Advertisers and marketers spend much of their time (and money) trying to pitch the public on their products and services. Their language includes terms like “mindshare” and “branding” and “conversion rates.” It’s all about convincing you and me to go out and buy their stuff, and how to motivate us to do it, by any means necessary.
But imagine a new world of new media, where the advertiser was not interested in mass-market appeals, but actually transformed their pitch into a conversation with interested buyers. What if it was a two-way conversation where the advertisers listened to customers, and tried to provide a product they actually wanted?
The seeds of this new way of doing advertising are sprouting on blogs and podcasts, and advertisers are learning that they can get valuable feedback just by loosening their iron grip of control. One of the more interesting examples of this new way came when the podcasting network PodShow made a deal with domain and web-hosting provider Go Daddy. More than 50 podcasters in the PodShow network were given the freedom to create their own audio and video ads for Go Daddy, with just a few suggested talking points.
What they have created so far breaks the traditional advertisement out of its boring old box, with each host personalizing the promotion and even making their own mini-comedy productions. Geekbrief.TV host Cali Lewis busted out a Go Daddy tank top to pitch the company (see picture above). The X-rated Pacific Coast Hellway podcast used the sound of panting women to suggest the service was orgasmic.
These are not typical commercial messages, and that’s the point. Ron Bloom, the CEO of PodShow, calls it Advertising 2.0, and though his hyperbole can get a bit thick, he’s onto something here.
“The important point about the [Go Daddy] campaign is one message, many voices,” Bloom told me. “Normally when an advertiser wants to get a message out, it’ll record a spokesperson, and it will get that recording out to many outlets. In Advertising 2.0, the host of the show will use their own sensibilities about their audience to communicate the message of the brand. So Go Daddy put their brand into the hands of more than 50 PodShow hosts, who have — not a script — but a series of points about what makes Go Daddy special, that they can communicate in their own way to their audience. Plus they have a promotion code that they can give to their audience to get discounts.”
The promotion code is also the way that Go Daddy can gauge who is connecting best with their audience and making sales. Bloom says that Go Daddy gets more than just their message read on podcasts; they are getting dozens of versions of ads with all the real-time feedback to see which approaches work. But Bloom cautions that the product itself has to match the podcast and its audience.
“I don’t think this would work if the advertiser’s product sucked,” Bloom said. “You have to assume that the product has a value, and the message has to be interpreted [by the host] so it fits the audience. The trick is to value the relationship between the show and audience and find the right brand.”
Bloom talks a lot about making the advertising into content, and while journalists always fear the idea of ads “baked” into content, if they’re done right, these ads can be entertaining and useful for the audience.
Go Daddy Ups the Podcast Ante
Go Daddy has long pushed the envelope with its Super Bowl ads, going through 13 TV ads that were rejected by ABC before it got one approved (of course the others made perfect fodder for the web). So the company’s edgy image goes well with the nascent podcasting world — also known as the “podosphere.”
I spoke to Go Daddy executive vice president Barbara Rechterman, who’s in charge of marketing and advertising in online, television, print, radio, and podcast media. She said Go Daddy started testing ads on podcasts last June on Geek News Central. The test was so successful, they’ve started advertising on many other podcasts before making the broad deal with PodShow.
“Our conversion rates in podcasting are better than any other online advertising in general,” Rechterman said. “The audience is very dedicated and loyal to the podcast they listen to. The podcasters themselves in essence do a commercial for us during their podcast. Generally, we get a higher response rate. The listeners are early adopters, they’re a more savvy customer and an early adopter of technology, which bodes well for domain names.”
But how does Go Daddy deal with the loss of control of its brand and message? Rechterman hadn’t heard the spot with the women groaning in ecstasy on Pacific Coast Hellway yet, but said she had already let Howard Stern loose with Go Daddy ads, and that worked out great. She said she would monitor the ads, and if any of the spots went over the line (whatever that is), Go Daddy would consider pulling them.
Internet provider Earthlink ran some podcast ads via PodShow and was a little freaked out by the loss of control, according to Bloom. However, after a few weeks, they calmed down and realized the value they were getting from all the feedback.
On the Gillmor Gang tech-roundtable podcast, some of these Earthlink ads rubbed people the wrong way. Podcaster/blogger Dave Slusher thought one Earthlink ad was too vague and played on people’s fears of viruses and online threats. “My problem isn’t that [the ad] is mainstream advertising in the podosphere, my problem is that it is bad, useless, ineffectual advertising in any medium and any context,” Slusher wrote on his blog.
Steve Gillmor, who runs the Gillmor Gang and is a contributing editor to ZDNet, told me the whole back-and-forth with Slusher and other critics ended up being helpful to the advertiser, Earthlink.
“Slusher’s objection was that [the] spot doesn’t go well with the free-form avant garde nature of the podosphere,” Gillmor said. “I started experimenting with it by doing different lead-ins to it, and I started getting into it…The controversy between Dave and his fans and us demonstrated the value that Earthlink is providing in this. It turned out to be a net plus for Earthlink.”
Slusher told me he had heard Gillmor’s first spot for Go Daddy and thought it was an improvement over the Earthlink ads by being much more conversational.
“I heard on his kickoff announcement Steve explain why he likes Go Daddy as a registrar, which was much more engaging than the vague and weird condescension from Earthlink,” Slusher said via email. “Podcasts work because they are economically viable to create without requiring large audiences. Because the denominator gets raised and the interests more rarified and less general, it gets more possible to have sponsorships and ads that hit the Holy Grail: giving the audience the ads it actually wants to hear…I think the value that the medium brings is increasing the odds that the sponsorship will have that kind of relationship to the audience.”
Slusher has voiced ads on his Evil Genius Chronicles podcast, but always keeps them playful, and even makes fun of the sponsor in some way.
“When I was sponsored by iPodJuice I did things like wonder aloud what iPodJuice would taste like – ‘fanny pack and earbud sweat’ was my conclusion,” Slusher said. “I heard from their CEO that he laughed out loud when he heard [the spots], and really enjoyed listening to them, which is all I ask. My goals are — if I’ve got to intrude on my listeners’ time — to try to provide some modicum of fun, and in as many cases as possible give them some tangible benefit for listening in the form of coupons or special deals. In most cases, that is how it has worked and overall people seem happy with it.”
Quitting Their Day Jobs
And if advertisers like what they hear, and start advertising more on podcasts, could more podcasters quit their day jobs and do podcasts for a living? That’s the goal of the PodShow network, according to Bloom, who says that more and more podcasters in their network are doing just that.
Cali Lewis (whose real name is Luria Petrucci) started her podcast Geekbrief.TV just last December, and was picked up by the PodShow network at the end of January. She told me her downloads have jumped from 3,000 per month to nearly 500,000 this month. Lewis is trying to be open with her audience about her ambitions, and says they have accepted the ads as part of her equation for success.
“My audience understands I want to do this podcast full time and quit my day job, and they know that advertising is involved,” Lewis said. “They get it. I don’t think most people would have a problem with it…I don’t read a dry script and say dry things about the ads. I want it to be playful. And if we do get resistance, I hope they’ll email me and we can talk it out and come to a conclusion.”
So the conversation goes from advertiser to podcaster to audience and back again — a true feedback loop that takes away the traditional top-down control from advertisers. And everyone wins? Imagine that.
What do you think? Is there really an Advertising 2.0, and what are the elements that would work for you as a listener? Do ads on podcasts turn you off?