TED’s new audio collective casts podcast ads as stories for Bonobos, Google

TED Conferences is looking to help marketers reach mobile audiences with podcast advertising that doesn’t feel like a standard spot. The organizer of the popular TED Talks video and audio series on Feb. 22 launched the TED Audio Collective to connect brands with ad capabilities that leverage its growing collection of podcasts, which are downloaded 1.65 million times a day.

TED, which stands for “technology, entertainment, design,” has for years offered a variety of audio ad formats ranging from standard radio-like spots to collaborations with podcast hosts. Now, its new native storytelling format could help to distinquish its Audio Collective from other platforms. Rather than having a hurried and forceful sales message squeezed into quick sound bites, the storytelling ads are designed to engage listeners in a narrative that blends with the surrounding audio content.

“We try to create actually impactful stories for our partners, but that aren’t technically about our partners per se, and do it all in three minutes or less,” said Laura Beyer, director of brand partnerships for TED Conferences. “These audio stories live within the podcast, sort of as a palate cleanser.”

The Audio Collective’s launch arrives as marketers ramp up spending on podcast ads to reach a growing audience on mobile devices and smart speakers. EMarketer forecasts that spending will rise 45% to $1.13 billion in the U.S. as the economy bounces back from the pandemic-linked recession. The researcher expects that growth to cool somewhat next year, but still be strong with an 18% gain to $1.33 billion.

Compelling stories

Brands including Accenture, Bonobos, Google, Lexus, Warby Parker and Dove have worked with TED on storytelling ads that aim to be consistent with podcast content. To create the storytelling ads, TED’s team consults its internal marketers to find compelling stories that draw in listeners and embed a story about the sponsor at the end of the segment.


“These audio stories live within the podcast, sort of as a palate cleanser.”

Laura Beyer

Director of brand partnerships, TED Conferences


For Bobonos, the menswear company that Walmart acquired in 2017, TED created an audio segment that features Adam Grant, who hosts TED’s “WorkLife” podcast profiling unusual professionals. Fitting with that theme, Grant interviewed one of Bonobos’ customer service workers, who are referred to as “ninjas” because they’re empowered to care for customers by whatever means necessary. To illustrate that point, the employee in the ad describes an instance where a customer had lost a favorite flannel shirt in a house fire and the Bonobos ninja, upon discovering that the customer had also lost a dog in the fire, sent him a printed photo of the pet from Instagram to help console him, along with two new flannel shirts. The segment ends with a host-read offer for savings at the brand’s website.

“It gets down to the bottom of what the Bonobos brand stands for, but it does it in a way that makes you want to be a better person, and feel emboldened to take care of each other,” Beyer said about the ad.

Softer sell for Google and Hilton

For Google, which has a global initiative to support women entrepreneurs, TED created a native ad featuring Saleem Reshamwala, host of the “Far Flung” podcast that searches for the “world’s most surprising and imaginative ideas.”

In the segment, he profiles a Nigerian-American woman who started an emergency blood-delivery service called Life Bank. After learning that hemorrhaging was a leading cause of death for women in the city of Lagos — where heavy traffic limits emergency care — she started a company that relies on motorcycle drivers equipped with Google Maps to plot the quickest route.

“It didn’t really mention Google,” Beyer said about the audio ad. “It was just about how she was utilizing technology to impact the community and solve a problem.”

The softer sell through an audio story helped to show a side of Google that many consumers may not see in their daily interactions with the search giant’s suite of digital services.

Hotel chain Hilton similarly worked with TED to pull back the curtain to showcase its internal employee environment, a facet of its business many consumers likely don’t see.

“This unique forum allows us to share glimpses into our uniquely Hilton culture with [TED] listeners — helping promote the opportunities at Hilton to an audience that we may not have reached otherwise using more traditional media channels,” the hospitality company shared in emailed comments.

Hilton plans to continue its partnership throughout 2021 as a sponsor of TED’s new podcast series, “Taken for Granted.”

Growing toolkit

The costs of a storytelling ad campaign can vary from $150,000 to $650,000, depending on the scale of the effort and its integration with TED’s podcasts, Beyer said. It tracks audience size and downloads through a proprietary data platform. TED also recently expanded its suite of measurement tools to include Podsights and Kantar, which could help it encourage brand marketers to try out its new ad format.


“We try to create actually impactful stories for our partners, but that aren’t technically about our partners per se, and do it all in three minutes or less.”

Laura Beyer

Director of brand partnerships, TED Conferences


So far, the native ads are resonating with TED’s listeners, who are 28% more likely to value authentic, story-driven partner ads, according to an internal survey. The most loyal listeners are twice as likely to find the native approach rewarding. The ads have shown a 28-point lift in unaided awareness and a 14% lift in favorability, a Kantar study found.

“We’re also able to create a suite of different ad creative for a partner. You have some pieces that are more native, and then you have some pieces that are a simpler, far more sort of direct message,” Beyer said. “It’s nice to have a little bit of a mix from the standpoint of hitting off on all the different things they need to tell an audience.”

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