Bolder Thinking Blog

Podcast ads address the viral elephant in the room

May 14th, 2020 | Rachel Arndt

Brands are reframing their products and services to talk about what everyone’s talking about: COVID-19. Now, according to podcast ads, seemingly every brand has a relevant solution for COVID-19 woes.

Some things haven’t changed

Some brands opted for continuity in value propositions, helping create a sense of normalcy. This is especially fitting, given that podcasts are often a form of escapism for consumers—which, for many listeners right now, means escaping from the pandemic. 

After being absent in the first half of March, Rocket Mortgage was one of the few companies to introduce the same message across digital channels, returning with the message that it still values its customers. 

Rocket Mortgage display ad (source: Comperemedia Direct)

Trello, a digital workplace collaboration tool, acknowledged that more people are working from home now more than ever before. In a podcast ad that ran on 4 Things with Amy Brown, the brand assured listeners that it knows what it’s doing, as it’s no newcomer to the work-from-home space.  

Some are embracing the new reality

Many brands framed their services as ideal ways to facilitate social distancing and stay home. The result was an emphasis on digital capabilities—a message that will be useful in the long run, not just during stay-at-home orders.  

The Pod Save America hosts hyped Cash App as a cleaner, more efficient way to pay. COVID-19 might very well usher in digital payments for good: Like banks, Square has been using social-distancing to hammer home the benefits of paying virtually. 

Parachute stands out for taking a political stance instead of just sending out rote messages of support in an ad that ran on Pod Save America. Still, like others, the company tweaked its existing value proposition to fit. As the pandemic drags on, brands will need to adjust not only messaging but offers too.

Some things are too much the same 

A lot of brands continued running the same campaigns they’d been running before COVID-19, many of which weren’t exactly fitting for the new normal. The incongruity that resulted was off-putting, especially when the ads referenced activities such as being in public. 

On the Something You Should Know podcast, Capital One ran an ad that takes place on a subway—a scene that could feel out of place (and even melancholy) to consumers stuck at home. 

Like Capital One, Geico stood out for portraying  a now-taboo activity: team sports. Geico’s ad (which mentions literal human contact during basketball) featured on the 4 Things with Amy Brown podcast, shows the importance of context and storytelling on a medium defined by both. 

What we think 

Podcasts facilitate a closeness between hosts and listeners, making them a key medium for empathetic, narrative-driven messages.  

In times of uncertainty, consumers want narratives they can trust. To use the podcast advertising successfully, brands must keep this in mind. Brands should use host-read ads not just to teach consumers about products but, moreover, to tell a story about what the brands stand for and how their products fit into consumers’ lives. Unique presentations that will make consumers remember a brand long after the podcast ends.

Rachel Arndt

Rachel Arndt

Rachel Arndt is a Senior Research Analyst, interpreting cross-channel marketing and consumer trends with a focus in telecom.