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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.

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.

Marketers and brands take note: Wondery and Mindshare’s NeuroLab recently 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. 

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’.

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. 

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 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.  

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