Podcasts are so hipster

Serial. That podcast that took America by storm with the story of Adnan Syed who was jailed for killing his ex-girlfriend when he was 17 years old. It raked in an average of 1.5 million listeners per episode, there being 12 episodes in the first season. The phenomenon known as the “Serial effect” sparked a new renaissance interest in podcasts. I, myself, am an enthusiastic listener of This American Life and a couple of other podcasts.

In each podcast I listen to hosts mention sponsors, what they do, and where to find their product. They’re not artfully crafted scripts that required a creative specialists to write. Usually, they sound casual and like recommendations from a friend. The format of podcasts doesn’t usually allow for a listener to conveniently skip through these sponsored ads, either. According to AdWeek, podcast advertising sales are up 10 times from what they were two years ago and up 70 percent from even last year. In one podcast I listen to, two female comedians talk about their sponsor Blue Apron in various episodes (not product placement, just talking about their sponsor’s product) and it is so funny to listen to that you don’t even want to skip through it.

Let’s learn a little bit before I go into my spiel, shall we? 

Brand loyalty is more important today than ever before. A studied published by CrowdTwist reported “that Millennials are also the most loyal generation to their favorite brands, with just over half (50.5 percent) saying they are extremely loyal or quite loyal to their favorite brands.” In a world where we can literally get anything we want at any times at the push of a button, it’s surprising that there is so much loyalty instead of the instinct to buy whatever is directly presented to you. CrowdTwist also found that “43.5 percent of Millennials said they use social media to spread the word about products or services.” Because of social media people have more opinions to listen to. But they’re opinions of experience and they’re from friends so they’re trusted.

Elite Daily reported that only 1 percent of millenials are actually affected by advertisments. Consumers aren’t as trusting and can’t be easily coerced by a brand saying they’re great. The consumer has to feel it for themself. A brand has to ensure they are providing quality and authentic experiences for the consumer everytime. Podcasts are an alternative way for companies and brands to provide an experience.

Branded Podcasts

For 70 years, 30 second commercials on TV were the norm for advertising. But these days with ad-blocking and ad skipping, it’s becoming harder and harder to get your product noticed. Consumers have such an aversion to advertisements. They know what’s an ad, what’s a show, or what’s an ad pretending to be a show. Consumers are smart.

Companies like GE, Netflix, Statefarm, EBay, and Tequile Avion have taken an alternative route to get their brand noticed. Jumping on the podcast bandwagon, they began to create branded podcasts. The important and distinguishing factor about these podcasts is that they are not shoving their product down your throat. Most of the time, they don’t even mention the product they’re selling. The purpose of branded podcasts, when done correctly, is to tell the consumer what your brand stands for while giving you a cool or interesting experience along the way.

Show me the money (examples)!


GE’s popular podcast series titled The Message is a story about cryptographers who try to decipher a message from an alien. It netted 4.4 million downloads over eight weeks. The show makes subtle reference to a technology similar to GE’s “digital twin.”  Although the show is labeled as “presented by GE theater,” it seldomly references its own technology. They smartly created a storyline that made digital technologies interesting and that aligned with what their customer might be interested in.

eBay also created a hugely successful podcast. Their podcast Open for Business was a curriculum style guide about how to start a business. It had episodes like how to hire, or how immigrants can start a business in the U.S. It launched at the number 1 spot in the business podcasts on iTunes and has a 4.5 star rating. Most of the content had nothing to do with eBay because they wanted to draw a wide audience. eBay was referenced once an episode usually in the form of a true story and how a small business found success using the online site.

The advertising world is changing rapidly because of social media and digital technologies. Experience is becoming more and more important. Innovation and freshness are what are creating success stories. Podcasts are just one of those new, innovative ways to create brand awareness.




  1. cattybradley · ·

    Awesome insights into the trend of podcast advertising. I listened to Serial (still wondering about that Nisha call…tbh) and still listen to This American Life weekly can have definitely noted the advertisements but have never really been annoyed – they are relatively quick and typically just read by the narrator. I think it is cool that companies are creating branded podcasts. I think that approach does give them an advantage because at the very least the listener benefits by learning something new, which reflects positively on a brand, and other users might be more inclined to purchase. I haven’t listened to any of those branded podcasts but look forward to doing so!

  2. kdphilippi18 · ·

    Great post. I also listened to Serial, but I haven’t really listened to any other podcasts since then except for an occasional freakonomics on a long trip. I do, however, agree that podcasts are a great way for brands to advertise and better connect with theirs customers. You highlight a number of great points about millennials requiring quality and authenticity in brands – this is so true today and many brands still struggle to do this. Podcasts are a great medium to allow consumers to better understand their brand, what they stand for, and provide additional content to keep them more engaged and loyal to the brand. I wonder if podcasts will eventually start to become like TV ads or will brands be able to successfully innovate their content to keep listeners engaged.

  3. This is a really interesting and individualized post! I was a huge Sarah Koenig fan, so I was all over Serial. But I think you did a really good job of shedding light on the industrial side of podcasts that I never thought to consider. Obviously overt advertising within the script of podcasts are effective according to your findings, and personally I don’t really mind listening to them either, but the idea that brands are creating their own discrete advertising within their own sponsored shows is news to me! I have never listened to either GE or eBay’s podcasts, but I’ll give em a try! Great post!

  4. adamsmea89 · ·

    This was an interesting post because I have heard a lot about different podcasts but I have never actually listened to one myself. I agree with you that consumers are so used to TV commercials they completely zone them out, if they can’t fast forward through them. Similar to the radio, I would think people would begin to feel like they know and can trust the person speaking on the podcast, so personal accounts of different products would be much more meaningful. I will be interested to see is podcasts are a fad that phases out or if they are here to stay.

  5. Great post. I still need to listen to Serial, but I’ve heard it’s great and I expect we’ll see more like this.

  6. Tyler O'Neill · ·

    I really enjoyed this post! Personally, I am a big fan of Joe Rogan’s podcasts, but I have never taken notice of any advertisement or sponsorships. I think this proves the effectiveness of marketing through podcasts. I’m sure that there were advertisements in the podcast, but the flow of conversation typically mask the obvious characteristics of traditional advertising. I wonder if podcast are prevalent enough that we will begin to see marketing transition more from traditional TV or streaming advertisement to podcasts.

  7. vicmoriartybc · ·

    I really enjoyed this post about an often-overlooked part of digital business. I really enjoyed Serial (I think Jay did it #FreeAdnan), and I was devastated last year when my favorite podcast, Full Frontal, hosted by two members of my favorite band, was cancelled with basically no notice. I think it’s interesting that you mentioned how promotion of sponsors is casual and unscripted – this is something that I don’t think any other platform incorporates into their advertising. Perhaps this is a strategy that should be adopted by more product endorsers- for example, if celebrities tweeted about products they like without using #ad or #spon. This makes ads seem more authentic. I look forward to seeing how podcasts change (or don’t) in the future!

  8. emilypetroni14 · ·

    Cool post! I did not know podcasts were so popular, but I have heard about Serial. I definitely need to listen now. Advertisiers def have to get more creative with how they reach their audiences because it is much easier now to avoid commercials. Interesting about the more casual brand mention, I believe most ppl don’t want to be sold on something, and this is a better way to do it.

  9. Advertisements on podcasts have never really bothered me to a great extent. I listen to a number of podcasts ranging in topics from technology, news, business, and food. My assumption has always been that these podcasts need to be funded and advertisement gets that done. I actually find that because podcasts are often targeted a specific, even niche, audiences that the advertisements tend to be more relevant.

  10. I’m a huge fan of podcasts. I spend a lot of time driving so I listen to them quite frequently in the car as well as when I’m trying to fall asleep. There’s options for pretty much anyone’s personal interests. Anything from comedic entertainment to the unveiling of new music to business news is available on a podcast if one knows where to look. Boston College actually has a pretty cool one called “Boston College Front Row” that has interviews with a lot of interesting people (CEOs of companies like Walt Disney, Coca Cola, UPS, Uber, General Electric, Target just to name a few). Barstool Sports has been producing podcasts for years and really are one of the pioneering companies in podcast advertising. Some of the companies that they played a key role in popularizing include Draftings (the founder of Barstool Sports actually turned down an offer for 10% of the company’s equity in exchange for free advertisements when it was just a startup), Uber, SeatGeek, MVMT Watches, and countless others. Podcasts are rapidly taking away what little demand there is left for FM Radio. Great post overall.

  11. Nice post! I never really considered how podcast makers have to tackle advertisements, but it totally makes sense. You’re right, with ad-blocking software and the like, it’s becoming even more difficult for sponsors to get their advertisements in front of viewers. I’ve been noticing TV shows that use product placement in more subtle ways — like an American Red Cross poster in the background of two characters arguing on Grey’s Anatomy — but podcasts are on a totally different level. They’re a great way to grow brand awareness and create unique marketing opportunities.

  12. cmackeenbc · ·

    Wow, what a cool post. I never thought of Podcasts as a successful tool for brand management, but thinking back on my obsession with Serial I realize I now know the MailChimp sponsorship memo by heart. I feel like there’s something about Podcasts that make them really stick in your brain–maybe that’s just me, but if a company can capture their audience through Podcasts, it seems like a layup for brand allegiance. I also like how you pointed out that millennials simply won’t put up with a product or brand that doesn’t do it for them. I know that the Google founders have the philosophy that in a world of digital disruption, only the superior products will survive. It has been fun to see companies get creative in how they capture the interest of millennials, and I think they will continue to do so as our preferences become even more specific and our standards become higher. Nice job!

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