‘It’s not a sales tool. It’s about sentiment’: Benefit Cosmetics eyes podcast ads

Podcasts have caught the ears of marketers at Benefit Cosmetics.

With the number of weekly podcasts almost doubling in five years — from 3.2 million 2013 to 5.9 million in 2018, according to Ofcom — advertisers like the cosmetics manufacturer are playing catch-up.

But the rules of building a brand in a podcast are different to those for streaming services or even traditional radio, Lou Bennett, head of marketing in the U.K. and Ireland for Benefit Cosmetics, told Digiday at an event hosted by Impero. Rather than simply buying audio impressions, the advertiser sees podcasts as evergreen content that won’t easily date given organic listens grow over time.

“It’s not the explosion of podcasts as a medium that’s interesting to us a brand,” said Bennett. “It’s that it shows that younger generations are willing to consume long-form content.”

Sponsored podcasts will likely be the way forward for Benefit, said Bennett. It’s less intrusive to have a so-called “live read” before the podcast starts where the producer explains to the listener that “this podcast was brought to you by” than it is to stick an ad halfway through an episode. It’s more “immersive” this way, said Bennett, who teased that the advertiser could go a step further than sponsored podcasts and fund its own as it has done for video.

“If you look at our ‘Bold is Beautiful Empowering Women’ video series, we were happy to take a backseat to the content and the topic,” said Bennett.

Bennett’s stance rules out direct response ads on podcasts. Sticking a promo code within a podcast has been one way advertisers have tracked results. Doing so, however, doesn’t make for a great listening experience, which is why Benefit Cosmetics sees podcasts purely as a brand building play for now. “

Podcasts aren’t a sales tool. It’s about sentiment,” said Bennett. “Not all activities have a commercial return attached to them.”

It’s a similar view taken by other advertisers, many of whom are buying ads in podcasts without a robust set of analytics to measure ad performance. Closing the loop between listened-to ads and conversion is hard.

“We’re lucky enough to have such a robust marketing strategy that we can have pockets of just brand-led activity,” said Bennett. “We’d use the number of downloads by regular listens as a measurement of success for our activity.”

It’s questionable as to whether advertisers get a fair return on the ads they buy on podcasts given how expensive they are compared to other mediums. A typical cost per thousand impressions for a podcast vertical runs between £12 ($15) and £14 ($18), said a media buyer on condition of anonymity. That number can be as much as £20 ($26) for CPMs in a premium list of podcasts. It rises further to £22 ($28) for podcasts that are sponsored, said the media buyer. And yet the price is justified by demand, which is outstripping supply in a market controlled by a handful of players. It’s part of the reason why publishers like The Economist and the Financial Times threw more resources at podcast production last year.

“Advertisers are buying something they can’t get elsewhere,” said the executive. “They might get someone like Stephen Fry reading out their brand name, which is undoubtedly valuable. That can only go so far though because there’s no common measurement currency between the different podcast media owners.”

Prices will fall once more of those ads are sold in programmatic auctions. Indeed, Spotify, Global and Google are all building out their programmatic audio businesses now that the audience for podcasts is too big to ignore. A record $314 million in revenue was made from podcasts in 2017. That is set to grow by more than 110 percent by 2020, according to the IAB and PwC.

“Podcasts are in their infancy, but there’s a huge amount of demand among advertisers. I do feel as though demand is outstripping supply,” said Howard Bareham, co-founder at audio media buying and creative agency Trisonic. “We’re seeing traditional radio broadcasters get involved in podcasts and dynamic audio and then there are those advertisers that are bypassing radio advertisers to focus on podcasting. The market is expanding and that money is coming from digital, TV and radio budgets.”


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