Episode 50 — After These Messages: A Research Overview with Sounds Profitable

Ad Results Media
16 min readAug 29, 2022


Which is better: Host-read, or scripted ad reads? According to a new ground-breaking study from Sounds Profitable, the best answer might be… Yes.

In this special edition of On the Mic, Tom Webster joins Lindsay and Nate to discuss what their latest study means for your podcast advertising strategy. Spoiler alert: there are no simple answers. But the data paints an incredibly useful picture for those of us who have been hungry for more data on the relative effectiveness of podcast ads.

(0s): We actually use Scribd in our home.

(3s): Do you really love your Sleep Number? We do.

(23s): We talk a lot about the effectiveness of podcast ads and the power of live-read endorsed spots in particular. But one question has come up consistently over the years are live read spots truly better than scripted host reads. And what about scripted ads read by someone other than the host of your favorite podcast?

(40s): Luckily, the Sounds Profitable team decided to tackle this question with cold hard data. Today we’re joined by Sounds Profitable partner and research junkie Tom Webster to discuss their groundbreaking study titled after these messages we’ll cover what sets the study apart, how the data backs up some of our deepest held mantras and what some of the totally surprising results mean for advertisers.

(1m 2s): Well, Tom, thank you so much for joining us today on, on the mic. I’m pretty sure most, if not all of our listeners know who you are, but just in case they don’t, why don’t you introduce yourself?

(1m 14s): Yeah, I’m Tom Webster. I’m a partner at Sounds Profitable. I’ve, I’ve been at Sounds Profitable for less than three months now, but prior to that, I had an 18 year career at Edison research heading up the, the digital audio practice there. And I’ve been a, I’ve been a media researcher really for the last 28 years now. And now I’m thrilled to be a Sounds Profitable partnered with Bryan Barletta and we’re really working to push the podcasting space forward and, and, you know, get everybody paid more.

(1m 45s): Yeah, we are really excited about everything that y’all are doing over there. It Sounds Profitable. We love having Bryan on the show and I’m, I’m super stoked to have this conversation today.

(1m 54s): Yeah. Bryan is a, a good friend and a completely different mind and thinker to me, I think, and I love the way that we play off each other. So it’s, it’s been a fun ride.

(2m 3s): We’re really excited to talk about the study. I know the title is super catchy after these messages. Why don’t we start by just giving listeners an overview of exactly what you guys are covering in the study and, you know, maybe dive into how it was structured and what makes it stand out from the studies that have been done so far on the relative effectiveness of different ad formats for podcasts.

(2m 28s): A lot of this stemmed from, I think, both of our dissatisfaction with some of the narratives around podcast advertising, right? And I, I think if you ask a hundred podcasters, which is better host red ads or dynamically inserted or programmatic, they’ll all say host red ads, but you know, our, our kind of prevailing theory going into this was it’s really about the creative execution. The listener doesn’t know how it’s delivered. So let’s test some creative executions of an ad and I’ve done any number of studies on the effectiveness of podcast advertising and they, they sort of fall into one of two buckets necessarily.

So they’re either very abstract where you’re asking podcast listeners in general, how do you feel about these things in general? And those studies have value and they work and I’ve worked on a bunch of them. And then when you try to actually figure out well in this exact scenario with listeners to this podcast, what works better, that tends to not scale very well. Those are the kinds of studies that you end up having to do sort of small sample, forced listening, cuz they’re, they’re really, really expensive, but we designed a study and we hoped it would come back in a, in a robust way.

And it, and it really did what we wanted to do was get a large sample of podcast listeners and actually give them a piece of a podcast so that they would get the context of a host and an ad. And so to, to make this really work, we chose a podcast that was incredibly mass appeal. We took Jordan Harbinger’s show and we took a, a segment of an interview between Jordan and Matthew McConaughy. And you know, most podcast listeners are, are gonna like that, right?

We, we, we wanted to stay away from something controversial, but we wanted a big enough show. So we did in fact pick the right show. There was a huge, you know, appreciation for the segment. And, you know, the segment itself scored really, really well. So we knew we picked the right content. And with that sample, we had a thousand weekly podcast listeners there. Everybody got that content, the same piece of content, but a third of the sample got one of three different treatments of an ad for athletic greens, which again, we, we chose the brand very carefully here.

We didn’t wanna pick something as ubiquitous as Geico, but we also didn’t wanna pick something that only a few people would be interested in. And we thought this would be a good fit. So we had Jordan who participated in this with us and was a great partner. He did a sort of live ad lib read, which is typically how he would, how he would do that kind of thing. And he’s in fact done that for athletic greens. And that was, you know, about a minute and a half of him just kind of riffing on how he and his wife use it. And, and you know, you, you know, the drill, a third of the sample got Jordan reading, a scripted ad, a, a tight 30, and then a third of the sample got an announcer reading that same scripted ad.

And what we did with that, we picked a great voice, Ashley Hamer, Ashley Hamer, Pritchard, who used to be the host and producer of curiosity daily. And we knew that she would be a good fit, have a good mood and, and things like that. And so basically what came back from doing this, that surprised us to the positive, you know, we’d hoped we’d, we’d get some actual Jordan listeners in the sample, but we couldn’t predict that and we didn’t wanna screen for it. Cause that would bias all of the results. We got like 300 people in that sample who say that they’ve listened to Jordan’s show.

So basically each ad treatment got, in addition to a third of the full sample, got a hundred Jordan listeners and it came back making an enormous amount of sense that people who were previously listeners to the show or higher on everything than the, the people who hadn’t, but even the people who hadn’t were positive about the show. And, and so we, we knew that we did a really good job there. I know that’s kind of a long kind of, hopefully not rambling way to, to kind of describe the whole thing, but what made this different for us and significant was that it combined the scale that you get from a large sample kind of abstract study with the very specific and detailed results that you might get from a smaller, forced listening study if Paul Dale from SX M called simulated exposure.

And I think that’s probably accurate.

(6m 39s): So a follow up question, because I just, I don’t really understand exactly the technology you guys are using or how the study’s done, but maybe if you could just walk me through that a little bit, like are listeners essentially using their standard podcast app, are, are they randomly selected out in the wild so to speak? Or how did you guys go about creating the environment for the study itself?

(6m 57s): Yeah, so we worked with a research partner, Edison research who fielded the study for us, and we used a stratified national online panel. And so, and this panel was waited to be representative of weekly podcast listeners. And we take that waiting from the most recent infinite dial research, which is a, you know, a large, expensive telephone study. So we knew that we had a representative sample of weekly podcast consumers from that they were invited to take an online study. The online study was, was fairly short.

We try to keep these as short as we can, but a third of the sample basically got a custom piece of audio, which consisted of the, the same content clip. And then one of the three ad treatments. And, you know, I’ve, I’ve been looking at data like this for, you know, over 25 years and you can smell it when it doesn’t look right. You can smell it when it’s wrong, when things wobble, where they shouldn’t and don’t where they should. And this just came back. I, I just a home run in, in every sense,

(7m 55s): There were a lot of really interesting takeaways to cover in the overall presentation. But if you had to boil it down to just the ones that excited you the most, what would those be?

(8m 8s): Well, I, I think sort of the overarching, I, I guess kind of bullet point of the whole thing is that live host red ads do the best, but with the right execution, announcer red ads are pretty darn good. And the interesting thing about that and that I don’t believe that’s contradictory at all is that, that there was a big difference here between previous listeners and, and Jordan’s listeners to the show and people who had never listened to the show, but still liked the content. Cuz I, I, again, I think we picked the right content there.

If you were new to the show, then the live host red ad did, did significantly better. Then the scripted host red ad, although that also did very well and the announcer red ad in every case though, the fit, the interest in learning more likelihood to purchase things like that for all three ads was, was very, very good. The really fascinating finding to me was for previous listeners to Jordan, for Jordan’s existing audience, all of the scores were significantly higher as, as you might expect, you know, things like interest in learning more amongst the, the full sample, 58% were interested in learning more who heard the live read amongst Jordan’s audience.

That number was 85%, right? So we were, I mean, that’s like, no matter how you slice the stats, that’s that’s eye popping so that they were able to model the relationship and how that transfers. But the fascinating thing about Jordan’s listeners is that they were equally high with the announcer read as well. So the, the live read did, did, you know, certainly the best clearly the best with non listeners, but with Jordan’s listeners, the announcer read did just about as well. You know, really statistically tied is within, within margin of error.

And there are a lot of things I think you can extrapolate from that. And I, I think they have to do with the fact that if you’re deciding, do we wanna do a live host read, or do we wanna do a prerecorded spot with an announcer? It might be a false choice. They might be working in very different ways. The, the host live read might be a way to kind of warm people up to the brand, you know, and that’s a premium piece of, of property. I know you’re soon to be celebrated in retirement, Marshall Williams from ad results, calls it beachfront property, right. And that, and it’s certainly this study backs that up.

But once that brand has been warmed up and maybe is maybe that has been heard a few times by the existing audience, it might be that the announcer red ad provides a contrast, maybe potentially consistent delivery of features and benefits and brand messaging and things like that. And there’s clearly a place that both of them sit in the world.

(10m 44s): I like that framing of it because it makes it sound like, you know, the host is sort of bringing the brand to the audience in a way that they start to feel at home with the brand the, or the brand starts to feel at home with them, so to speak. And, and that makes them maybe more open to messaging that they might not be as open to otherwise. And I think that’s, that’s really cool. You know, a lot of the stats that you guys cover in the study, they’re backing up intuitions that we have had as you know, well, first of all, as podcast listeners about like what works on me as a listener, what I resonate with most and the kind of recommendations that we give our client, which are based on studies, as well as, you know, our experience listening and, you know, grading a lot of ads and seeing performance.

I’m just curious though, for you, there were definitely some moments where I was, I was sort of surprised, but for you, you have so much more insight into, you know, the landscape. Was there anything that was sort of shocking for you or maybe provocative making you think of new ways that you guys could be thinking or, or investigating in the future?

(11m 53s): Yeah. There was one stat that completely floored me and I, we quintuple checked it. Maybe even sext checked it, but it was the only stat that went in this direction in a, in a study where everything was just so consistently logical. And that was unaided recall of the brand and this behaved in a manner that I, I’m not sure that I, I predicted when we ask the, the, the total sample. Right. Which is mostly people who have never heard the show before who heard the live, read the live ad lib read.

Did you hear any brand names mentioned, right? There’s no prompt here. They’ve never heard the brand in the study. It’s the, really, the first time that we’re asking about the ad, what brand name, if any, was mentioned, 68% of the total sample who heard the live ad lib read said it was athletic greens or athletic something, something, or something, something greens like they mostly got it. Right. You know, so that was 68% with the total sample with Jordan’s own listeners on the live read, the number was less, it was 51%.

And I at first with so many of the numbers for Jordan’s listeners being so much higher than the total sample or the non listeners, I, I, I wondered what the heck was going on, but, you know, part of it was that Jordan’s listeners were almost three times more likely to already know the brand. They knew the brand already and 10 times more likely 10 times more likely to have already purchased the brand. And so I think to them, the brand and Jordan’s mentioning of it was content.

Like it didn’t, it, it was just part of Jordan’s show in a way that if you were new to the show and didn’t have that sort of, oh, it’s Jordan talking about athletic greens, that’s part of the show, right? Because, you know, besides unaided recall all of the other scores, you know, for the live read with Jordan’s listeners in interest in learning more were 85% likelihood to purchase 82%. I mean, these numbers are really significant and off the charts, but that first, Hey, did you hear a brand? And what was it being lower was sort of an interesting glimpse into a way that these ads might work in the mind of a listener and how the relationship with the host works in the mind of a listener and how these ads don’t necessarily work better or worse.

They work differently.

(14m 15s): I think that that was also one of the most fascinating stats that was presented to me. And really just goes to show that kind of marrying those three options, the live read, the host scripted, and then the produced scripted, marrying those together really can work in your favor in the end. It doesn’t have to be, you know, one versus the other. So that kind of being said, what are some of the ways that you think advertisers should apply some of these findings to, to their overall media plans?

(14m 49s): I think first of all, the first, you know, if there’s one thing I would like advertisers to take away from this it’s that the announcer red ad that we did, that we selected worked really, really well because it fit the mood of the show. It fit the ethos of the show. It wasn’t a screaming car commercial, right? It sounded like it belonged on the show. It was, it was a female voice. It was obviously not Jordan, but you know, it, it sounded like it belonged on the show. And in every case with listeners and non listeners, you know, even though that read may have done a little bit worse with non listeners, it still performed exceptionally well.

And, and far better than you might get in a, a mass media TV ad or a print ad or something like that. So, you know, the one message I would love to get out there for brands and, and advertisers is if a show says that this ad is not gonna work with my listeners, listen to them a little bit, you know, and, and I know there, you know, it’s, it’s easy for a brand to say, look, this is our radio spot. You know, you’re, you’re gonna run this or, or else, I don’t think that’s gonna work very well, but if you choose something that fits the show, you know, we have all the evidence that shows it actually works really, really well.

So that, that would be, I think the one thing I would love for agencies and, and brands to kind of take away from this is that, that these things can work if the creative execution works. But then just to kind of go back to my previous point, it would be to think about the, you know, the choice between a host red ad and an announcer red ad, and doing a live read again as, as a false choice and, and think about how it may be that the live read serves as a great introduction to the brand, but then they can transition into an announcer read if there’s a relationship being built there.

And why I think the announcer red ads did so well with Jordan’s audience is that Jordan really opened the door for that. Jordan opened the door. They were already receptive to hearing about hearing about the brand and you know, the great thing about an announcer red spot, if it’s well done and fits the show is that it will be consistently enthusiastic and clear. And sometimes when a host is doing the same live read for the same brand 50 or 60 times, that’s not always the case.

Right. So it’s right. So it’s, it, it, it’s good to think of these things in tandem, in sequence used in a staged fashion, because I think they both can work and they both can work really well together.

(17m 18s): I really love that you’re bringing up that this is sort of a false choice, and I think there are a lot of, there are a lot of those in advertising when you’re trying to come up with a plan it’s, it’s easy to say, this is good. This is bad, but there’s, you know, more nuance and complexity and hearing you talk about the importance of context really resonates to me as someone who’s like working on writing ads and, and selling clients on the idea that as you said, radio may also be audio, but it is a very different environment than podcasting that’s. That’s so important.

You know, I know something that you mentioned in the preview to the study, which we got to attend, you know, agencies like arm and internal marketers who are trying to, you know, sell the effectiveness of podcasting can definitely look to this study as a starting place. I’m curious if you can speak to that because there were definitely some findings in the study that stood out to me on this question, like for a brand who’s not already in podcasting, what’s the headline here in terms of the effectiveness of, of podcasting ads.

(18m 16s): Yeah. I mean, there’s, there’s actually plenty in this study about that. We ask first a series of questions about the all three ad treatments compared to the typical ad that you might hear in other media. Right. And for things like the live read, 75% said, oh, this was more informative. 61% said more enjoyable, you know, 60% more memorable. There’s a, there’s a clear, qualitative difference between the execution of, of the live read in, in context of the show with the show.

People like compared to sort of the, the typical ad that you might hear. So they’re enormously effective. And honestly, even just looking at the unaided recall from people who had not heard the show before, that’s kind of a slam dunk when you have nearly seven and 10 listeners come to this, you know, cold. And they said, and they come back and say, oh, it’s athletic greens. Like that’s kind of remarkable, right? It’s not, you know, one of the top five insurance companies who, you know, blanket the, the airwaves and radio and, and things like that, and are certainly becoming increasingly important in podcasting.

You know, it’s a green powder drink and people remembered it and they remembered it. I think because Jordan introduced it really, really well in the context of a compelling segment. And that relationship is, you know, I, I, I don’t wanna say it’s completely unique to podcasting, but it’s more reliably delivered in podcasting.

(19m 39s): Yeah. And I think, you know, something we talk about too is just the intimacy of audios and medium, and the authenticity being such a huge driver of success with podcasting. Like that is a very unique thing to the, you know, a podcast listener’s experience of a show is they’re going around listening to Jordan harbinger a lot throughout their day. And so, yeah, I think it’s definitely something that we’re very happy to have, like some hard numbers starting to spell out just how effective podcast advertising is. Thanks so much, Tom, for being on the show, we’re really excited about what you guys are doing.

It Sounds Profitable. And the study after these messages, thanks so much for your time.

(20m 17s): Yeah. Appreciate it. Love y’all ATM. Can’t wait to see some of you at, at podcast movement soon.

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(20m 54s): On the Mic is hosted by Lindsay Smith and Nate Spell edited by Jeffrey Stallings and produced by Ad Results Media. For more information about Ad Results media go to adresultsmedia.com or follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

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