The Tech Moves

Major Brands Are Betting Big on Podcasts

GE, eBay and more are seeing success with branded audio content

branded podcasts the new branded blogs?

Ten years ago, marketers rushed to create blogs in hopes the emerging medium would offer a new, more personal way to tell their stories, but marketers quickly figured out that building a loyal audience was hard—especially if your brand didn’t have anything particularly interesting to say.

Now, thanks to the boom in popular podcasts like Serial and This American Life, brands including eBay, GE, Netflix and State Farm are betting on audio shows as the next great opportunity for customer engagement.

And this time, wisely, they’re not doing it alone.

Brands are partnering with established podcast companies who not only have the skills and expertise in audio production, but also the existing base of popular shows that can be used to cross-promote branded content that generates a new source of revenue.

“When we think about how ads sound on Gimlet, we want them to feel like they come from the world of the show,” said Matt Lieber, co-founder and president of Gimlet Media, which produces a handful of shows including Reply All and StartUp. “No one wants to hear a 30-minute eBay commercial, but there is a large audience that’s interested in a show about starting a business in 2016 and what the elements of that are.”

This summer, Gimlet Creative—the Brooklyn-based audio company’s in-house studio—completed its first branded podcast series for eBay called Open for Business, which was a “curriculum-style” guide to starting a business. It landed in the No. 1 spot for business podcasts in iTunes when it launched in June.

EBay declined to say how many downloads the series generated, but it reached more than 200 percent of its download goal, and the brand is in talks to create a second season with Gimlet.

Each of the six episodes of Open for Business focuses on a different aspect of starting a business—like how to hire, or how immigrants can start a business in the U.S.—but don’t expect to hear a typical 15- or 30-second audio promo plugging the ecommerce platform in the middle of the show.

“We knew that we wanted to use a light touch with the eBay integration in order to draw a wider audience—and ensure that people didn’t feel like they were listening to an ad—but stipulated that there be one connection to the brand per episode, in most cases, a true story of a small business that found success on eBay,” explained Annie Lupardus, director of communications at eBay.

The approach was only possible by giving Gimlet a lot of creative control to come up with the episode’s themes, report the stories and write the scripts, with eBay ultimately getting the final approval on each episode.


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