Thanks to Nearly 8 Million Downloads, GE Remains Bullish on Branded Podcasts

The brand loves to experiement on new platforms—with great success

The Message debuted in October 2015. GE
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General Electric has a history of successfully experimenting with new platforms before they explode in popularity and lately that success happens from a format you can hear.

During today’s panel at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Mobile Symposium event in New York, Alexa Christon, GE’s head of media innovation, said that the marketer’s two sponsored podcasts have resulted in nearly 8 million downloads for its programs.

In 2015, GE launched its first branded podcast called The Message under the umbrella of the GE Podcast Theater platform—a reference to the TV and radio program made with Ronald Reagan in the 1950’s—leading to 4.5 million downloads as of November. After launching a second podcast late last year, the two programs have been downloaded another 3.2 million times in the past seven months and 7.7 million downloads overall.

“It’s such an intimate experience—people chose to put you in their ears,” Christon said. “Now, it’s exponential. We have almost 8 million downloads, so [it’s a] niche audience at scale.”

While downloads and subscribers are two metrics that Christon anaylzes, she also said that Apple’s recent decision to release in-episode analytics to podcasters, “is unprecedented,” adding that Apple is loosening its long-held grip on data because, “they’re facing a lot of competition and audio is growing exponentially. It has been a black box.”

In another example, GE worked with The New York Times to create branded video to launch the NYT VR app, which was been distributed to 1.3 million Google Cardboard headsets.

“The whole point of that is not just to reach scale—it’s to say, ‘this is coming,'” Christon explained. “This experience is going to happen. It will be in your homes. It will travel with you.”

GE has also experimented with weaving ads into new types of specific media. A few years ago, the company targeted lobbyists and constituents in Washington D.C. by creating a media platform with original content geared at millennial Capital Hill staffers. The program included sponsored two-minute “explainer” videos hosted by Vox Media’s Ezra Klein and intentionally kept the GE branding to a minimum.

“It’s about thinking about how this message is going to hit on some sort of emotional and logical driver [for consumers],” Christon said. “It’s not just storytelling—marketers should have more of a voice in product development and marketing should have more of a voice in the products that could touch consumers.”

Then there’s now defunct Vine, which GE was one of the first brands to experiment with. While the app may be dead, early success with a series called six-second science proved that, “we learned that we needed to experiment in low-fi ways and get out there,” she said.

To that point, Christon also talked about how GE decides which platforms and technologies to invest in, pointing out that it’s not about hitting huge audiences—at least initially.

“We’ve been keen on not going boiling the ocean, not going after scale, scale will come,” she said. “Scale comes in aggregate. We look at not just related behaviors but addicts and evangelists—when people are involved in science, are they more likely to do X? [It’s about] finding those places where we can look at the audience but reach them in a really unique way. It is not a science—it is an art.”

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.