Programmatic Hits the Podcast Brand Suitability Sweet Spot

Tori Zoellner, Director of Programmatic SalesJan 25, 2024

Whether you work in media professionally or are a casual audio user, you've likely noticed the rapid growth of podcasts. Edison Research shows that the podcast audience has doubled since 2015, and around 120M people have listened to a podcast in the last month. However, overall marketing strategies haven’t kept pace with the time that listeners spend on podcasts, and brands are missing out on this highly engaging opportunity to reach their audience. 

Brand safety concerns from advertisers have also had an impact, accounting for some of the disparity between audience engagement and advertising investment. Let's look at brand safety for podcasts and how programmatic can make the space safer for brands.

Brand Suitability & Podcasts

On the SiriusXM Podcast Network, we are proud of our content. Every show we offer adheres to strict GARM brand safety standards. If you’re unfamiliar, GARM establishes guidelines for eleven categories, from alcohol to profanity. 

One of the downsides to the GARM framework is that these standards were developed for linear television and CTV. While it’s useful to have guidelines that carry over from one medium to another, topics that are not brand safe in a visual environment may be more appropriate when handled on a podcast. Most of the marketers we talk to understand that intuitively, but the industry lacks podcast-specific content standards. 

Podcast Content is Different

We expect to hear swearing in comedy podcasts, and we expect to hear discussions of alcohol (wine) in cooking shows. It’s not unusual to hear about illegal drugs in the very popular true crime genre, and there have even been some episodes of Oprah’s podcasts that have tackled issues of violence. When the average brand marketer looks at content topics, violence, alcohol use, and profanity are usually pretty standard topics to steer away from. Unfortunately, blocking those categories keeps brands away from some of the most popular, engaging content that our listeners love. 

Podcast hosts have the freedom to discuss topics from their own point of view, developing authentic, strong relationships with their listeners. Brands may perceive a risk associated with this creative freedom and worry that their ad content may end up in podcast episodes that aren’t appropriate for their image.

As media professionals spend more time with podcasts as a marketing vehicle, there are opportunities to match brand suitability guidelines with the relevant content type. Our content team removes any show that fails to meet GARM baselines. From there, we work with marketing partners to understand their specific areas of concern. We have developed multiple content filtering tools that are both specific and broad to make sure that marketers are able to determine exactly what podcast content they want to associate with their message.

Programmatic & Brand Suitability

Until there is more campaign performance data to draw on, we expect that brands will continue to want their legacy brand suitability standards to apply in the podcast space. Today, we implement those standards in the SSP, using a transcription technology that scans each episode for content. We expect that in the not-too-distant future, brands will be able to select and apply those brand standards on the buy-side in a pre-bid capacity. It will continue to be important to understand exactly what shows are being blocked and allowed with DSP tools, otherwise marketers risk throwing the podcast baby out with the bathwater. 

Barometer & The Trade Desk Put Podcasts in Context

Over the past year or so of working in the programmatic podcast space, we have had the opportunity to work with several major brands who started out with fairly conservative content controls. In order to evaluate podcast content, clients can leverage partnerships with Barometer and The Trade Desk. 

  • Barometer transcribes and reads each episode for brand safety.

  • The Trade Desk takes all publisher, show, and episode-level data that we pass in a bid request and makes it available to Barometer.

Thanks to this coordination, we can look at the spoken-word context for an episode that was blocked by brand suitability standards. In some cases, our clients have concluded that the offending content is actually very much in line with their expectations of the medium. 

The Right Partner with the Right Tools

When you choose to align with podcasts, you are choosing to be part of the fastest growing media content available. Instead of limiting yourself to content that fits brand safety standards of other media, use our podcast-specific tools and partnerships to understand the context your ads appear in on our premium podcast inventory. By doing so, your brand can align with shows that are popular, authentic, and perfectly brand suitable.

Let's talk.


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