Stephen Colbert is an avid podcast listener. At Slate we know this because he’s been known to call our offices when the Political Gabfest isn’t up on schedule. But now we also know this because he’s been putting out his own podcast about the making of the Late Show, and the fake ads he’s taped for it demonstrate a deep love-hate relationship with podcast ads—the same kind of deep love-hate relationship that all regular listeners share.
For comedy nerds, the podcast is worth listening to for all sorts of reasons. But for me, as someone who’s more of a podcast nerd than a comedy nerd, the fake ads are the best part.
Regular listeners to podcasts will recognize familiar elements in Colbert’s fake ads. For one, the range of made-up brands he plugs reflects exactly the kinds of companies that tend to advertise on podcasts. There are ads for tech (“CloudFog,” “ClickDesk”), office supplies (a fake ad for thumbtacks suggests that you “share your tack stories on Twitter with the hashtag #tacktivism”), and escapist products for listeners who have had entirely too much of both (“EarthMail,” which sends twigs, loam, and dirt to office workers’ desks—and which has the slogan “Soil yourself”). If you listen to a lot of podcasts, these spots will remind you of the many you’ve heard for Squarespace, Stamps.com, and NatureBox, which buy airtime on countless popular shows. (Including, full disclosure, on Slate’s.)
The fake ads also send up common tropes of the podcast “host read” (the name for hosts’ readings of the script written by the advertiser), like the way companies try to get you to use customized “offer codes” so that they know which customers are coming to them from which podcasts. Or the way that some companies, like MailChimp, seem to take the strategy of baffling the listener in order to provoke their curiosity. (Mailchimp also make hats for who?!) My favorite Late Show spot is the one for Questography:
The Late Show podcast is brought to you by Questography. What is Questography? That’s a great question. Take our online quiz to find out. Millions have already asked what Questography is, and now it’s your turn. Use the offer code: “Huh?” Questography. What?
Of course, most of the fake ads are just silly. (What is “Möbius Hoagie” a spoof of? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.) But even then, you’ll keep listening. That’s the secret of podcast ads: They take the much-ballyhooed intimacy with the host that podcasts offer, and they exploit it. The advertiser is coming from inside the house!