How podcasts became the new soap opera (and what brands should do about it)

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Marketers are looking for new channels to more deeply connect with consumers, says Day One Agency's CEO.

As the pace of brand content creation accelerates, it is clear that only one thing truly breaks through. Stories. Not just any story though, a story that makes consumers stop, think and feel.

Let’s step back close to a century ago, when radio was king. Procter & Gamble had just pioneered the radio soap opera as a way of marketing soap––and it was working. P&G was successful because it understood the importance of a sticky storyline. People kept coming back. Not for a season, but for years. Storylines didn't end, they fell into one another. The audience was buying detergent for the foreseeable future and the featured storylines were as cohesive as the best season of "House of Cards" or "Breaking Bad."

As radio gave way to TV a few decades later, those stories were still resonating, so P&G turned its attention to TV and churned out hits like "The Young and the Restless," "As the World Turns" and "Days of Our Lives," all while promoting products to homemakers around the country.

Telling that kind of story today—in the age of viral memes and six-second ads—has marketers looking for new channels to more deeply connect with consumers. Re-enter the podcast. Podcasts were first introduced in 2004 when they became available to iPod users. They’ve recently resurged because they reach consumers in a "lean back moment," where somehow the avalanche of digital content we experience by the minute takes a back seat, allowing brands a more intimate and captivating moment with their audience.

IAB recently released its first Podcast Playbook for advertisers, which shows that podcast revenues will reach $200 million in 2017. That’s up a whopping 87 percent from $119 million in 2016. Everyone from The New York Times, to Gatorade, to your next-door neighbor is churning out a podcast. And marketers, if you haven’t taken notice yet, it’s time to subscribe.

There are 57 million Americans who listen to podcasts monthly, and I happen to be one of them. When I listen to a podcast, I’m fully engaged with the content, tuning in from beginning to end and forgetting about the world around me. No scrolling, viewing, emailing or talking. Just focused listening and learning. 

At the top of my list of favorite podcasts is Malcolm Gladwell’s "Revisionist History." It’s engaging, informative and I’m fascinated by the fact that the first five episodes of the current season have been sponsored unexpectedly by Chanel. "Revisionist History" is consistently in the top 10 most downloaded podcasts. But you might be wondering why a brand like Chanel is investing in podcasts.

The answer is the same as it was for soap operas. An engaging story.

The fashion giant invested in more than a podcast—it invested in storytelling. Through its sponsorship of "Revisionist History," Chanel is delving into a community beyond its typical followers. But sponsorship is just the tip of the iceberg. Many brands are bypassing the sponsorship of existing podcasts in favor of creating their own.

GE and Panoply launched "The Message," a science fiction podcast that won a Cannes Lion and reached number one on the iTunes podcast charts in November of 2015. Gatorade is also trying their hand at it, releasing "The Secret to Victory" this past June, which tackles how the "world’s most competitive athletes use defeat as motivation to build strength." Even Tinder joined in, putting out "Define The Relationship" (DTR), which explores the bizarre aspects of relationships in the digital age.

Today, with the average podcast fan listening to five shows per week, there’s a real opportunity for brands to get involved, but they need to keep the rules of good storytelling in mind when doing so. Create compelling stories that capture the consumer and keep them coming back through emotional hooks and content that’s interesting, authentic and real. Podcasts are a vehicle for brands to meet their consumers where they are, while bringing them something they want and have always wanted—a good story.

Josh Rosenberg is Co-Founder and CEO at Day One Agency