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The Archive July 15, 2020

The Serial Effect

How the Popularity of Serial Has Influenced the Marketing Viability of Podcasting

Podcasts, once perceived as a less popular form of media, have been making an undeniable impression on marketers over the past couple of months, thanks in large part to the show Serial. While some podcasts have made waves into mainstream media in the past, Serial’s resounding success remains a podcasting anomaly.

But a little background first: Serial follows the true story of reporter Sarah Koenig, who is investigating the events surrounding a 1999 murder trial of high school student Adnan Syed. The series is irresistible for the many questions it raises about the American judicial system, journalistic bias and race. Additionally, people know the podcast for its quirky 19-second ad for email service provider MailChimp.

The Current State of Podcasting

Before Serial aired, podcast consumption had already jumped 18 percent between spring and fall of 2014. Regular podcast listeners spend an incredible amount of time with audio daily. According to Edison Research, these particular listeners spend an average of just over six hours consuming audio content daily. As a whole, Americans consume audio content an average of four hours a day.

Brands are hungry to achieve what Serial has over the past five months, but they haven’t tapped into podcasting quite yet.

The podcast explosion can be attributed primarily to the influx of smartphone users and how easy it is to subscribe and download podcasts. In a mediated world driven by text, podcasts allow listeners to take a break from their screens and consume content anywhere, anytime.

Serial as a Marketing Influencer

Since airing last fall, Koenig’s show has had almost 72 million downloads. Naturally, the demand for sponsorship spots on Serial as well as other popular podcasts has increased significantly, and those who were already on board plan to spend more.

In the past, podcast sponsors were primarily tech companies, because the majority of listeners were more technophile. MailChimp as a sponsor for Serial is an example of this. And although the popularity of Serial was unexpected — not all of Serial’s audience was in need of an email service provider — MailChimp was content to benefit purely through brand awareness. Since the show premiered, the company has gained over 6,000 Twitter followers (among funny hashtags and mashups). The viral attention surrounding the ad inspired Squarespace and Audible.com to advertise with Serial as well.

With Bluetooth technology available and Internet in cars, podcasts may eventually become the new normal for on-the-go listeners

With so many different niches entering the podcast medium, the possibilities for companies to target specific demographics or interests are endless. Advertisers are at a huge advantage here. Listeners of a particular niche’s podcast are loyal to and focused on their show’s host, which means that each listener is more valuable. Podcast ads differ from typical ads seen in digital media because they are so natively embedded into the medium. The CEO of Midroll Media, Adam Sachs, puts it aptly: “We know that podcasts are a very intimate medium — the hosts are literally in your ear on a regular basis. They feel like your friends. So it can be very powerful when they read an ad.”

Where Are the Brands?

Brands are hungry to achieve what Serial has over the past five months, but they haven’t tapped into podcasting quite yet. Todd Cochrane, CEO of RawVoice, might have a reason. He claims that if you’re a brand that wants to produce a high-quality show, it takes significant work and a lot of dedicated resources. It can often take companies a minimum of a couple years to build an audience.

For example, though Squarespace runs ads with podcasts, the company is hesitant to dive into the medium as content creators without completely committing to a high production value.— and they don’t have the time or resources to do that now.

The Future of Podcasts

With the success of Serial and other recent podcasts, the future looks bright. As far as advertising, podcasts have begun to blur the line between commercial and noncommercial programming, due to their native ads, which brings into question the future of public radio broadcasting. With Bluetooth technology available in so many vehicles already, coupled with the advent of the Internet in cars, podcasts may eventually become the new normal for on-the-go listeners.

Creating a Podcast

As for those who wish to create content, the time to begin experimenting with podcasts is now. In a panel interview at The New School, Koenig revealed that she hadn’t ever listened to a podcast prior to recording Serial, and that she believes the success is partly due to her openness and unfamiliarity with the medium’s space. She also says that podcasts allow anyone to create something unique, with the potential to grow it big.

Inspired? To create a podcast, there are five tools to consider incorporating into your strategy.

  1. Content creators will benefit from a USB microphone, which plugs into a computer and works with recording software to achieve a clear voice, and provides greater flexibility than a standard built-in microphone.
  2. Podcast hosts will also need recording software — the most popular open-source program is Audacity, which works with most operating systems.
  3. A mixer is beneficial to add more effects options, like music or movie clips.
  4. A pop filter serves to decrease unexpected breath noises that come with casual voice delivery.
  5. Finally, the most important tool is a narrative. Before an individual creates a podcast, there should be a clear script that constructs a story that people want to listen and return to.

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