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Why Gimlet’s podcast ads work

I listen to a lot of podcasts. I love them. At times, I’ve loved them a little too much. However, one part I don’t love is the ads. I usually fast forward through them. I often feel a bit guilty, since I know ads are how they survive, but I still do it.

So when I realized yesterday that I actually listen to and enjoy ads on a couple podcasts – Reply All and StartUp, the first two shows from nascent studio Gimlet Media – it seemed notable. It’s not hard to figure out why: their ads are actually interesting. The show’s producers themselves produce the ads, and they take the same approach: talk to real people, find an interesting story, tell it well.

My favorite recent example is one of StartUp’s ads for Ford. Producer Lisa Chow talked to Ford designers to discover a powerful (and hilarious) way they introduce empathy into their design process: the “old suit.” This body suit adds weight and bulk, stiffens joints, and gnarls their posture until they feel 40 years older. Normal doors, consoles, and other interior elements suddenly become unusable when designers wear the old suit. They find these problem spots, fix them, and make better cars.

Making ads interesting is nothing new. Ad agencies have done it for years. Podcasts may not have gotten the message quite yet, but they should. Gimlet did, and it works for them.

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