Why TfL took to podcasts to start a conversation
At the Festival of Marketing, the audience heard how the long-form properties of podcasting drove Transport for London to make podcast sponsorship a vital part of the communications strategy for its ‘#TogetherAgainstHate’ campaign.
How long do you have to connect with your customer? Thirty seconds in the middle of a prime-time TV show? Or perhaps just a fleeting moment as they pass a bus stop, head down, scrolling social media? It seems like having the time to capture and deeply engage with a customer is a luxury today.
Enter the podcast - not a new phenomenon, but one that has been growing in popularity across a wide range of customer segments. In 2020, over 155 million people were listening to a podcast every week, with the average podcast listener consuming seven different shows in that time. There are more than 31,000 shows on Acast, the world’s leading independent podcast platform, and the UK’s major media properties – including the Guardian and The Times – are part of a global network collectively enjoying about 300 million listens every month.
So why is podcasting such an opportunity for brands? It’s not just about being another channel to reach consumers with ads, although that is certainly true. It’s podcasting’s unique ability to connect to its audience with long-form, in-depth content that can really help get a point across. It can help convert sceptics, create advocates and educate the curious. Importantly, it’s the ideal platform for taking an audience that is as broad as it is deep, and still managing to connect them to niche content and creators.
During the Festival of Marketing, Acast brought together Mary Ogbewele, customer marketing and behaviour change lead at Transport for London (TfL), and James Evans, communication planning manager at Wavemaker. They discussed how podcast sponsorship had helped them reach a hugely diverse audience with TfL’s ‘#TogetherAgainstHate’ campaign.
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Ogbewele explained: “We wanted to create two particular audiences – those that were impacted by hate crime, and all of the rest of London. We wanted to have a channel that could tell an authentic, personal story; be able to sit down and have a conversation about hate crime. [Sponsoring podcasts] gave us the opportunity to reach an audience that we wouldn’t traditionally reach with above-the-line channels.”
She continued: “We had a really engaged audience and a trusted host [on each sponsored podcast]. Each host had their own spin [on hate crime] and was able to tailor it to their own audiences.” She added that, despite the seriousness of the topic, the podcasts were neither dull nor preaching, and instead managed very much to inspire: “We could get the audiences to unite behind good experiences and continue the conversation online.”
“Our job is to find the stories that connect with audiences and engage customers.”
Emily Latham, Channel 4
Wavemaker’s Evans added that Acast’s Sponsored Stories format, which dynamically inserts longer sponsored spots into podcasts, was critical. “You’ve got three to five minutes to talk about this complex issue, where traditionally you don’t get that time. When you’re talking about something complicated, time is pivotal. We could lean on the host’s expertise to make it very personal.”
‘Personal’ is a word that comes up time and again when talking about podcasts. It is an intimate form of media – listening in the car or doing chores, it’s just the podcaster and the listener in that conversation at that moment. For podcasting to be effective, both Ogbewele and Evans noted that it is vital to recognise the human listening in.
“As a media planner you can get lost in segments and campaigns,” Evans warned. “There are people at the other end of this. Instead of focusing on the types of shows we want to be targeting, we reached out to our hosts to see if they would talk about their personal stories and that approach meant we were very much more people-focused.”
Ogbewele adds: “Our absolute goal was to promote diverse voices and have people speak in an authentic way to audiences who value their voices. It’s rare that you’re able to consume media in such a dedicated format. Diversity was paramount because those most disproportionately affected were the ones we most wanted to speak to.”
Of the podcasting format in general, and TfL’s campaign in particular, Ogbewele concluded: “We were able to empower and encourage individuals to have this conversation in an authentic way. I can absolutely see how podcasts can be a part of our future.”■
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TfL's Mary Ogbewele on fighting hate crime through podcasts