A Branded Podcast: The Best Marketing Move for Companies

By Paula Mooney · Sept. 6, 2019

What are “branded podcasts”?


Podcasting from @jonathanvez 

When you think of a podcast, generally you might imagine a single individual or several people sitting around a studio or bedroom, speaking into microphones. However, branded podcasts-ones created by companies or brands-are also entering the exciting world of podcasting. These professional podcasts are being adopted by more firms looking to reach out to consumers wherever they can find them.

Companies have realized that podcasts are booming in popularity, and they want to get in on the growing audience buzz. The branded podcast itself has become another indirect vehicle for selling goods and services since there isn’t much need for sponsored ads on a branded podcast.

For example, if Burger King developed an entire branded podcast episode gushing about their new Impossible Whopper, the company may choose to not interrupt it with 15-second ads about the same food.

According to The New York Times, listeners are indeed tuning in to branded podcasts. The podcast called “The Sauce” was a collaboration between McDonald’s, [email protected], and Onion Labs. Only three episodes long, the podcast covered the things that went wrong when McDonald’s relaunched their Szechuan Sauce but didn’t anticipate the large supply they would need to fill high customer demands.

McDonald’s paid Gizmodo to produce “The Sauce” podcast in the style of true crime podcasts, creepy music and all. The marketing stunt worked, because we’re still talking about it one year later.


What other companies have branded podcasts?

Not to be outdone by Mickey D’s, Facebook started a podcast titled “Three and a Half Degrees,” which covers entrepreneurship.

Lyft, Microsoft, and New Balance also have their own podcast shows. New Balance linked up with Gimlet Creative to reach sneakerheads and fashion fiends via a podcast show called Dress Codes.

With nearly three quarters of a million podcasts in existence, it’s about time that companies have begun launching their own shows. It is especially telling that listeners are voluntarily tuning in to the branded podcasts. These are some of the same viewers who can hardly wait to click “Skip Ad” when five seconds have elapsed on YouTube videos.

Despite living in an advertisement-inundated world where many consumers use ad-blockers, “The Sauce” was so successful that it hit Apple iTunes’ top-100 podcast chart last year.

The Secret Sauce of Branded Podcasts

Companies would do well to get creative when launching their branded podcasts. McDonald’s approach appealed to listeners based on a tongue-in-cheek method.

General Electric developed a science-fiction podcast titled “The Message” in 2015, which had eight episodes and caused millions of folks to tune in. It reached the top spot on iTunes. If GE had created a podcast that droned on about the intricacies of their products, it may not have fared as well. General Electric launched another sci-fi podcast called “LifeAfter” in 2016.

Making a 30-minute commercial in the form of a podcast episode may in fact draw some fans, but only if it is a true departure from the norm and if listeners understand what they’re hearing and who’s behind the program. Perhaps that’s why the monthly “Inside Trader Joe’s” podcast is a popular feature found on the iTunes chart with a five-star rating.

Everything old is new again

Even John Deere has a podcast. The company began a magazine called The Furrow in 1895, which currently has a podcast, 124 years later.

Overall, podcast listeners might cotton to a company’s podcast episodes, if they are entertained and understand the true intention and manufacturer of the podcast.


Transparency is key for branded podcasts

The key

The key from @darynmae

Branded podcasts have to remain transparent about not blurring the hazy line between advertisement and podcasts, or “podvertorials.

When chip manufacturer Qualcomm aired a 30-minute commercial called “Lifeline” in 2016, directed by an Academy Award winner and starring Olivia Munn and Leehom Wang, it drew controversy. Created by Ogilvy & Mather in partnership with Anonymous Content, the short film was really an ad for a Qualcomm smartphone processor.

Branded podcasts run the risk of being called propaganda — if not done in a fair and transparent manner. Listeners may feel duped if they think they are hearing a true-crime podcast episode about how a woman’s makeshift ink pen saved her life during a robbery, only to discover that the show is fiction, brought to users by the maker of the ink pen.


Why are companies and brands creating branded podcasts?


Why from @evan__bray

The benefit of a branded podcast that comes from a corporation is that it might be more effective than the standard ads that are heard in increments during podcast episodes. Instead of being viewed as an annoying interruption, a branded podcast can represent a whole new method of consuming corporate advertising in a unique manner.

For instance, McDonald’s made it clear they were the company behind their popular podcast. And although they may seem like a fresh new take on an old idea, branded podcasts have been around even longer than “Serial.”

One branded podcast titled “Keeping You Organized” from Smead was launched in 2013, with a clear line being drawn from the manufacturer of manila folders to podcast episodes that focus on organizing folks. Approximately 6,000 people find it fascinating enough to tune in weekly.


How can listeners trust a branded podcast?


Trust from @bernardhermant

Branded podcasts don’t always come with the underlying mission to sell, sell, sell, at every turn. In the case of McDonald’s, “The Sauce” became a public relations tool to get across to listeners just how sorry the company was for running out of the condiment. They had no idea how much the absence of their teriyaki-flavored Szechuan Sauce would anger some customers, with fights breaking out among diners who wanted the packets of sauce. The podcast was a peace-making tool, offering a mea culpa in a fun way.

While not every branded podcast will be free of the mission to include advertisements within, they certainly can serve higher purposes beyond creating more customers via additional venues.


Branded doesn’t mean boring

Based on the brand in question, the branded podcast might get a little heated. The Adam and Eve Podcast, for instance, features real workers who are employed by the biggest adult product marketer in the U.S.

Talk about sex, current affairs, and pop culture intermingle with humor as the employees let the world in on their fascinating jobs.


What’s the future of branded podcasts?

The future

The future from @salvoventura

According to the podcast titled Bang On in the episode titled #120: Billie Eilish, Branded Podcasts, Convict Slang, podcasting has gotten a little dirty in terms of finding new ways to appeal to listeners while selling them something on the sly.

That’s the dangerous excitement of branded podcasts. Folks might wonder: What exactly am I hearing? It could range from a War of the Worlds disaster-like the 1938 radio program that prompted people to run out of their homes in a panic, thinking men from Mars were landing on Earth-to a marketing boon for many companies.

BBC radio presenter Guy Kilty is betting the latter. Kilty launched Dap Dip Podcast Production, his own production company, to close the gap between companies who want to create their own podcasts and those who know how to help them.“I feel there’s a real opportunity for companies to have their own branded podcast,” he said.

The name of the game for branded podcasts? Keep them entertaining. Make the episodes interesting. Don’t create one long advertisement, unless it can somehow hold the attention of listeners for 20 minutes or longer. Tell a story. Or, talk to each other during the podcast but don’t lie to your listeners simply to sell more products.

With podcasts not showing any signs of slowing down in the near future, it makes sense that companies and brands would take over with creating their own shows. Let’s say fans of TV shows that air on Oprah’s OWN channel have created podcasts to discuss each episode. Wouldn’t it make sense for OWN to have a branded podcast as well, one that can offer behind-the-scenes looks at actors’ lives, plot point development, and additional show secrets?

People like Kilty and others have predicted such needs, offering companies a way to get their own branded podcasts into the world, without needing to know anything about podcast idea development, production, recording, broadcasting, or marketing.

The future of branded podcasting shines extremely bright, especially for companies smart enough to put their podcasts in the hands of writers who can come up with concepts akin to the writer of “The Sauce,” whose Serial-like parody was truly a win-win for all involved.

Branded podcasts can take advantage of the intimate medium that podcast episodes represent by developing even more brand loyalty as a consumer tunes in. Devoting an entire podcast episode to the making of a 2016 bottle of Sonoma County red wine or the adventures of a sneakerhead the night he scored his first pair of LeBron James shoes, for instance, could subliminally bring more sales to a company than other methods.