• Ranieri & Co.

It's here: The science behind the power of a podcast ad



One thing we know is that podcasts have a physical effect on the brain. But what about podcast ads? Turns out our brains like them, too. Find out how audio storytelling trumps visual storytelling in terms of emotional impact across every category.

 

One thing we know is that podcasts have a physical effect on the brain. A good story, crafted in audio, pumped through an app and earphones, literally changes the grey matter in our head. Electrical impulses increase. We get a hit of feel-good chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. A whole range of powerful neural chemical reactions keeps us tuning in and wanting more. That’s the effect of podcasts. But what about podcast ads? Turns out our brains like them, too. Deep connections are being made inside the brain of podcast listeners, between the podcast ads they hear and what products they’ll later consider buying.

Marketers and brands take note: Wondery and Mindshare’s NeuroLab released a study titled Your Brain on Podcasts. Using medical-grade technology to measure second-by-second, non-conscious neurological responses, they focused on electrical brain activity in participants consuming podcast ads versus social media video ads. The result? According to the brains of many volunteers with wires strapped to their heads, podcast ads are pretty bloody powerful. Mindshare’s NeuroLab found that when ads were run on two Wondery shows, Dr. Death and Life Is Short with Justin Long, the trust factor for the brand flipped from a negative to a positive.

Here’s what they were able to measure: memory activation (the most predictive neurometric of consumer behaviour and choice), emotional intensity arousal levels, valence (the direction – positive or negative – of emotions) and the subconscious association between brands and key attributes before and after exposure to creative. So, basically: Was it memorable? Did it make you feel something big and powerful? Did it change the way you identify with the brand? The answer to all this was a very emphatic ‘yes’. “Listeners trust the host of the podcast, and that halo effect benefits the brand,” said Hernan Lopez, founder and CEO of Wondery.

The results suggest podcast ads have a competitive advantage in terms of two scarce resources all advertisers are battling for: trust and attention. Looking at the levels of subconscious brand trust before and after exposure to an ad, the study reveals that podcasts grow brand trust while social media videos actually decrease it. The study also showed that podcast ads have a 9% higher average memory encoding level on a listener’s brain compared to the same brand ads on social media. Another of the surprising findings of the study is that people were more likely to feel empathy for the characters on the podcasts than the exact same characters on the television show.

Researchers reckon the halo effect of podcasting specifically drives trust and authenticity, while consumers are more wary of social media. Plus, you don’t need a degree in neuroscience to understand that a well-crafted ad inside your favourite podcast that you return to will win more trust than a video popping up in random spots as it follows you around the internet. 

You don’t need a degree in neuroscience to understand that a well-crafted ad inside your favourite podcast that you return to will win more trust than a video popping up in random spots as it follows you around the internet. 

In terms of the second battleground – attention – NeuroLab found that, on average, podcast ads experience greater memory encoding than social media. This effect is especially strong at key branding moments – roughly a quarter of the way through a 60-second advertisement, memory encoding is 38% higher for podcast ads.  

The researchers observed how social media viewers tend to suffer from a “zone out effect” during an ad, while podcast listeners retain memory peaks throughout a 60-second spot. Of course, outside laboratory conditions, audiences can just scroll away from social media ads that don’t grab them and make them feel something big. Here, too, podcast ads came out ahead, with the study showing they’re 27% more emotionally intense than their social media counterparts.




The study also found that the style of a host-read podcast ad affects its impact, which has interesting implications for brands. NeuroLab found that a host-read ad that used a storytelling style did the best when part of a narrative podcast—resulting in a 12% bump in emotional intensity. This means that a brand with a story to tell - whether that’s around a product or their origins, will get the best results within a story-driven show. However, the study also revealed that interview-style podcasts deliver a 7% increase in memory encoding. This means that if a brand wants to communicate an offer or promotion that requires a strong call to action, like a limited time discount, an in-depth, Q&A style podcast is the best environment to land the messaging.


Arafel Buzan, co-lead of Mindshare’s NeuroLab, said that the connection between trust and podcast advertising was particularly interesting. “Given the personal, emotional experience of podcast listening that we saw in our data, it wouldn’t be surprising if podcast hosts became the next major influencers,” she said. Of course, more and more podcasts are utilising celebrity hosts, bringing in an influential voice to a podcast that does not need to be built - it already exists between the host and their fans.

So why does audio trump visual when it comes to emotional impact? Well, hearing is our fastest sense. (Who knew?!) It takes our brain at least one-quarter of a second to process visual recognition. But sound? You can recognize a sound in 0.05 seconds. We're wired to tune out non-essential sound, so the world doesn't feel like a sensory overload. Therefore, a podcast with an entertaining, immersive story or subject matter allows our brain to focus with laser sharp intensity.


The power of podcast ads to shape minds, grab attention, grow trust and create big feels comes as no surprise to podcast listeners. They’re already giving lengthy periods of tuned-in, undistracted time to a medium that took less than a decade-and-a-half to go from new to necessity. Just like those NeuroLab volunteers, their brains are primed to generate trust and attention. Send them a message and they will receive it loud and clear.