Meanwhile, Back in the Podcasting Lab...
Shortly after my little rant a few columns back about the importance of brevity and frequency in mobile advertising, Publicis Groupe's Arc Worldwide issued its own tip sheet on podvertising. The company has what it calls a "consumer-experience planning team" and is creating Purina branded entertainment and informational packages for iPods and phones. I can already see some of these best practices in evidence on the iTunes podcast network.
For example, Arc recommends that branded content podcasts are best suited for high-involvement products (financial) or products that have high emotional involvement, like a pet care line. Companies like Deloitte have regularly scheduled audio podcasts of their research. Adobe gets tremendous visibility for its software products from an ongoing video tutorial series around its products that often float to the top of the top downloads list, right beside the grisly fun of Happy Tree Friends (sick cartoons) and Tiki Bar TV (a drunken sitcom). I think what is interesting about branded informational content in the podcast realm is that centralized and high-profile distribution mechanisms like iTunes and Yahoo's podcast networks, even Google Video, make it possible for companies to find an audience by slipping it into the same viral network as any other kind of user- or media-generated fare.
Arc recommends that advertisers stick to their brand essence when making these shows and focus on giving information the customers really want, not just product pitches. Most of the good branded content podcasts I have seen and heard don't actively push a product so much as satisfy the audience with real instructional media. Put that into the podcast network ecosphere and you really start moving toward on-demand advertising. In a move that bears watching, Dimension Entertainment just announced that it was creating a sort of podcasting channel for itself and the upcoming "Scary Movie 4." Clicking on a display ad will subscribe you and your iPod to a scheduled series of video downloads, clips, trailers, and such. If the content is good and fun, then users will stay subscribed to this podcast channel. and Dimension may be able to push down other offers and content over time. This anticipates a model that some mobile TV technologies make possible as well. Streaming TV and downloadable TV clips (a.k.a. "clipcasting") have no technical limits on the number of channels available to the end user. Some mobile TV providers are already planning to offer advertisers branded channels for their content.
Early pod and vodcasting already shows me that standard TV-style spots have negligible value. Arc argues that mobileportable "is not the medium to get salesy" but to offer a real "value exchange." While I do think that very short spots can be enormously effective in mobile, I can say from experience that TV spots are tedious here. ZiffDavis has an ambitious series of vodcasts, 1Up Show and DL.tv, but they are overlong for the portable format (40 to 50 minutes) so they feel as if they really dream of being on cable. Moreover the commercial breaks are too long, and many have remained the same since the shows premiered months ago. Loyal viewers like me simply fast-forward through what have become irritants because they lack entertainment or informational value. How about touting the advertisers with a changing tech tip of the week or something that is in keeping with the currency and informational tone of the broadcast?
One of the last big pieces of portable media we need to work out involves interactivity and participation. There is a tendency in mobile media to fall back onto a broadcast content model, simply taking the one-way styles of radio and TV programming and squeezing them into the new format. Wisely, Arc suggests that podvertisers erect blogs or Web site companions to their mobile media to engage the customer interactively there. Good, but I think we need to go further and incorporate user voices into the downloadable media. ZD's DL.tv is very good about making user mail an integral part of its show and talking about how audience requests and feedback are shaping its programming. Advertisers might consider pod ads that are constructed around customer feedback. Hands down, the best use of audience in a podcast I have seen is from the animation series "Channel Frederator." This anthology of cool toons puts up a small interstitial with an e-mail address and a phone number to leave voice mail. Sometimes the show asks specific questions, so the feedback is actually programmed. Excerpts from both the e-mail and voice mail become interstitials between the cartoons and it actually feels more like programming, as if it is a part of the flow of Frederator content, than it does a ghetto-ized user feedback section.
Podvertising is a superb lab for the ad formats we need to reinvent so that they accommodate and make sense within emerging platforms. The best early podvertising suggest that marketers shouldn't just be thinking about how they slip their pitches into and around short and portable content. Instead, they should be looking at what makes the mobile content itself compelling and create messages that look, feel, and interact in the same ways.