- IHeartRadio partnered with gene-testing startup 23andMe on a podcast that touches on some of the biggest questions around DNA, human connectedness and the future of genetic study, according to a company blog post. Recording artists John Legend and Wyclef Jean appear in the first two episodes of "Spit" to discuss how their gene tests affected the way they feel about race, culture and personal identity.
- Baratunde Thurston hosts the podcast featuring conversations with artists, celebrities and experts from various fields. Recording artist Melissa Etheridge will next appear in the podcast to discuss her experience in starting a family.
- Gayle Troberman, CMO of iHeartMedia, said the company hopes the podcast will spark more conversations about DNA's effect on culture, she told Fast Company. The podcasts are available on iHeartRadio's mobile app and website.
The partnership between iHeartRadio and 23andMe is a creative way to leverage mobile tech and the popularity of podcasts to promote the gene-testing company's services while highlighting topics that affect culture and society. The DNA testing service's content strategy could engage on-the-go listeners better than traditional audio ads or overtly branded content.
Podcasts have attracted a number of brands because of their popularity with on-the-go smartphone users. In some cases, brands are underwriting the content and in others they are buying audio ads as part of the experience. Marketers jumping on board the trend include Barneys, Trader Joe's and American Express.
"Spit" arrives after PBS started broadcasting a similar podcast called "Finding Your Roots" with Ancestry.com, the website that helps people track down records of their extended families. The show stirred controversy several years ago after it was revealed that the host acquiesced to actor Ben Affleck's request to avoid mentioning a slave-owning ancestor, per the Hollywood Reporter. This incident highlights some thorny issues around genetic history, ancestry and branded content, which could guide 23andMe as it continues to produce more "Spit" episodes and subsequent audio content.
Meanwhile, iHeartRadio's parent company filed for bankruptcy this year with a plan to slash its $20 billion debt load in half, The Los Angeles Times reported. The debt was a legacy of a leveraged buyout that impaired the company from effectively competing with startups. As 23andMe's deal demonstrates, iHeartRadio is experimenting with new mobile formats and partnerships to adapt to the changing marketplace for streamed audio content as companies like Spotify, Pandora, Apple, Amazon and Google vie for listeners.