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Mobile Game Ads Are Boosting Podcast Follower Counts

At least nine of the current top 50 shows on Apple Podcasts have been promoted in mobile games

For some podcasters, the path to prominence runs through mobile video-games

Photographer: Westend61/Getty Images
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Get exclusive reporting on podcasting, the music industry and audio trends from Ashley Carman each week.
Get exclusive reporting on podcasting, the music industry and audio trends from Ashley Carman each week.
Get exclusive reporting on podcasting, the music industry and audio trends from Ashley Carman each week.

Welcome back to Soundbite. In 2022, I wrote about a company that was boosting podcasters’ downloads through ads in mobile games. Today’s column is a continuation of that theme but with a new twist. As always, reach me through email, and if you haven’t yet subscribed to this newsletter, please do so here . Tell a friend to sign up, too.

But first, here are a couple stories I’m reading:

  • I feel like I don’t need to tell you about the New York magazine story about Andrew Huberman, the big-time science podcaster, but if you haven’t read the piece, it’s worth checking out.

  • Universal Music Group NV and Hybe Co. reached an agreement that’ll make Universal the exclusive distributor of BTS, Lil Baby and Thomas Rhett in most parts of the world for 10 years. Universal will also invest in the fan-oriented Weverse app.

How Alex Cooper, Wondery, Netflix and more ended up in mobile game ads

If you’re a podcaster launching a new show, looking to grow your existing audience or wanting to prove to your boss that your program is successful, you have plenty of marketing options. As of late, many podcasters and networks have sought the help of a company called MowPod.

On its website, the company advertises a service called Boost that promises to drive downloads to shows through the use of ads placed on websites. These banners, according to Podnews, encourage scrolling users to stop what they’re doing and “Listen Now” by clicking and loading a page where a player will begin playing an episode — hence, a download.

But MowPod also offers another product that it doesn’t publicly advertise, one that yields followers on Apple Podcasts. Clients who use the tool, according Chief Executive Officer Mike Wiston, can see a “large boost in downloads to the latest posted episode, back catalog exploration, retained listenership, and a significantly elevated position in the Apple Podcasts Charts."

The company typically only shares this feature directly with prospective and current clients. Yet in those conversations, according to people who have been contacted by the company, the team doesn’t entirely explain how they convince potential listeners to manually follow shows. Clients are told the feature works similarly to Boost in that followers come from website banner ads that are bought and targeted against specific audiences.

Behind the scenes, what’s actually happening is some of these followers are being incentivized to tap and follow a podcast through ads placed in mobile video games.

AppyNation Ltd.

As you can see above, the ads instruct gamers to complete an action— specifically, to follow a show on Apple Podcasts — in order to earn tokens, or in-game currency. The offer’s fine print says gamers must “visit the podcast page” to receive their reward: “If you’re interested, click + in the upper right of Apple Podcasts to follow.”

Tapping through the in-game ad then loads the podcast’s MowPod landing page, again pictured above, that encourages people to follow. From there, gamers can tap again to actually follow the show within Apple’s app. It’s not an entirely seamless process, but if gamers are determined, they’ll follow the steps.

Gamers will receive their reward so long as they visit a MowPod landing page — they don’t have to actually follow the show — though that’s not entirely obvious from the ad’s setup.

Wiston said in an interview with me that this is a crucial distinction in his product — the company drives traffic to MowPod landing pages in the hopes that users will be intrigued enough to tap through and follow.

As for why MowPod doesn’t advertise this tool widely, or tell partners exactly how it all works, he said it’s to protect the company’s competitive advantage.

“It’s not challenging to create a landing page and set something up,” he said. “It’s not something we wanted to highlight to the entire universe.”

The website ads are “a lot more challenging,” he added, which is why the team publicly shares that particular detail.

Customers pay $5 per new follower with a required minimum spend of $5,000, according to Wiston.

A case study I viewed from a pitch document demonstrates that time listened per episode increases during a campaign, as does follower count and downloads, which makes sense given that following a show also triggers episodes to auto-download, unless a user has tweaked their settings on Apple Podcasts.

Wiston says, on average, 60% to 80% of people remain followers after a campaign while 25% to 35% stick around as longer-term listeners.

“A follower as a follower doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “You need a follower who is also going to listen long-term.”

I spoke with a current client of the follower tool who asked to remain anonymous while discussing non-public performance metrics. They said they were unaware of the mobile video game ads and use MowPod’s follower feature because they believe it promotes organic discovery by pushing shows up the charts, thereby surfacing it for people perusing Apple Podcasts for new shows. Podcasts tend to see an uplift for at least a month after a campaign, the person said.

Other marketers, however, told me they don’t use MowPod because they have seen short-lived upside.

“I have absolutely seen follower counts for shows that have used MowPod’s follower product, and those follower counts are very obviously showing a large influx of followers in a short period of time,” said Dan Misener, co-founder at Bumper, a podcast marketing firm. “In that short period of time, there’s also a large number of followers lost.”

Still, MowPod’s assistance can be seen all over Apple’s podcast charts.

Over the past week and a half, I identified at least 37 podcasts being advertised through in-game rewards provided by MowPod, including shows from prominent creators and networks like Wondery, Netflix, iHeartMedia, Lemonada and Alex Cooper of Call Her Daddy . In fact, of the top 50 shows in the US yesterday, I spotted nine that had been promoted in games recently.

Cooper’s use particularly stands out. She only began distributing her show to Apple Podcasts at the end of January, after keeping it exclusive to Spotify for years. The New York Times profiled her in February and pointed out that she had slipped down the Spotify charts with influencer Alix Earle, who hosts a show for Cooper’s Unwell Network, surpassing her in the rankings.

From that Times story: “Charts fluctuate, Ms. Cooper explained. There were practical reasons for her lower ranking, including a two-week hiatus from posting new episodes. ‘Call Her Daddy’ not only returned to the Top 10 on the Spotify podcast charts, but in early February, when Spotify relinquished exclusivity of the podcast, it debuted at No. 1 on Apple’s podcast charts. Above Mr. Rogan. Above the Kelce brothers. Above ‘The Daily’ and ‘Dateline.’”

Apple says on its website that its charts consider listeners following a show a positive signal for its algorithm, along with listens and completion rate, which is likely why MowPod’s tool can surface these programs prominently on charts. Apple has also made clear on that page that it monitors the charts for “integrity” and that “encouraging or causing any activities that interfere with the integrity of Apple Podcasts are against the content guidelines.”

Wiston said over email that MowPod “reviewed Apple’s terms extensively with council before launching this product, and we don’t see any conflict with the terms.”

Apple, representatives for Alex Cooper and Netflix didn’t respond to requests for comment. Wondery, iHeartMedia and Lemonada declined to comment.

MowPod is far from the only company promising to boost followers. From time to time, I receive LinkedIn requests from people who claim they can help podcasters grow their audience. Most seem to be based outside the US, and their operations appear less refined.

In fact, one of my first podcast industry stories , from 2018, was about how podcasters could pay $5 to show up on the charts.

The difference then versus now is that the podcast industry needs and wants to grow into a multibillion dollar medium, and audiences can still be elusive, especially with increased competition. So networks and their marketing firms are looking everywhere they can to find new listeners, even if it means placing ads deep inside mobile games.

Have a tip?

What should I write about next? Reach me through email, a DM on X, LinkedIn, or my encrypted Proton Mail. My Signal username is ashleycarman.01, so you can also message me securely there.

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