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Will podcasts be the next arena for brand safety issues?

Will podcasts be the next arena for brand safety issues?

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Podcasting as a medium is expanding rapidly and as the arena matures, more and more brands are also investing in the space. IAB and PwC predicts that by 2024, the medium will be worth over US$4 billion in the US. According to Spotify, a platform that has dished out over a billion dollars as of 2022 for stars such as Michelle Obama and Joe Rogan, its advertisers are now recognising the podcasting is a valuable channel for marketing their brand, product, or service to an audience immersed in the content they love. Spotify noted:

While early investors in podcast advertising—such as Tech, CPG, and Entertainment brands—continue to be top spenders, we’re seeing growth in new categories, like B2B, Travel & Leisure, and Medical & Pharma.

On its blog post, Spotify said that industry-wide, advertisers saw an average conversion rate of 1.28% from their podcast campaigns, with pre-roll as the most effective placement. Consumer insight companies such as GWI also say that 12% of consumers surveyed discover new brands and products through podcast ads and sponsored content - a small jump from 10% in 2019. 

Don't miss: Marketing podcast: Rapper Yung Raja on the demand for authenticity

But as with every growing medium, pains and pitfalls are expected to emerge – and one such area is in brand safety. Much like video advertising a couple of years ago, advertisers are now increasingly becoming cognisant around issues such as brand safety in the audio space.

In fact, understanding advertisers’ concerns, last year, Spotify partnered up with Integral Ad Science to establish a brand safety solution for podcasts.  In a statement then, Spotify said, “Our approach to brand safety has always included a combination of people, policies, and technology—including features like sensitive topics, which use episode-level transcription technology to help advertisers exclude topics that don’t align with their brand.”

It added that as podcasts have grown from a niche to mainstream medium, so has the need for consistent, well-established brand safety guidelines and technology. And while brand safety guidelines and tools exist across the digital ecosystem, especially for video, they don’t yet exist for audio.

With the partnership, Spotify was on a mission to change all that. The platform wanted embarked on a rigorous analysis to help the industry understand the tools and resources needed to effectively deliver brand safety in podcasting–and digital audio at large. It promised to give advertisers more confidence and transparency about where their messages are heard, beginning with third-party podcasts in the Spotify Audience Network.

Breaking down the sensitivities around brand safety in the audio space, Laura Quigley, the senior vice president, APAC, at Integral Ad Science shared that just like in video, it is also important for brands to have their ads next to audio content that aligns with their brand because not doing so can hurt one's brand image.

"The specific impact can depend on various factors, such as the severity of the content, the risk appetite of the brand and how the audience perceives it,” said Quigley.

She continued by painting an example of a family-friendly product being placed next to audio content that contains explicit language or controversial topics. In such cases, it can create a dissonance between the ad and the content. This can lead to a negative perception of the brand, decreased trust, and even boycotts by some customers.

Similarly, suppose an ad for a health-related product is placed next to audio content that promotes unhealthy behaviours or controversial medical practices. In that case, it can lead to concerns about the legitimacy of the brand and the effectiveness of the product.

Comparing it to video as a medium, she said that the impact of misplaced ads on brand safety may be more pronounced in video advertising because of the visual element. “Video ads can make the content more memorable and potentially damaging to the brand image. However, audio advertising should be noticed regarding brand safety, as it can still significantly impact the brand's perception,” she said.

A problem in Asia?

In Asia, podcasting is still fairly new and perhaps still at a nascent stage compared to markets such as USA. In fact, Asia is yet to make the list of Spotify’s biggest growth markets with the dominant players being US, Germany, and the UK as well as newer markets such as Spain, Italy, and France. 

The lower uptake of podcasts could mean that there is a higher risk of waste and inefficiency in digital media investments particularly when it comes to podcasts, according to Leela Nair, the managing director APAC at Ebiquity. In fact, an Ebiquity study revealed that there is an average of 21% wastage for digital spend in APAC and that brand safety is an important element of this potential wastage.

In Asia, at this stage, podcast brand safety has not been widely discussed as advertising investment is still low - but it is accelerating.

Nair went on to say that a rise of programmatic audio advertising has made it possible to reach highly targeted audiences, but it also brings with it the risk of placing ads in inappropriate or harmful environments.

“As podcasting continues to grow in Asia, it is important that brands take steps to proactively protect themselves when it comes to brand safety in the audio space,” added on Nair. "By doing so, brands can ensure that their audio ads are placed in safe and appropriate environments that align with their values and messaging."

Where to invest and what to note?

It is also important for brands to look for “safer podcasts” in Asia as even early-stage podcasts can be highly effective, shared Werner Iucksch, the SVP Social Media Asia Pacific for Media.Monks.

"One recommendation is to find podcasts that are not only popular with the audience, but also professionally run," he said. 

Sunil Naryani, the chief product officer, media APAC at dentsu said that he believes that podcasting will likely begin to pick up due to low content creation barriers and the thriving creator economy in the region and the openness to freemium business models.

Naryani added that given a substantial portion of audio content will likely be in local languages and user-generated, it highlights the importance of adopting a more focused strategy to ensure brand safety. 

Looking ahead at the Asian market, brands can start with extending their established brand safety practices to audio ad campaigns which should involve evaluating the podcasts for content, themes it covers, tonality, and listener demographics to ensure alignment with the brand's values, according to Naryani.

"Overtime it is beneficial to curate a list of podcasts that adhere to brand safety guidelines and supplement this with contextual targeting and third-party verification to bolsters the efficacy of brand safety efforts within the audio space," he said. 

Content 360 is back on 10-11 May 2023 in Singapore. A hugely popular event over the years, Content 360 brings the most influential content creators to inspire you. Across two days, you can connect with 300+ brightest minds in the industry and learn how to overcome challenges to make your content stand out among the crowd. Tickets are on sale now, register today:

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