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  • Writer's pictureOlly Hutson

🤔 The Ongoing Debate: Programmatic or Host-Read Ads

By Olly Hutson

Podcast advertising is continuing to grow strongly in 2023. The 2023 IAB Australian Audio State of the Nation Report noted that 78% of media agencies intend to increase investment in podcast advertising this year. When it comes to buying types of podcast ad space, there are a number of options available for marketers and media buyers. 82% of agencies intend to buy programmatic audio in the next year (up from 64% from the year prior). However, 86% of agencies buy host-read ads, the most popular creative above other formats (IAB 2023).

With both options boasting their own advantages in terms of cost, reach, and measurement potential - it can be difficult to determine which is best suited for your needs. That’s why we’re here today – to discuss the pros and cons of each method so you can make an informed decision for your brand and campaign.

Host-Read Ads

Host-read ads have the ability to be “baked-in” (recorded as part of the podcast) and also pre recorded for dynamic ad insertion (DAI). They are usually conversational and sound like endorsements from the hosts. Host-read ads are generally sold by the show or network directly. They are known for their authenticity and personal touch, which helps establish trust with the audience.

Host-read ads are often highly effective as the intimate, in depth nature of a podcast tends to create a strong relationship between host and listener. A host-read ad means that the ad content sounds natural, not a jarring change in pace and tone. Host-read podcast ads achieve 72% brand recall, compared with 62% for non-host-read ads. Additionally, host-read ads on podcasts produce an average of 50% increase in purchase and recommendation intent among listeners when compared against non-host-read ads.(Neilson)

Another advantage of host-read ads is the host’s ability to tailor the message to the audience. They can connect with the audience on a personal level and speak to their interests in an engaging and compelling way. This personalized approach can lead to higher engagement rates and better brand recall.

Looking at the disadvantages, host read ads can be expensive if baked-in. Baked-in ads are not suitable for a short time offer.They can be difficult to scale as hosts often only appear on 1 or 2 niche podcasts. They also rely on a host’s popularity and trustworthiness, which can change over time.

Host-read ads work best for brands looking to build trust and establish a personal connection with their audience. They’re ideal for promoting products or services that require a high level of trust or education to purchase.

Programmatic Ads

Programmatic ads are typically inserted into the podcast content automatically, often utilizing dynamic ad insertion (DAI) technology. This means that the ads can be targeted to specific listeners based on factors such as location, interests, and demographics. Programmatic ads can be audio or display and are often sold through programmatic ad platforms.

Some brands have specific aural branding they want to keep, whether that’s an announcer’s voice, actors, sound effects or music. Some brands in more regulated spaces have specific verbiage they need to include for legal reasons, and choose to produce their own spot.

One of the biggest advantages of programmatic ads is their scalability and ease of use. Advertisers can reach a large audience quickly and efficiently, without the need for direct relationships with podcasts and their hosts. Programmatic ads are also highly measurable, with detailed analytics that allow advertisers to track their performance.

A disadvantage of this kind of advertising is the lack of personalisation. Listeners may perceive these ads as generic and less engaging, reducing their effectiveness. A listener is more likely to engage and remember an advert from a voice they recognise and trust, such as the podcast host.

Programmatic ads work well for brands looking to scale their advertising quickly and efficiently. They’re ideal for promoting products or services that have a broad appeal and don’t require a high level of education or trust.

Case Studies

BetterHelp, one of the US’ biggest podcast advertisers uses a blend of host-read and programmatic ads, using programmatic ads to run a different creative message to reinforce host-read spots. “We want to be able to utilize all of the tools that come with programmatic and the targeting and the data,” said Senior Director of Audio Partnerships Brittany Clevenger. This buy works well to utilise the key benefits of both approaches - the reach and scale of programmatic, with the intimacy and authenticity of host-read. The brand is using programmatic to raise awareness, and host-read to convert.

Of course, not all brands have the budget to do both. An example of an effective host-read buy comes from who created custom host-read segments in the podcast Business Wars.

Custom segments allow a brand a deeper type of integration with the host and audience by having a representative of the brand discuss their key messages and case studies with the host in a Q&A style interview. When contextually placed, it sounds like it’s part of the show - native and immersive!

Custom segments are broken up into three sixty-second slots and dispersed within the show sequentially (the same podcast listener is served all three placements within the one episode). This allowed the ability to really create a narrative and drive an authentic connection with the audience. You can listen to the segments here.

An example of successful programmatic comes from Issuu, who used podcast ads to raise awareness and scale reach with their diverse target audience. They bought on audience across several different podcasts with a low-cost studio recorded ad. This proved to be an efficient tactic for the brand, enabling them to share a singular message in many different shows, wherever their audience listened.

In conclusion, there’s no easy answer to the question of whether host-read or programmatic ads are better for your brand. The decision ultimately comes down to your goals and budget. If you’re looking for a personalised approach that establishes trust with your audience, host-read ads are the way to go. If you’re looking for scalability and efficiency, programmatic ads are the way to go. Whichever type of podcast ad you choose, make sure to focus on quality and relevance to engage and retain your audience.

We offer a variety of solutions to meet a brands’ unique needs. We offer both dynamically inserted and baked-in options to our advertisers and podcasters, giving both parties ultimate flexibility and choice, creating a three-way win for the podcaster, advertiser and listener. Contact us here to learn more.


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