Podcasting & Advertising

I caught the podcast bug when I heard about Serial. Initially I listened out of curiosity, very quickly I progressed to full on addiction! Thankfully in some ways I only “got involved” after all the episodes had been released so I could progress through each episode at my own rapid pace. This post however is not a thesis on the story of Adnan Syed, Hae Min Lee and of course the excellent narrator Sarah Koenig.

This post is about the podcasting phenomenon, how it is developing focusing particularly on the use of advertising. It appears that This American Life is the cradle from which the future of podcasting is emerging. This American Life is popular podcast on WBEZ, a Chicago public radio station. Both the aforementioned Sarah Koenig and the founder behind Gimlet Media Alex Blumberg were colleagues at “This American Life”.

Gimlet Media, founded by Alex Blumberg, have released two shows so far “Start Up” and “Reply All”. I’m nearly finished listening to the first show “Start Up”  which prompted me to write this post. My best summary of what “Start Up” is about is to say that it’s a podcast about a startup company which wants to make podcasts.
The fascinating thing about “Start Up” is that it is part behind-the-scenes documentary, part how-to-start-a-business manual, part drama and is based on real events. The story starts with Alex having a rough idea of what he wants his new company to do and progresses through various events and challenges he must deal with, including formation of his company, change in lifestyle, raising of venture capital, hiring of people, launching new material and growing the business.
Obviously, one of the key aspects of any business is to develop a sustainable revenue model. In Start Up’s case, they have two advertising spots in each half hour episode. The refreshing thing about the type of advertising used is that it almost seems like it’s part of the story, this is generally referred to as “native advertising”. Native advertising is where an ad doesn’t sound like an ad and sounds like a continuation of the episode instead of a break in flow. In each episode, Alex interviews the founder or director of marketing of the advertiser in question and asks them to explain an aspect of their product or service. The content in each ad is engaging, original and certainly maintains one’s attention much more than the standard radio/TV ad which is much less personable and seems more like someone shouting in your face. Hearing the ad in the narrator’s voice increases the trust and likelihood is that the listener will automatically have a much higher opinion of the advertiser than would otherwise be the case. The rationale being that you are more likely to listen to a recommendation from a friend rather than the ubiquitous banner ad.
The other positive thing is that Start Up is careful to inform listeners when they are moving to advertising mode from narration mode. Even when they make a mess of their advertising strategy, they are quick to own up and no attempt is made to sweep it under the carpet (See Episode 9).
Obviously different types of podcast will need different types of advertising and I’m not sure if native advertising would work as well in Serial. In their podcast, they decided to do a quick call out at the start and end of each episode. Their subject was however less suited to the use of native advertising but what Serial did well was to use their audience to self finance through the use of crowdfunding, so much so, that they raised enough to have a second season.
In many ways, the key message for any would podcast creators, as paraphrased in “The Social Network” is:
“Make it cool before you try to monetize it”.
I hope to write further posts on the podcasting phenomenon in the coming weeks and months. I also have included some links below to the podcasts I mention:
Start Up:
Reply All:
Native Advertising: