The host read is the most common type of podcast advertising. You know the drill: every 10 or 15 minutes, the host of your favorite podcast will pause the conversation at hand to read a little personalized shill for Stamps.com, MeUndies, Squarespace, ZipRecruiter, or whomever sponsors the content, then just as quickly jump back into the pod at hand.
But as the podcast medium matures, with increasing experimentation with a variety of different formats and storytelling, brands have been forced to find more creative ways to advertise. One way has been to create their very own podcasts, as we’ve seen with eBay, Tinder, Casper, and more.
Now we’ve got another way: branded pop song.
“Bear and a Banjo” is a new, scripted musical podcast from iHeart Media, starring Dennis Quaid, Jared Gutstadt, and Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd, about an unlikely duo who travel through American musical history appearing at just the right moments when music changes lives. The podcast will also have an accompanying folk album, created by Gutstadt, founder of the creative music agency Jingle Punks, and Poo Bear, who has written songs for Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, Usher, Skrillex, and more. The two also created a song called “Better Days,” about the healing power of music, inspired by real patients suffering from depression.
That song was created for the podcast’s sponsor, healthcare provider One Medical.
What makes “Better Days” different is that it’s the result of a creative collaboration between Poo Bear, Gutstadt, One Medical’s ad agency Giant Spoon, and the ad agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, which wrote lyrics inspired by real quotes from commenters across social media talking about dealing with depression.
Giant Spoon partner Laura Correnti says the goal was to find a unique way to get the brand involved without being a distraction. “Many brands have their talking points and insert host reads, midrolls, pre-rolls, and other podcast advertising standards, but this is a musical story, and I can’t imagine going to a Broadway musical and getting interrupted every few minutes by a host read. So why would we do that in audio?” says Correnti. “It was about protecting the integrity of the creative idea that Jared and Poo Bear came up with and Dennis is narrating. How do we align ourselves authentically in this experience—to enhance it rather than taking away from it?”
Gayle Troberman, iHeart Media’s chief marketing officer, says podcasting can be a very efficient direct-marketing platform, and the most creative brands and agencies are really looking at new ways to tell a brand story in the burgeoning medium. “Audio is an amazing green field of creative possibilities,” she says. “It’s more intimate, the engagement numbers are higher, and the ad skipping rates are much lower. The flexibility of audio really makes this an exciting platform for marketers and an opportunity for them to learn some of the lessons where we’ve gone astray with interruptive advertising, and where we have an opportunity to roll up our sleeves and think differently about how to engage and connect with the consumer.”
In terms of how a custom-created song helps One Medical, the brand sees it as just one part of its involvement. As the exclusive partner of the podcast, One Medical has been thinking of ways to use it, whether that’s playing “Bear and a Banjo” in its medical waiting rooms, or promoting the song itself in its other marketing. Using the podcast both to raise awareness for depression and draw a connection between mental-health treatment and music was the priority. “Our mission at One Medical is to engage our members in being proactive about their health, and that means being able to have open, honest conversations about their mental wellbeing,” said One Medical CMO Doug Sweeny. “We created this song to de-stigmatize mental health issues, using anonymous online comments about anxiety and depression to lend an authentic voice to the project. We want people to know they are not alone in their struggle and our providers are here to listen and help.”
The Bear and a Banjo album, and “Better Days,” will be available on all streaming services on Thursday, October 3.