So, is podcasting an advertising vehicle or a marketing vehicle? Or, is podcasting an art form or a commercial form?
As a practical matter, podcasting is whatever you want it to be. But, to truly start thinking about it, let's understand where it lives. As simply and non-technically as I can describe them, podcasts are audio files that are packaged in an envelope that RSS (Really Simple Syndication) servers serve to people who request them. If you called a podcast an audio blog, you would not be wrong. If you are thinking that you could put other stuff (like video files or document files, etc.) into this RSS envelope and be video blogging or document blogging, you would be right, but you would also be thinking like a geek -- so stop it!
If you think about podcasts as advertising vehicles, they need traditional sponsorship to function. Nobody can say, generally speaking, if adding advertising messages to podcasts is a good idea or a bad one because relevance and consumer permissions dictate. Certainly, some podcasts will follow the time-tested, emotionally unsatisfying commercial radio model - it may work, but I wouldn't count on it.
If you think about podcasts as marketing vehicles, you would be taking advantage of all the tools available to Internet marketers: tracking software, affiliate marketing schemas, SEM (search engine marketing), and SEO (search engine optimization) methodologies, etc. This makes huge sense since (for the moment) podcasts require a personal computer-based client and an Internet connection.
Brand awareness, lift, and purchase intent are three of the most common metrics brand managers use when calculating return on investment (ROI) for advertising/marketing dollars. What's nice about podcasting is that the Internet enables census-based metrics. Properly used, podcasting can tell you a great deal about how effective it is for your business.
Can podcasts survive and flourish as stand-alone artistic expressions? Remember Razzles? The product was excellent. The ad promoted sampling and once sampled, the product sold itself.
Don't forget, popularity has never been a measure of quality, and similarly, quality has certainly never been a measure of popularity. Hits are not science... they are magic.