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Sleep Podcast Is Wakeup Call For How Brands Can Use Audio.

Mattress Firm says it has now had more than 100,000 downloads to its Chasing Sleep podcast, which it is producing with iHeartMedia. The Katie Lowes and Adam Shapiro-hosted show is no lullaby, rather it is a series that explores the relationship with sleep and the far-reaching effects of sleep on quality of life. In a competitive product category where price is a big factor in buying decisions, the branded content may seem out of place. But Mattress Firm’s marketing team says it is part of a largely strategic plan.

“Mattress Firm had a bigger story to tell than just product and price. We’re leaning into content to tell that bigger story about why consumers should choose Mattress Firm,” Senior VP of Marketing Sam Bennett said in an interview with Digiday. Mattress Firm also buys traditional ads on podcasts and also works with podcast hosts on endorsement campaigns. But Bennett says the content gives them an “always on” piece. It also positions the brand as an expert in sleep. “It’s not a flash in the pan. It’s an always-on commitment and it’s a good part of our buy,” he said.

Mattress Firm is not saying how much it is spending to produce the Chasing Sleep podcast or its other branded content. But its measured ad spending rose to $308.5 million last year according to Pathmatics. While its podcast has had more than 100,000 downloads so far, marketing consultant Mat Zuker told Digiday its challenge will be to keep growing those numbers even though sleep is a “hot topic” in sleep-deprived America. “Podcasts are showing they can be full funnel,” he said. “On the challenging side, it’s hard to build an audience even with iHeartMedia.”

Yet enough brands are embracing podcasting that iHeart launched a new in-house studio in May to expand its work with marketers. The unit, which has been branded Ruby, will handle production, sales and marketing of branded podcasts. It builds on the branded content that iHeart has been doing in the podcast space for the past four years. So far, iHeart’s Ruby has created 30 branded podcasts, including 20 in the past year, for brands including T-Mobile, Salesforce, IBM, and Mattress Firm.

The Ruby team reportedly has more than a dozen staff members. In addition to full-fledged shows, the division is also creating extended content-heavy ads that some marketers now see as more effective since they can be tucked inside a show with a big audience rather than trying to amass a large listenership for their own show.

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