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.”


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.

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.