Podcast Network and MailChimp Try Out Product Placement

Three MailChimp Mentions in Dialogue on Issa Rae's 'Fruit'

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Credit: Courtesy Midroll
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Credit: Courtesy MailChimp

Product placements have been a staple of TV and film advertising for decades, and now Scripps' Midroll network is hoping to adapt them for the medium du jour: podcasts.

MailChimp, the email marketing service that won wide acclaim for its spots on the hit podcast "Serial" last year, will be mentioned in three separate episodes of "Fruit," which airs exclusively on Howl, Midroll's subscription podcast service.

"Fruit" was created by Issa Rae, who came to public attention for the web series "The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl."

MailChimp is first mentioned in the second episode of the 10-episode podcast, which focuses on a black football player who is exploring his sexual identity.

In the episode, one character, a junior sports agent, asks her assistant: "Can you go over the mailing list from MailChimp for next month's fundraiser? " (It's a brief mention.)

Lex Friedman, exec VP-sales and development for Midroll, said it was the show's producers who came up with the idea for incorporating "a very small amount of product placement" in a way that wouldn't disturb the flow of the dialogue.

Mr. Friedman went straight to MailChimp with the idea, and they were into it, he said.

"We loved the idea of working with Issa and helping bring this idea that she had into the world," said Mark DiCristina, MailChimp's marketing director.

"It's not purely sort of an advertising thing for us," he added. "It's a way for us to support and empower creative people to do awesome things."

Mr. DiCristina was satisfied with the subtlety of the mention. "We're not beating people over the head with it," he said. "It doesn't feel too risky to me."

Asked whether the advertiser required script approval, Mr. Friedman said MailChimp took a very hands-off approach ("They have no demands, really"), and only requested that the company not be associated with a character who has expressed homophobic sentiments.

Each of the three episodes in which MailChimp is mentioned will include a disclaimer stating the company's role as an advertiser ("Support for 'Fruit' comes from MailChimp."). But, of course, product placements can be challenging for listeners to pick out, and the disclaimer won't be read until the end of each episode, after the company is mentioned.

Mr. DiCristina described MailChimp's role in "Fruit" as an "interesting experiment" for the company, which was founded in 2001 but really took off in connection with the success of "Serial." MailChimp has advertised on several Midroll podcasts.

"We're not making a big bet on product placements in podcasts," Mr. DiCristina said. "If it doesn't work, we just won't do it again."

Nicholas Quah, who writes a weekly newsletter about the podcast industry called "Hot Pod," said that product placements in podcasts "can become ... not a big thing, but an acceptable thing."

"I do think a good chunk of podcast-listening folks will find it weird, but mostly that's because that chunk of folks typically associate pods with journalism," he said. "For those pods, I sure as hell hope product placement doesn't actually get practiced."