The Ethics of Podcasting Advertising

The ethical quandary of podcasting advertising, especially for shows that require a level of journalistic integrity, continues to be a concern for creators seeking advertising revenue.

As The New York Times reported in July (both here and here), many wonder if native podcast ads take liberties by exploiting an audience’s personal affiliations with hosts to endorse products (products the hosts have been paid to promote).136 Gimlet Media’s StartUp consistently explored the perils of native advertising throughout its first season; its producers admit that the line between endorsement and advertisement is a thin one that must be addressed on a case by case basis.137

Beyond native advertising, the next frontier in podcast advertising is branded content. Panoply, which works with many news media organizations, has already begun exploring this option with companies like HBO and GE.138 The Cleveland Browns recently hired veteran podcaster Max Linsky to produce a show that, while providing entertainment and insight, essentially serves as a marketing platform for the organization.139 Acast UK also hosts a branded show produced by fashion retailer Asos geared toward female entrepreneurs. Acast’s Caitlin Thompson told me that if she only had better data on podcast consumers at her disposal she would instantly begin to create shows aimed at specific user profiles—shows she would then be able to pitch to advertisers.140

Many podcasters with whom I spoke maintained that while this murky ethical territory must be navigated carefully, both native ads and branded content offer meaningful potential for revenue generation. The most important mandate for podcasts is to be as transparent as possible so as to maintain credibility and avoid alienating audiences—their biggest assets.

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