Commercial departments have always had a rocky relationship with
programming teams at TV and radio networks. Despite providing the
primary source of income, commercials are the one point in the
schedule that programmers and content directors don't care to
control. Which doesn't make sense when it represents the moment
audiences switch off.
What would happen if programmers focused their attention on the
ads, treating them the same way they treat their shows, with
careful crafting to ensure that they, too, entertain. Could this
help to reduce the rate of audience opt-out?
Marketers are acutely aware of the need to do things
differently. Many are willing to try something different versus
being another "me too" in a block of 30-second commercials. It's
clear something needs to give, and podcasters have found a way to
create commercials that are just as entertaining as the programming
that surrounds them. All the old world needs to do is listen.
Alex Blumberg (formerly of "This American Life" and "Planet
Money") recognized this when setting up his own podcasting company
Gimlet Media last year, which was named one of "The
World's Top 10 Most Innovative Companies of 2015 In Media."
Gimlet has launched four podcasts (with more in development) --
setting the bar for quality, highly produced podcasts that define
the medium. This extends to its advertising. Gimlet realized that
in order to be successful, it couldn't replicate the broken
traditional model. It needed a different approach.
And it has cracked the formula, creating ads that listeners
actually choose to engage with and are just as compelling as the
rest of the show. Gimlet uses a storytelling approach which has its
talent interviewing the advertiser's employees or customers, not to
endorse the product but to authentically convey the key message. It
has even employed a creative director, Nazanin Rafsanjani, to
oversee its commercial output. Her advantage is in her background.
As an ex-journalist and producer, she's hyper-focused on making
commercials as engaging as the content on either side.
For example, this commercial break for Ford and Audible from
Gimlet's StartUp podcast shows what's possible when using producers
and journalists to create the commercials -- authentic stories by
real people, exceptionally crafted.
Agencies and media alike have been making interesting ads for
years. Commercials fronted by talent to add credibility are
certainly nothing new. Where this shifts gear is in telling stories
that help provide a deeper connection. In this case, it's Ford
candidly sharing how it obsessively goes about understanding the
end user. For Audible, hearing from a customer about how it whisks
them away on their daily commute genuinely demonstrates the product
benefit and is believable. The brands have instilled trust and
freedom in the creators, and it doesn't come neatly packaged with a
A little over a year ago, Serial, a true crime story told in
tantalizing weekly instalments, captivated listeners with over 100
million downloads. More surprisingly, so did its
advertising, with sponsor Mail Chimp riding its coat tails to
gain cult status as it accrued memes, trending hashtags, t-shirts,
even a remix. Its success was likely
accidental, leveraging audiences' fever-pitch craving as it marked
the start of each installment. With Series 2 now live, it would be
remiss to not take it up a notch.
million Americans listening to podcasts each month, podcasters
are now evolving the commercial offering even further. Some have
taken to developing entire shows that place the advertiser at the
center, like Panolpy, which recently co-produced a fictional sci-fi
podcast "The Message" with a division of GE, amassing
over 1 million listeners.
So what can be gleaned from the rising popularity of the
podcast? As pioneers of a new commercial frontier, they've proven
their strength in breaking the mold, unencumbered to evolve the
proposition with speed. Clients are paying a premium to try the new
direction, and audiences are opting in for the ride.
Dan Riess, head of content partnerships at Turner Entertainment,
is one of few looking to capitalize on marketers brave enough to
experiment, without being restricted by a 30-second clock. He
plans at CES to "reconfigure commercial pods with fewer, longer
spots to be produced in the vein of branded entertainment or native
With many marketers willing to try something different and
audiences opting out when the wall of ads hits, something needs to
change. If programmers can be afforded the freedom and focus to
reshape the commercial output, perhaps the traditional networks,
too, can share the renaissance currently being enjoyed by