Commentary

Click/Counter-Click: The Podcast Bandwagon

CLICK by Jason Heller

"What about advertising in podcasts?" is becoming a common question marketers are asking their media buyers these days.

Podcasting, simply put, is just another way to distribute content to consumers. As with all new digital sub-channels, the hype for podcasting can be overwhelming.

Some marketers understand that groups of consumers have been moving towards time-shifted, on-demand media, thereby chipping away at the relevance of programmed content in consumers' lives. We are embracing the change and seeking viable new ways to reach and influence these consumers. The majority of marketers are still only reading about the hype surrounding this behavior change.

Although there are similarities between the time-shifting of TV content and podcasting, there are a few major differences. Therein lies the golden opportunity for marketers -- the opportunity to deepen relationships between consumers and your brand or product. A digital video recorder is a device whose primary purpose is to empower consumers to time-shift existing programmed content. On the other hand, while podcasts are developed and promoted as on-demand content from the start, currently consumers do not consciously buy MP3 players in order to time-shift their media consumption with podcast content. Therefore, podcasts can and should provide consumers with unique, original content. To a large extent, this is what consumers are looking for from their digital media experiences.

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Podcasting is not a one-size-fits-all solution. There is no place for the "if you build it, they will come" mentality. Podcasts must be developed as an ongoing series of communications based on relevant and desirable content. I find many companies developing mediocre content for podcasts (and even blogs and promotional micro-sites as well) because they feel the need to be using the channel, not because they have a great idea suited specifically for this channel.

I have news for you. Hastily developed content is still bad, even after it is downloaded onto an iPod. There are no lines of consumers with MP3 players in-hand, thirsting for content and waiting for you to develop and deliver your podcasts. The universe of consumers who download podcasts is still small, and comprised primarily of early adopters.

Yes, podcasting is growing. Yes, the penetration of MP3 players is pervasive across many desirable consumer segments, and secondary products and services will blossom for these devices. But podcasting as a content distribution tactic has not yet proven that it has created demand from the average consumer to receive information in this manner. Remember, some people who own MP3 players still have 12:00 flashing on their VCRs.

Although podcasts do represent great opportunities for marketers to deepen relationships with consumers, they do not yet represent viable advertising opportunities for most. Ads within podcasts are innately low engagement ads, even less so than pre-roll and in-stream audio or video. The net result is that the brand impact is more passive than that of other, more engaging forms of digital media.

But there is certainly a place at the table set aside for podcast advertising (currently, it's a high chair). Marketers are continually trying to understand how to better follow consumers on their journeys through the changing media landscape. So marketers will be there, waiting around the corner of every new potential medium that consumers discover. Now that the early adopters have started to embrace niche-targeted podcasts, the major media companies have started developing and promoting podcasts as well. Consumer behavior will answer the questions about adoption, and will help shape the future of what marketing and advertising will look like in this digital channel.

Note: This article will not be rehashed in a podcast on our Web site.

COUNTER-CLICK by Paul DeBraccio

Podcasts can be viable if a major advertiser or publisher can see the potential and is willing to pay the price to support a particular cast or series of casts.

It is not likely to become a powerhouse branding medium for package goods companies, but it seems to have potential for more vertical brands.

However, the market of MP3 players is so fragmented that the publisher will have to brand the podcasts to make it attractive to companies who may want to use the medium for their branding objectives. Seems a bit circular, doesn't it?

For example, a podcast of weekly tips on how to get the most out of your iPod will be attractive to the various ancillary manufacturers, or maybe a concert company like Clear Channel, but not so much for Mazda or Mercedes.

On the other hand, a podcast of weekly tips for snowboarders will probably not be able to attract a broad enough audience to make it attractive to big spending advertisers unless it is funded, produced and promoted in a big way by K2 or some other snowboard company. Even then it will be too fragmented for mainstream advertisers.

Bottom line is that pods can work vertically if they are heavily promoted, but it's not likely that they will ever be anything but a time-shifting form of radio. (Which is a frequency medium designed for vertical targeting). Even a mature medium like radio must promote the heck out of any event to make it a success -- and most of the events that are promoted are created to help sell ads in the first place, and so it goes.

Hate to say it, but everything old is new again. If podcasters learn from radio's successes and mistakes, podcasting could be another viable medium.

If podcasters think they are creating a new wheel, then they will go the way of those old darlings of the Internet community sites.

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