Would you like a podcast with those fries?

August 21, 2019

While serial murders and sports seem to be trending among podcast audiences, other topics are slowly catching on. Among the latest “ear candy”: Phil in the Blanks by Dr. Phil, the TED Radio Hour, and Sasquatch Chronicles.

And did you catch The Sauce?

That three-episode “investigative podcast” was released last year by the media company Gizmodo and had somewhat lower stakes than the exoneration of a convicted murderer, according to a report by The New York Times.

With an eerie soundtrack meant to draw in the usual blood-and-guts devotees, the show examined the “mystery” of how McDonald’s underestimated demand for a popular Szechuan dipping sauce, a teriyaki-flavored concoction made famous by the Hulu animated show Rick & Morty—and unexpectedly enraged thousands of its customers.

At some of the chain’s locations, fights broke out as customers tussled over the scant supply of sauce packets. The twist? The hard-boiled investigator scrutinizing that sauce shortage was McDonald’s itself.

Indeed, the Times reports, The Sauce was a branded podcast that McDonald’s paid Gizmodo to produce as a tongue-in-cheek apology to disappointed customers.

While it’s no exposé, the podcast offers a popular example of how companies increasingly are using the tropes of popular podcasts in their own audio projects. These are not advertisements, exactly, says the news outlet, but subtle brand-building efforts intended to entertain as well as persuade.

And McDonald’s is far from the only business that is capitalizing on the trend.

]“You get to catch that busy person where you couldn’t normally get them,” Rob Walch, a vice president at Libsyn, a podcast distributor that works with companies developing branded content, told the news outlet. “They’re listening with earbuds, and you’re literally inside their head.”

By some estimates, there are now as many as 750,000 podcasts, so it’s not necessarily a surprise that major companies are creating their own. What’s more surprising is that consumers, conditioned to skip past commercials on YouTube and install ad blockers on their browsers, are actually listening to them. Within a day of its release last year, The Sauce broke into iTunes’ top-100 podcast chart, reaching No. 94.

Among them is Trader Joe’s, which offers a monthly podcast that is dedicated entirely to the inner workings of its stores. After the first episode last year, Inside Trader Joe’s ranked No. 5 on the iTunes chart.

The supermarket’s loyal following doesn’t seem to mind the self-promotion. “Inside Trader Joe’s” has almost a perfect five-star rating on iTunes.

One of the longest-running branded podcasts is an interview show called  Keeping You Organized which began in 2013. It’s produced by Smead, a company that manufactures manila folders.

Every week, the show’s host, the Smead marketing manager John Hunt, interviews a professional organizer about topics such as  how to efficiently dispose of the scraps left over from cutting coupons out of magazines. “It’s not that easy to talk about things like file folders,” Hunt told the Times. “But it is easier for us to talk about organizing.”

Research contact: @nytimes

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