One of the very few compensations of the Trump presidency is the opportunity to listen to former Obama staffers Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Tommy Vietor and Dan Pfeiffer analyse and dismantle every move that Trump makes on their popular podcast (or ‘pod’ to their friends), Pod Save America.
Like most successful podcasts, Pod Save America has a collection of paying sponsors. The hosts read out the ads during breaks in the programme.
On some podcasts this can sound a bit uncomfortable.
Hearing an earnest podcast presenter passionately describing the virtues of MeUndies underpants shortly after finishing an interview with a US Senator brings new meaning to the phrase “suffering for your art.”
Not so on Pod Save America, where they have arguably created a new genre of Advertising – the ‘Ad Lib’ if you will.
Brands like Blue Apron, a sort of Meccano set for cooks that is home-delivered, supply copy to Favreau and his team and they proceed to lovingly shred it.
Most advertisers would baulk at the idea that the media outlet that you’re placing your ad with will mock or criticise your copy, but in Favreau and Co’s hands, it is done in a way that builds a cult around the brand.
It goes like this:
One of Blue Apron’s features is the array of unintentionally quasi-parody meals that it offers to deliver to the doorstep for rapid assembly by the consumer.
Favreau delivers the ad straight to begin with – and then Lovett interjects – and all rules in the advertiser/media relationship are forgotten.
When Favreau has finished with the set-up (Blue Apron’s commitment to sustainable sourcing, etc), he starts to read the week’s featured recipes. After he has read the real one, Lovett will interject with a made-up recipe (generally a recipe with one ingredient).
We segue from the real (“Seared Beef Knockwurst with Homemade Sauerkraut & Whole Grain Mustard”) to Lovett’s (“a single chickpea”); the real (“Elicoidali Pasta & Crispy Oyster Mushrooms with Arugula & Marinated Mozzarella Salad”) to Lovett’s (“a tub of cottage cheese”).
Favreau falls into a nervous giggle. It is captivating. The constant cliffhanger (see posts passim on the value of the cliffhanger) question is “How far will Lovett go?”
Blue Apron (Tagline, ‘A better way to cook’) also crops up at parodic moments in the pod.
It’s hard to explain why this works so much more effectively than advertising, but I guess by ceding control, the brand owners build a fan base (I doubt that anyone skips the ads and I suspect that many enjoy them as much as the rest of the pod). The effect is Cubist. The brand is seen from all angles: appreciative, parodic, technical. I haven’t seen the figures, but I imagine it must be working a treat for Blue Apron.
Other sponsors of Pod Save America include Sonos (who get fairly straight treatment), a razor blade company set up by Jeff and Andy (who acquire new topical surnames every week and are treated with faint incredulity when it comes to the small matter of them having bought their own razor factory to ‘take on the man’), Square Cash (an app that ‘enables Lovett to pay back his co-hosts efficiently’) and Zip Recruiter (periodically positioned as a business that will solve the Trump Administration’s problems with unfilled vacancies – or help Sean Spicer to find a new job).
Is it advertising? Well, yes in the sense that the sponsor pays, but beyond that it is closer to PR – serving up an idea for the medium to tackle and present in whatever way (within the bounds of fair play) it sees fit. It’s all about the relationship between a bunch of potential customers and an idea from whatever angle or whim they favour on a day. If Favreau or Lovett (as former Obama speechwriters) hadn’t dismantled or criticised the copy from the sponsor, I’d probably concede that it was advertising but I’m drawn to the honesty of their reactions which sounds much more like a wrestling match with very few rules and a genuine sense that Favreau and Lovett are the better wrestlers. The brand has ceded control and that makes it PR for me.
Anyway, subscribe to Pod Save America. It’s a terrific balm in these difficult times.