Many of you probably listen to podcasts on various topics, from politics to art, history to religion, from technology to health and fitness, from comedy shows to how to become a CEO, from how to cook a decent meal through to Alan Partridge's latest exploits… well, you get the picture. For every mood and palate, there is a podcast. 

For advertisers this is great news, the wide range of topics and niche interests covered by podcasts allow advertisers to address targeted groups of consumers with a high level of engagement. And for podcasters too, opening up to advertisers can be a lucrative business. But given the largely audible nature of podcasts, and the lack of regulation generally, it has resulted in mixed reviews when it comes to transparency. 

This problem, coupled with the prevalence and popularity of podcasts, has raised concerns for regulators about whether advertising in podcasts is sufficiently identifiable. 

Podcasts are (largely) audio-only nature and have parallels with radio, which differentiate them from other forms of non-broadcast media.

The ASA and CAP have carried out research which found that podcast listeners valued a clear, up-front label at the start of ads. The most well-recognised terms were ‘paid-for advertisement’, and ‘sponsored’.  

In addition, consumers found it easier to recognise ads when labels were coupled with use of music or sound effects to mark out the ad from the surrounding content, and were not overly long. There were other findings on listeners’ relationships with, and perceptions of, podcasts and advertising, for example that there is an close relationship with a podcast host, and podcasts are a “cottage industry”. 

The rest is… clarified

Following the research project, the ASA and CAP have issued guidance. It is not intended to be prescriptive, but sets out best practice principles. By adhering to these, advertisers are more likely to comply with the CAP Code.

The guidance reminds marketers that their ads are subject to the rest of the non-broadcast advertising rules, covering issues from health products to promotional marketing, and should not contain anything to mislead consumers or cause harm or serious or widespread offence. Furthermore, CAP strongly advises using terms like “sponsored”, or “paid-for advertisements”, alongside musical or sound effect cues, to help listeners differentiate paid ads from the rest of the surrounding content.  

It's interesting that CAP allows the word “sponsored” in a podcast context, as #ad is the key permitted term for labelling influencer content and the use of “sponsored” was rejected in the CMA/ASA guidance. 

Personally, it drives us slightly bonkers when we skip ahead 15 seconds at a time (sorry advertisers!) and don't know if we are back into the meat of the podcast, or whether we're still listening to commercial messages, so we'd go further and suggest some kind of music bed during the ad breaks, though the ASA hasn't gone that far, so that's more of a personal request ; )

But is it worth the paper it's written on?…. oh

The guidance also points out that where a transcript is provided, it should also make clear what content is advertising.

Pod-casting a wide net

The guidance will take effect following a three-month grace period, on 16 August 2024. After that time, the ASA will start enforcing the rules in the context of the new guidance.