This weekend, I found myself binge-listening to Gimlet Media’s podcast Reply All, hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. I’m a pretty big fan of podcasts: I jumped on board the Serial bandwagon and have fallen asleep to the dulcet tones of Josh and Chuck’s voices on Stuff You Should Know for more nights than I can count (to the point where it’s actually a Pavlovian conditioning – their podcast serves me up some useful knowledge and then swiftly knocks me out).
It was during my 14-episode-deep manic Google search to understand why Matt Leiber always seemed to receive a unique mention at the end of each episode that I came across their AMA on Reddit. I’m not really a Reddit user but I needed to know the truth. I soon found myself immersed in the questions of other Reply All fans and the responses they garnered from PJ and Alex.
But the post that stuck out to me the most was this one:
Cassius_longinus is right: the number of brands buying out advertising on podcasts is exceptionally narrow. Jeffersonbible, another Reddit commenter, said “I want to start a podcast where I only eat, wear, and use products that are advertised on podcasts. Sure, I’d get tired of Naturebox snacks and paying BlueApron prices for my meals, but the soft embrace of MeUndies on my ass as I relearned math from The Great Courses would make it all worth it as I wrote about the experience on my SquareSpace blog and to my TinyLetter subscribers.” His comment was amusingly familiar; I have heard the same droll ads that he has time and time again.
Native advertising is a reality of life these days; it seems that everywhere you turn an ad will be staring right back at you. It came about as an answer to the inevitable banner-blindness digital audiences have developed over the course of those thousand-or-so-too-many flashing banners ads we’ve all been exposed to on the world wide web. That and the several ad blocking programs that cropped up in the last decade to save our precious eyes from advertising’s pervasiveness. In fact, Reply All even considered the toll of native advertising on digital media during their episode on the man who developed the first ever ‘pop up’ ad.
Jeffersonbible even mentions in his later comments that he’s known to skip over these instances of native advertising in most podcast scenarios, going so far as to avoid listening to certain podcasts while he’s driving if he knows they’re ones he’ll want to skip the ads for. So we know that this sort of banner-blindness behaviour is already seeping over into native advertising territory.
WHAT MAKES REPLY ALL SO SPECIAL?
What was so refreshingly different about Reply All was the way that Alex and PJ wove a narrative into their advertising. And not just the same old “Presenter One, have you tried BlueApron’s teriyaki chicken pot pie yet?” “I have Presenter Two! It was absolutely delicious, but I’d have to say that their steamed vegetable and fish omelette is my favourite!”
PJ and Alex actually use situations from their real lives to create a conversation that – while still obviously geared towards selling the product – is inclusive, engaging and funny.
When PJ hadn’t met Alex’s son several weeks after he had been born, Alex made a Squarespace website Has PJ Met Alex’s Son Yet to let listeners know the precise moment when PJ had finally met him. They devised a way to get users directly onto the platform they were advertising, and they did it in a way that was humorous and sparked curiosity, without being overly gimmicky.
What’s most obvious in PJ and Alex’s answers on their Reddit AMA is this: every episode of their podcast is scrutinised and edited to ensure that the topic they’re discussing delivers a strong narrative; it’s only natural that they would hold their advertising to those same standards.
THE TAKE HOME-LESSON
With a world that is so fraught with content screaming for people to notice it, we can all learn a little bit from the folks at Reply All. If native advertising really is the way forward, then we need to do it in a way that is relatable to our audience. Tell real stories. Find common ground. Be relatable. Be entertaining.