Audio:Activated - new BBC Global News study reveals unique effectiveness of branded podcasts

Branded podcasts are an effective means of advertising and a powerful addition to the marketing mix, generating real cut-through with audiences - particularly ad avoiders.

Published: 24 September 2019
This study provides real empirical evidence demonstrating the opportunity in the audio space for brands, and partnering with experts in this space offers an exciting and effective way for them to reach audiences in a genuinely meaningful way.
— Richard Pattinson

In addition, their impact increases when the listener is engaged in other tasks, which is true for 94% of podcast listeners, and therefore represents an entirely separate space for brands to reach their audiences.

These are among the findings of Audio:Activated, a new study commissioned by BBC StoryWorks - BBC Global News’s branded content division - and carried out across four continents by neuroscience researchers at Neuro-Insight. It researches the minds of audio listeners to discover the unique benefits of this space for brands.

Using cutting-edge neuroscience methods, measuring second-by-second brain activity as content is consumed in passive and active states of activity, Audio:Activated reveals the persuasive power and cut-through of branded podcasts. Podcasts have a huge and growing audience. In a field filled more with excitement than reliable research data, this study provides much-needed insight.

Audio:Activated key findings

  • Branding stands out from content
  • 94% of listeners consume podcasts while performing other tasks. This mode of listening actually elevates engagement with the brand
  • They are consumed in ways that are additive to the marketing mix
  • Podcasts are a particularly effective way to reach ad avoiders
  • The language of a podcast creates subconscious associations with the brand

The study’s key findings include:

Branding stands out from the content, helping land the message

Within branded podcasts, the brand stands out from the content. Brand mentions in the podcast deliver on average 16% higher engagement and 12% higher memory encoding than the surrounding content. This is a unique effect, as global radio benchmarks show that brand mentions on average score 5% lower than content. The intimate and conversational nature of the podcast environment creates an elevated state of engagement for brand mentions. This also drives brand metrics across the board, helping to generate lifts in awareness (↑89%), brand consideration (↑57%), brand favorability (↑24%), and purchase intent (↑14%).

Branded podcasts achieve unique cut-through with ad avoiders

The study’s sample was comprised of ad avoiders, but their engagement, emotional intensity and memory encoding around brand mentions beat TV benchmarks by at least 22%*, showing that branded podcasts are an effective way to engage this hard to reach but commercially-desirable group.

Podcast listeners are active

94% of listeners consume podcasts while performing other tasks. Doing chores at home (61%) and driving (55%) were the most common, with exercising, shopping and running errands also popular.

Activity makes listeners more receptive

Rather than reducing the brand impact, the research shows that the active group scored more highly on all measures - engagement (+18%), emotional intensity (+40%) and long term memory of the podcast (+22%).

The study shows that two processes occur in order to deliver this:

  • Keeping the brain occupied with an activity enhances the ability for brands messages to achieve cut-through
  • The state of activity means that the podcast content is being taken in through ‘low-involvement processing’ - a much more ‘fuel-efficient’ process that has a lower cognitive load. As such, engagement with the content can last much longer; good news for this long-form format

Branded podcasts drive positive associations

Listeners create subconscious associations with the brand, based on words they hear in the podcast. In our sample, the word “innovative” was mentioned 12 times during the podcast. Listeners were later more likely to call the sponsor “innovative”, showing that they instinctively associate the brand with the message.

Podcasts provide extra time for brands

When people are listening to podcasts, they are doing so in moments that are not traditionally opportunities for advertising. Because of the unique way podcasts are consumed - usually whilst multitasking - brands are now able to reach people in what were previously thought to be unreachable moments. This is an enviable commercial opportunity as it is additive to the marketing mix.

Richard Pattinson, SVP BBC StoryWorks, says: “The BBC has a near-century long reputation for excellence in audio-based storytelling. This study provides real empirical evidence demonstrating the opportunity in the audio space for brands, and partnering with experts in this space offers an exciting and effective way for them to reach audiences in a genuinely meaningful way.”


* TVC BENCHMARK SOURCE: Neuro-Insight memory encoding benchmark, based on 25K+ TV ad spots tested globally for memory encoding performance. 15-90s duration (avg: 30s).


Audio:Activated worked with 2,448 global respondents in 10 markets around the world. This included 1,844 consumer surveys, 27 deep dive video diaries, and 14 in-depth video interviews with experts around the world.

For the neuroscience portion, the BBC worked with subjects who are regular podcast listeners, finance enthusiasts with USD 100k+ combined annual household income, and are ad avoiders in four markets: New York, Melbourne, Munich and Singapore. We measured emotional intensity, long-term memory encoding and cognitive engagement using Steady State Topography (SST) when exposed to 30 min finance branded finance podcast Money Movement.