Best Brand Podcasts, From Toyota to Trader Joe’s


Let’s take a look at five of the best brand podcasts in the business, and see what we can learn from them.

In 2024, the average advertising purchase for The Super Bowl was $7 million for 30 seconds of advertising. Brands shell out fortunes to make short films, hoping to excite consumers into buying anything from doughnuts to luxury cars. These mini-movies, often with A-list talent, are like throwing a huge rock in a small pond. You get a big splash, but after a little while, everyone forgets about it.

A podcast, however, is significantly less expensive and can become part of your customers’ habits. When your brand’s podcast arrives on their phones routinely, trust builds.  Brands should make podcasts so they can control the narrative about their products and services, use soft power diplomacy to build relationships and create and maintain a scaleable avenue of communication with their customers.

Let me show you some examples of great brand podcasts and break down what makes them effective so you can take advantage of how podcasts build trust for your brand. 

Great Brand Reputations and Podcasts

The Axios Harris Poll 100 is an annual study of the companies with the best reputations in America, ranked. Most recently, the top five companies were:

Patagonia

Costco

John Deere

Trader Joe’s

Chick-Fil-A

Four of the top five have at least tried producing a brand podcast. Costco tried but stopped after two episodes. Chick-fil-A is rumored to be creating a streaming app for family entertainment (as if they saw podcasting, and doubled down). Some companies see podcasts as an amplifier for their press releases. Other companies have made podcasts that are an extra stream of knowledge and information about the problem the company wants to solve.  For example, Teamistry, a podcast about teamwork by Atlassian, won the 2023 Tribeca X Best In Audio award for their series about the making of The Concorde. Your brand podcast doesn’t have to be a window into your company’s day-to-day activities. The best brand podcasts focus on the company’s mission, and bring it to life in a novel and unexpected way.

Five Examples of Great Brand Podcasts

The podcasts that these brand reputation all-stars produce aren’t all perfect gems. But their strengths and weaknesses can show you what makes a great brand podcast (which I’ll wrap up afterward). 

1. Patagonia Stories 

This outdoor outfitter company’s history is not without controversy, and internet rumor mills still churn with stories about hazardous chemicals in clothing fibers or a connection to the military. But, in 2018, Patagonia rewrote its mission statement, including, “We’re in business to save our home planet.” Patagonia Stories focuses on the present and future of our environment and how people can interact and preserve it. 

Episodes range from accounts of climbing expeditions to investigative reports and interviews with environmental activists. This podcast isn’t just for people who fantasize about “getting away from it all” and can afford a $400 rain jacket. It’s about the real world, its beauty, and what it takes to maintain it for everyone. 

2. Inside Trader Joe’s

Wherever great brand podcasts are mentioned, three shows are ubiquitous: The Sauce, Life After/The Message, and Inside Trader Joe’s. The first two wrapped up production long ago, but Inside Trader Joe’s still produces new episodes a few times a year. 

Though the producers don’t consistently release new episodes, they do when they have an important issue to address, such as rising grocery prices. The playful, inquisitive mood and high quality of the multi-layered audio make Inside Trader Joe’s a listening experience on par with This American Life.  Not only does this show remind their audience of Trader Joe’s values, but it can remind them to pick up a pack of uncured grass-fed hot dogs on their way home. 

3. Toyota Untold

Toyota Motor Corporation came in at #6 in the Axios-Harris Poll 100, only losing to Chick-Fil-A by 0.4 points. Whether this says something about the power of kids’ and family entertainment is a debate for another time. Toyota Untold uses its podcast to leverage the power of the world’s most potent drug: nostalgia. Episodes linger over vehicles evoking a near-spiritual effect, such as “the massively influential 2000 GT,” the car from 1967’s You Only Live Twice, or visits The Land Cruiser Museum. 

Toyota also created a limited series to showcase its corporate commitment to diversity. Exclusively available through Toyota’s website, After The Nudge shares interviews with “some of the most dynamic grassroots leaders in the nation.” This series also highlights the company’s $300,000 donation to historically black colleges and universities: a better investment than $7 million for 30 seconds of airtime. 

4. Tell Me What Happened (OnStar)

You wouldn’t know what brand Tell Me What Happened promotes until after the cold open: by then, you’d be hooked. Maybe the little blue star in the podcast cover art would be a clue, along with how the title appears to skid and fall across the visual field. In any case, this show shares terrifying accidents and “chronicles inspiring moments of kindness and bravery. When the unimaginable happens, strangers step up and help save the day.” 

The title comes from the words you want to hear when you’ve been in an accident. The brand is OnStar, the crisis assistance network. Tell Me What Happened makes the most of the itch for cautionary tales that podcast audiences usually scratch with true crime, coupled with the uplifting message that strangers can help each other. 

Considering that people tend to listen to podcasts while driving, the brand podcast is tailor-made for Onstar, not to mention Toyota.

5. Life After/The Message (GE)

GE’s foray into branded podcasts is legendary for its uniqueness. Over two seasons, General Electric produced The Message and Life After, two science fiction audio dramas about the intersection of technological advances and the human condition. Considering GE’s long history entwined with RCA, NBC and radio, producing a brand podcast was the next logical step for GE’s PR department. Neither Life After nor The Message referred to actual products made by GE. Like the radio (and later TV show), General Electric Theater, fiction podcasts were, apparently, a way for GE to show that they have their finger on the pulse of trends. Or so it seems. GE’s press team declined to comment for this article. 

Why bring it up? Because no other brand is putting their money behind fiction podcasts like GE did, and people are still talking about Life After and The Message. I’m happy to be proven wrong: if there’s an equally mesmerizing fiction podcast with a brand behind it, let me know in the comments. These immersive, compelling science fiction thrillers are exciting examples of what a branded podcast can be. They show that GE is willing to try new things and think outside the box. Audiences who enjoy the stories are likelier to think, “GE is a company for people like me.” 

If you think a podcast can’t promote your brand, sponsoring a podcast that ostensibly has little to nothing to do with your company may surprise you. 

What Makes a Great Brand Podcast? 

Consistency. Produce episodes regularly and make it easy for your brand podcast to become a habit. If you don’t plan to produce your branded podcast forever, describe it as a “limited series” with a focused topic (such as After The Nudge). 

Quality matters more than most people realize. Your podcast succeeds or fails not only because of what you say, but also how you say it. Poor audio quality leads to distrust, according to a recent USC study. Don’t ask your marketing department to add “producing a podcast” to their workload. Once, I listened to a branded podcast for a nationally known cosmetics brand. I turned it off after thirty seconds because the presenter’s mic technique made me feel like she was spitting in my ears.

Most of the best brand podcasts aren’t produced in-house. Soledad O’Brien, former CNN anchor, hosted After The Nudge, and Dr. Torah Kachur of the CBC hosts Tell Me What Happened. More often than not, companies hire a professional podcasting agency to make their show sound great. Your brand is worth it. 

“Does it have legs?” Screenwriters often ask this question about new scripts. Do the brand podcast’s ideas reach the real world? Are the podcast’s topics important to your target market?  Know who your podcast is for and what your podcast niche is. 

Many more shows are in the directory Brands In Audio, which could lead you to more inspiration and talent than you can shake a stick at.

Your Brand Podcast Can Have Courage, Brains and Heart

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is a global awards event for creative communications, advertising, and related fields. It used to be known as The International Advertising Festival, but what do you want, a boring name or a fancy name? The Lions Advisory Board 2023 State of Creativity Study discusses the need for risks in brand marketing. The report shows that budgets for creative marketing are shrinking while pressure mounts to understand consumer behavior.

Among the report’s recommendations were, “Collaborate more with the creator economy.” The report stated, “74% of brands and 64% of creative partners are choosing to ‘work with content creators’ in 2023.” The report also highlights participatory brand awareness campaigns, especially using visual technology. And, the report urged marketers to be entertaining.

Podcasts allow for the same kind of participation as visual marketing campaigns. Podcast audiences can vividly imagine the audio content, which becomes personalized. Then, they’re more likely to share it with their communities. When you produce a brand podcast, you’re trusting podcasters to help your brand gain credibility. It’s a long game, and you’re taking a leap into the unknown. But, it costs a heck of a lot less than $7 million for 30 seconds.

If you’ve been given the task of creating a brand podcast for your employer then… lucky you. You’re going to really enjoy the journey. Don’t worry about not knowing where to turn next, either – our How to Start a Podcast guide walks you through the entire process, from start to finish. There, we’ll cover everything from planning and targeting, to equipment and software, to launch and growth. Good luck with it all!


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