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Odds are most Gen Zers don’t scroll endlessly through TikTok to learn about financial terms or the structure of the American economy. That changes, though, when a 20-something-year-old uses chicken nuggets to explain negative marginal benefit and refers to a pause in the stock market as a “chill session.”
Through lo-fi graphics, unconventional metaphors and a disheveled hipster with a film degree, NPR’s Planet Money podcast is using TikTok to make discussions about the economy far less pretentious. Planet Money has a long tradition of making complicated subjects accessible, according to senior supervising producer Mito Habe-Evans, and the podcast is turning to Gen Z’s favorite app as both a brand marketing tool and an extension of its newsroom. “We’re definitely trying to do journalism on TikTok,” Habe-Evans said. “All of our pieces have to deliver something that you learn. I think that’s the case for all of NPR. The brand is smart with heart.”Jack Corbett, a production assistant at NPR, is the face of Planet Money’s TikTok, which has garnered 1.2 million likes across about 60 videos. He told Adweek that his strategy for amassing over 100,000 followers is pretty simple. “I drink a whole lot of coffee, read through a bunch of economic terms, come up with some kind of weird idea and write a script,” he said. “I think, ‘Instead of me saying this, what if there’s 100 tiny 1% versions of me flying around?’ That’s the wonder of a green screen.” Planet Money has received institutional encouragement from NPR to expand on the app, and the creatives behind the podcast were eager to be part of the #LearnOnTikTok educational initiative, which invites public figures, real-world experts and publishers to help make the app both a source of entertainment and an informative space. Planet Money is also using its presence on TikTok to promote Planet Money summer school, which offers nine weeks of instruction through episodes featuring insights from economics professors. When the podcast is using TikTok to explain more serious topics, such as the economic disparity faced by people of color in America, the usual zaniness of Corbett’s style does not seem appropriate, according to Habe-Evans. Even so, the videos, which have amassed as many as 1 million views, incorporate personality and a handcrafted touch, maintaining Planet Money’s user-friendly brand. “The goal has always been to deliver information with a bit of human touch, and in a way that doesn’t feel so slick,” said Habe-Evans. “What I’ve found interesting is people are like, ‘I don’t like that you can see the wrinkle on the green screen,’ but the whole point is to be sort of lo-fi. That is an aesthetic within itself, too.”

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