A Serial Ad Kills: Behind The Strange Podcast Phenomenon Of Mailkimp

MailChimp marketing director Mark DiCristina on the success of Serial, advertising on podcasts, and one great mispronunciation.

A Serial Ad Kills: Behind The Strange Podcast Phenomenon Of Mailkimp

When the producer of This American Life approached MailChimp marketing director Mark DiCristina about a new show she was working on, he was excited about the opportunity. Here was a producer, Sarah Koenig, whose work he knew and respected, with a unique, intriguing storytelling concept called Serial and MailChimp wanted in.


“It was, ‘Hell yes,'” says DiCristina. “We just wanted to know what they needed from us to help make it awesome.”

But even DiCristina couldn’t have predicted that his brand’s quirky little ad, heard before every episode, would become a meme itself thanks to one small mispronunciation of the brand name. Enter the MailKimp.

MailChimp provided the copy, but Serial producers created the ad, getting a handful of people on the streets of New York to read the lines. “We thought it was great,” says DiCristina. “It was charming and I loved the variety of voices and accents, and the way it ended with someone who knew, used and loved MailChimp. It was sort of all the best things about the This American Life style of storytelling in little ad form.”

And then the Twitter chatter began.

“We started to notice people talking about the ad pretty early on, but it was just here and there,” says DiCristina. “Then as the podcast grew in popularity, it just took on a life of its own.”


There’s now even the obligatory fake Twitter account. But despite the popularity and online banter about it, MailChimp isn’t getting involved. Well, mostly. Soon after the MailKimp buzz began, it bought the domain, which now quietly redirects to MailChimp. “We don’t want to be perceived as trying to take advantage of it,” says DiCristina. “We love it and are super excited about it but publicly as a brand we’re leaving it to be something the audience can own.”

It’s a refreshing approach in an advertising environment crowded with brands all too happy to elbow in on a cultural moment or fans’ fun, or worse, try to manufacture it themselves. “For us, sponsoring a podcast isn’t about the product; it’s about brand awareness,” says DiCristina. “It’s important to us to see MailChimp as a supporter of creative things and creative people, and empowering those people to do the thing they do really well.”

MailChimp Dashboard

Brand awareness might not be the primary goal, but when people are constantly repeating your brand name over and over, it doesn’t hurt. DiCristina says that podcasts provide MailChimp with a unique kind of access to an audience. Ads are frequently intermingled with the content, often read by the host, essentially lending the creators’ credibility and reputation to the advertiser.

“That to me is very interesting and compelling,” says DiCristina. “It isn’t this abrupt interruption. The audience has a bit more patience for hearing an ad when it’s presented by the person they’re already listening to, and tend to remember the advertiser’s name more when it’s represented like that. Online we have banner blindness and ignore a lot of other forms of advertising, but when you hear something frequently like this it’ll come to mind more naturally.”

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.