing at the time. With the free time of consumers changing due to the pandemic, along with a growth in competition for that time, having a media product that hones in on exactly what the consumer is interested in gives podcasting a huge leg up on the competition. Also, many podcasts have multiple episode/season arcs and require the listener to come back many times, fostering further affinity between the podcast and the consumer. The typical American listens to spoken-word content for at least one hour per day (Digital Music News), which gives podcasts the opportunity to gain repeat and loyal listeners, episode after episode.

3. Great Targeting Abilities

Podcasts are a great way to reach your target consumer in a way that feels more intimate than traditional media. Listening to podcasts feels like a one-on-one experience for the consumer (TheAudacityToPodcast.com). This authentic relationship that a podcast has with its audience can help ingratiate a brand directly to consumers. This provides brands the opportunity to reach their target consumers when they’re actively interested in and connected to the content being presented. As discussed above in point two, the consumer is already actively listening to retain information, so ads can resonate more. A study by NPR and Edison Research notes that spoken-word content, including podcasts, resonates deeply with consumers and that from 2014 to 2019, listenership has increased among both genders and all age demographics. Most larger podcasts know the exact demographics of their listeners, so it is easy to hone in on who your specific target is and really pump in additional frequency directly to those consumers. Plus, certain sponsorships are done directly via organic content, which allows for additional impressions of a brand’s message on an evergreen basis when new visitors find the content.

4. Perfect Companion to Other Audio Media

Many of the top podcasts are found on major platforms like iHeartMedia, Radio.com, Spotify and Pandora. Since those platforms already have such a strong presence with consumers, adding podcasts into the mix for advertisers is a simple add-on. If dollars allow, airing on AM/FM radio, digital streaming and audio podcasts allows brands to hit consumers where they are, when they are. 62% of all spoken-word listeners also listen to AM/FM radio (Digital Music News). Advertising on all three audio platforms increases frequency and drives more brand equity than one channel alone. Plus, digital streaming and audio podcasts are very cost-efficient and work as a great companion to any campaign. During the pandemic with advertiser changes, it’s become even more cost-efficient to pair those tactics together and reach consumers wherever they are listening.

In short, if a brand is not already exploring podcast advertising as a medium, it should be, especially now! Need help navigating podcasts or other paid media for your brand? The Brandon Agency can help with all of your digital and traditional media placement needs. Contact us to get started.