Podcasts are at the center of attention among marketers this week as the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) hosts its Podcast Upfront with sales presentations from companies including Disney, Paramount and iHeartMedia. The event highlights podcasting’s growing relevancy in helping brands to reach target consumers, arriving just weeks after brands such as Mattress Firm and Oatly launched their respective podcasts.
Mattress Firm has embraced the streaming audio format to provide mattress-adjacent content, such as tips on how to get a good night’s sleep. The company collaborated with Vox Creative, the branded content studio started by digital publisher Vox Media, to launch the “Are You Sleeping?” podcast in April.
“The brand was looking to build a community on audio and they really wanted to reach the rest-obsessed and sleep sufferers,” Annu Subramanian, executive producer of branded audio at Vox Media, told Marketing Dive. “They wanted to showcase unique stories to understand why sleep matters and connect with this audience of people [who] are really starving to sleep better.”
The launch of Mattress Firm’s podcast comes as marketers seek to expand their presence on an audio platform whose audience is growing. Advertisers not only are producing their own branded podcasts, but they’re also plowing more media dollars into popular formats such as host-read or announcer-read spots. U.S. ad revenue for podcasts will nearly double from $2.12 billion this year to $4.22 billion by 2024, according to an estimate from consulting firm PwC and the IAB.
Mattress Firm’s podcast consists of six episodes that profile the sleep experiences of consumers and four interstitial segments featuring answers to listener questions. Comedian Kate Berlant hosts the series, which also includes commentary from experts like psychologist Shelby Harris, a specialist in behavioral sleep medicine.
With the series, Mattress Firm wanted to provide useful information and compelling stories that helped to drive listenership, as opposed to alienating them with an intrusive audio infomercial embedded into other, potentially unrelated, content. Mattress Firm employs a similar strategy with its Sleep.com website that provides a mix of scientific research, news, advice and product recommendations, suggesting the company is taking a more strategic approach to content marketing instead of prioritizing traditional ads.
For the Mattress Firm podcast, Vox Creative’s team scoured the country to find people who had interesting stories to share about how their sleep habits affect their lives, Subramanian said.
“These are more everyday people, not celebrities or people with millions of followers, but who have these unique relationships to sleep,” Subramanian said. “We can learn a lot from them. There's a lot within their stories that we can identify with in telling their stories.”
The episodes feature people including a truck driver who had to adapt to an abnormal sleep cycle, a scientist whose sleep paralysis inspired his research into narcolepsy and two sisters who are genetically predisposed to need just a few hours of sleep each night to feel rested. Some brands' podcasts elect to use a lighter or heavier touch when it comes to explicitly naming the host brand or its products. Each episode of Mattress Firm's podcast culminates with a post-roll ad to reinforce its message.
“Those ads are made by the same team who made the show and feel very sonically aligned with the show,” Subramanian said, “But it's about Mattress Firm stepping out there and saying, ‘We want to showcase these stories because they want to connect with these people.’”
Podcast formats vary by strategy
Brands can take a number of avenues to integrate their messaging in audio content, including standalone podcasts, branded segments and custom series sponsorships.
Mattress Firm’s “Are You Sleeping?” is a standalone podcast, giving the brand the resources of Vox Media’s creative staff. Among its recent standalone podcasts, Vox Creative developed a second podcast for Unilever-owned Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, titled “Into the Mix” that profiles artists, activists and others who work on social justice issues. The series follows “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America,” which ranked as a top 10 podcast in the history category of Apple Podcasts.
Brands like Ben & Jerry's, Oatly and Mattress Firm are jumping on podcasts as the audio medium is seeing significant growth. Podcasting's listener base is up 40% since 2018, and more than half of daily podcast listeners began listening in the past two years, according to a May 11 report by Nielsen. At the same time, the number of podcast titles and episodes have both doubled over the last two years, signifying that brands, publications and creators are all trying to get into the buzzy space to reach consumers on niche topics.
"A show like 'Are You Sleeping?' is launching through our network, which has a proven ability to build a loyal audience," Subramanian said.