Advertising in Podcasts

Beginning around this time last year, I started listening to a lot of podcasts. While thinking about the role advertising plays in our daily lives, I decided to focus on the role advertising plays in podcasts. Podcasts are always episodic in nature like television or like chapters in a book, but the NPR podcast, Serial, changed the game by telling one serialized story over the course of a “season.” Thus, we can think of Serial as a similar comparison to how we think of Dickens’s work: one installment of a story at a time, surrounded by advertising.

Verbal advertising is interesting in the ways it differs from visual advertising. Podcast advertising is more noticeably collaborative. A lot of the podcasts I listen to involve the podcast host delivering the advertisement, often incorporating his/her own thoughts about the product. NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast even lets its listeners record the ads for them, which means its audience is incorporated into the overall product as well. Also, because there are usually only 2-3 ads in an episode, the sponsorship aspect between the advertisers and the podcast is more obvious. Hosts often say something like, “Make sure you check out XYZ Product’s website and use the special promo code WOW1. They help keep the podcast free.”

When the same ads become obviously present in every episode of a podcast, the ad itself gets somewhat incorporated into the identity of the podcast. There is an expectation to hear that ad, and if it’s not there, it can often feel like something is missing. We can see an example of this idea of advertising becoming integrated into the podcast’s identity in this Funny or Die parody of Serial with the mentions of MailChimp, one of Serial‘s ad sponsors.


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