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The Next “Serial” Might Be A Podcast From Tinder Or Spotify

Why companies like eBay and Slack are putting their ad dollars into branded content podcasts.

The Next “Serial” Might Be A Podcast From Tinder Or Spotify
[Illustration: Simon Landrein]

As podcasting grows—57 million Americans tuned in to at least one a month last year, up 23% from 2015—so do the marketing opportunities the medium presents. Moving beyond simply sponsoring a few episodes (“Mail . . . kimp?”), brands such as State Farm and Slack are getting increasingly involved by creating podcasts of their own. GE’s breakout eight-episode radio drama, The Message, topped more than 5 million downloads and hit No. 1 on the iTunes chart in 2015. The company followed up with last year’s AI-focused drama Life-After. “People are making a very conscious choice—to download a podcast, subscribe, and listen,” says Alexa Christon, GE’s head of media innovation. “That [kind of] relationship is something brands covet.”

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In response, the major podcasting studios are building out native content arms. Slate’s Panoply Media expects such podcasts will make up about 25% of its 2017 business, while Gimlet’s branded division is doubling in size this year. According to Gimlet, the average branded podcast investment runs in the mid-six figures—far cheaper than a TV spot, and with a much more attentive audience. A recent study from NPR found that 75% of listeners took action on a sponsored message. Here, a look at how four branded podcasts are engaging listeners.

Spotify, “Showstopper”

Launched in February and produced by Slate Group Studios, this series is hosted by The Fader editor-in-chief Naomi Zeichner and looks at the intersection of music and TV through interviews with music supervisors for shows like Stranger Things and Girls.

Why it works: Tackles a fun, niche subject that’s perfect for podcasts, featuring a behind-the-scenes take on pop culture.

State Farm, “ColorFull Lives”

Aimed at women of color, this Loud Speakers Network show is hosted by Angela Yee, Francheska Medina, and podcaster Tatiana King-Jones, who discuss everything from relationships to financial planning.

Why it works: Puts a human face on insurance, while tapping into the increasing diversity of podcasting’s audience.

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eBay, “Open for Business”

Now in its second season, this Gimlet series talks to entrepreneurs about how to build a company from the ground up.

Why it works: Takes a soft-sell approach to marketing eBay’s tools for small-business owners.

Tinder, “DTR”

The app’s six-episode Gimlet series (DTR = “define the relationship”) unpacks different topics around dating in the digital age.

Why it works: Counters the brand’s bro-heavy reputation by telling compelling and engaging stories tailored to female listeners.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Showstopper was produced by Panoply, it was in fact produced by Slate Group Studios.

About the author

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

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