Ford’s hit podcast – a lesson for brands

In 1994, the world was mesmerised by real-time footage of OJ Simpson – former American football running back, broadcaster and actor – in an SUV crawling down a major freeway in Los Angeles.

He was evading police, after they’d waited for him to hand himself in, as promised, when he was alleged to have killed his ex-wife, Nicole, and her friend Ronald Goldman.

Instead, he was in the back seat of a white Ford Bronco slowly making its way along miles of Orange County highways surrounded by black-and-white LA cop cars, while his friend and former teammate, Al Cowlings, was at the wheel.

At one stage, during the most famous – and perhaps slowest – car chase ever, OJ allegedly held a gun to his own head.

Finally, that evening, the car meandered its way back to OJ’s house, where he gave himself up.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Or is it? What happened to the white Ford Bronco, arguably America’s most famous SUV of the late twentieth century?

If you want to know, it’s all laid out in an episode of a branded podcast produced by Pacific Content for Ford Motor Company. It’s called ‘Bring Back Bronco: The Untold Story‘, an eight-part serial podcast that captures the rise, fall and rebirth of the SUV.

It’s a brilliant example of how a brand could and should engage with the market. The podcast is a gift for car enthusiasts, history buffs, and anyone who loves a great story.

Pacific Content’s Co-founder and VP Podcasts, Steve Pratt, spoke to SoundCartel’s Nick Schildberger and Nicole Goodman to examine the strategy behind the podcast in an episode of Podcasting Essentials.

Making the podcast

Ford was bringing Bronco back to the market after a 20-year hiatus, and they wanted to tell the story of the brand through audio.

When Pacific Content sat down with the team at Ford to discuss what they needed to make a really good show, they were all on the same page: it had to be real journalism, a real documentary about the history of the Bronco.

Bring Back Bronco, “charts where the Bronco came from and all the different bumps in its journey and path and why it disappeared. OJ was part of it but not the whole thing,” says Steve.

“And then this amazing movement at Ford for 20 years called Bronco Underground, of people who’ve been trying to bring it back and they let us in on all of it and all the new stuff about how it was coming out and launched.

“And we got Sonari Glinton, who is a former NPR journalist in automotive and finance, hosting it and layered the parallel histories of Detroit and the US with the Bronco.”

There can be a fine line between a branded podcast and an infomercial. No one wants to listen to a typical long-winded ad, so it’s important to lay off the “sell”.

“The whole show is about the Bronco because it’s this piece of pop culture lore. And it’s just a really iconic car with a fantastic story, that as long as we don’t make it feel like a commercial, it is the right thing to do,” insists Steve.

“I think time and attention are the most scarce resources on the planet now and getting worse and worse and worse as something that’s freely available. It’s hard to get. If you can get that and prove it over and over again and you have an engaged audience of people who voluntarily sign up to opt-in and say, ‘I would like to hear more from you.’

“If somebody makes a show that you like and you might be expecting an infomercial or you might be expecting a hard sell and you get a wonderful show, you’re going to like them more.”

Marketing the show

Pacific Content uses a “superpower” analogy to explain how to build an audience quickly. Basically, it means that companies have a natural advantage over their podcasting competition when they’re looking to develop an audience from a podcast. That advantage is their existing audience.

Ford has a way of promoting to a whole range of people from the get-go.

“They’ve got dealerships and email newsletters and social media. They got on the front page of the Detroit Free Press, the newspaper there, on the day of the launch with the head of communications at the company, doing an interview about it. He was a Bronco owner, talking about this thing,” says Steve.

Plus, a media agency was involved to buy advertising space in other podcasts.

“There are some very specific shows in the podcast universe, the very perfect fit. If you might be interested in the Ford Bronco, this is the right show to put it on. It’s called Past Gas. They did just an unbelievable job of a custom host read, really, really amazing. We found several shows like that, that just knocked it out of the park for exactly the right target audience, to get people excited about the show,” Steve says.

Reflections

With so many podcasts now available for an ever-increasing number of listeners, it’s important to stand out from the crowd.

“You’re competing with two million other podcasts out there. You’ve got to make an awesome show. You’ve got to be creatively brave. You’ve got to push outside your comfort zone and think about the listeners first and foremost,” Steve says.

“Creative bravery really works. And it works for completion rates. It works for getting larger download numbers when you market it and people show up and there’s a great show, they stick around. And it works for all the brand lift pieces as well that people really appreciate and remember a company that makes a real show that’s a fantastic listen.”

Podcasting is a medium that really makes sense for brands that want to tell a story.“You can do all of that sort of stuff in podcasting at a fraction of the cost of a TV commercial or other things. The budget is affordable and you get huge, huge amounts of time that you can’t get on any other medium,” Steve says.

“If I look at the Ford one getting over a hundred percent completion rates on a half-hour show. I know, over a hundred percent sounds impossible, but the way that they track it is if you listen more than once it goes over but you just can’t get that amount of time and engagement anywhere.”

Steve says as the digital universe goes increasingly shorter – think TikTok, Instagram stories, social media videos – a podcast allows the consumer to have a deeper connection with a brand. Steve says: “A half-hour with your brand over and over and over again, it’s an amazing, amazing opportunity.”

Listen to the full interview with Steve Pratt on Podcasting Essentials

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