Monthly Archives February 2011

Pod People: How Podcasts Are Changing Niche Marketing


I’m a guy with admittedly niche tastes, and I really love the stuff I love. I’m at the comic book store every Wednesday (usually Manhattan Comics, located just a few blocks away from the Flightpath offices) to check out new releases, and there’s always a graphic novel in my bag or on my nightstand. (Currently, I’m reading the Star Wars: Legacy trades and the Deadpool ongoing series collections. I highly recommend both. Yes, I’m a huge nerd. Please don’t judge me.) I also love comedy, having been raised on a diet of SCTV reruns and Turkey Day marathons of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’m a hockey addict, going to as many New York Rangers games as I can, and wearing my schnazzy new Heritage Jersey at every opportunity, while at the same time hating the New Jersey Devils with every fiber of my being. It’s a good life.

I like to talk about the stuff I like, or even better, listen to other people talk about the stuff I like. The biggest problem for a guy like me, however, is that there are no mainstream outlets for that to happen with my niche hobbies. There’s nothing close to comic book talk on the radio or television and probably never will be. Comedians are all over the media, but rarely do I get to hear them improvise without a filter, or speak, long-form, about who they are and what they do. Even with hockey, the coverage on local talk radio stations like WFAN is minimal. In the local papers, articles are banished to the back pages of the Sports section. So, if I want to hear actual human beings dissecting and exploring the things I love, where am I to turn?

Enter podcasts. Podcasts, for those who don’t know, are downloadable MP3 audio files (occasionally video), almost always free, that can be played on your computer, iPod, or essentially any device that plays MP3s. And what they’ve evolved, and seemingly settled into being, is niche radio made at home. If you want to hear someone talk about it, chances are, there is a podcast covering it. And unlike public access television, which for the most part, has brought us nothing but junk (and in the best case scenarios, weird junk), podcasts can actually be pretty excellent.

I first discovered podcasts through a fellow comic book fan, who suggested I check out a show called Around Comics. Hosted by a few friends and recorded in their local comic shop in Chicago, these guys were smart, witty, and spoke the language I knew. They weren’t afraid to say what they didn’t like, what they loved, or to disagree with each other. Moreover, they featured tons of in-depth interviews with comic book professionals, including controversial writer/artist John Byrne, legendary Silver-Age creator Carmine Infantino, and future all-time great, Goon creator Eric Powell. These names may mean nothing to you, but they mean a lot to me and others, and the result is a true emotional connection between audience and product that is essentially impossible on modern radio.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but the same holds true for comedy and hockey podcasts I later found. Marc Maron’s WTF podcast delves into the comic’s own personal life with brutal honesty, and he gets his interview subjects (comedians, comedy writers and directors) to open up about almost anything. There’s also the Pop My Culture podcast, more light-hearted than WTF but still very smart, in which hosts Cole Stratton and Vanessa Ragland deftly mix serious discussions about craft with very funny riffs on just about anything with their guests (see the Bob Odenkirk and RiffTrax episodes for proof). For hockey, I turn to the NYRangerscast, hosted by a couple of knowledgeable young fans who adeptly express all the joy and pain every Rangers fan feels through the course of a season, as well as the insightful Puck Podcast, which features highlights and clips from around the NHL.

Now, why should this matter to those of us in digital marketing? Most successful podcasts end up being sponsored, and anecdotally at least, I submit that podcast sponsorships are a great opportunity to reach target demographics. Through Around Comics, I discovered, which offers incredible discounts and packs each book—even the dumb Thundercats trade I ordered—like it’s the most valuable thing on earth, not to be damaged under any circumstances. (This shows that they know and care about the needs of neurotic comic book fans like myself. I will be a customer for life.) But larger businesses can find value in sponsoring podcasts, too; companies like Audible and Netflix have sponsored Around Comics and WTF. When I hear their promos (read live by the hosts), and see that they are supporting something kind of underground and kind of off-the-grid, like a comic book or comedy podcast, it makes me think, “They get it. And they’re helping something exist that could not exist anywhere else.” It changes my perception of them as a nameless, faceless corporation. Suffice to say, I’m a Netflix subscriber and consider Audible one of the good guys.

The New York Times recently took notice as well, highlighting the mega-popular This Week In Tech (or TWIT) podcast hosted by Leo Laporte, which receives a quarter million downloads each week. According to the article:

“Advertisers, especially technology companies, appreciate Mr. Laporte’s reach. Mark McCrery, chief executive of Podtrac, which is based in Washington, and measures podcast audiences and sells advertising, said TWIT’s advertising revenue doubled in each of the last two years and was expected to total $4 million to $5 million for 2010.

Starting at $40 per thousand listeners, TWIT’s ad rates are among the highest in American podcasting and are considerably higher than commercial broadcasting rates, which are typically $5 to $15 per thousand listeners.”

This is great news for successful podcasts, but even better for advertisers.  Ad rates may be higher, but advertisers, some of which are huge corporations, know that they’re getting an audience that’s interested in their specific product. Indeed, TWIT counts Ford as one of its many sponsors.

Podcasts, ultimately, fill much-needed gaps: they give us the chance to be our own talk radio program managers, letting us choose what we would want our own station to be. They tell you that there are other people out there who love the same stuff you do, which, to put it simply, means a lot. Because of this, the bonds between show, hosts and audience are that much stronger, no matter if the podcast is recorded in someone’s kitchen or in a studio; thus, sponsorships seem more honest as a result. And there’s also the fact that, in most cases, podcast listeners find the shows they love on their own. They’re not being advertised and they’re not being sold to you. You find them on your own terms, you give them a shot, and you choose to subscribe or check back in. And the emotional connection created, because you found something that isn’t cynical and speaks to who you are, is real.

So, try a podcast—whichever it is, I promise not to judge. (Unless it’s about something I don’t like. Then, woo-boy, are you a weirdo.)

Social Splash vs. Substance

Oreo is dead set on bringing that infamous “twist” to the Facebook world. And they’re doing amazing things. Recently, they were focused on breaking a Guiness world record by encouraging their fans to like a specific update with the goal of setting the record. It’s making a pretty big splash, or a colossal milk-dunk, the way that only Oreo can. But this recent attempt and others have me thinking with my marketing cap on and wondering: What’s really more valuable substance or splash?

Now, I’ll be fair to marketers and agencies that deploy these splashy tactics. Our first and most important job is to get people talking about the brand or company. There is no better way to do this than with some out-of-the-box campaign to create buzz. However one has to wonder about the long-term value in these efforts.

A smaller attempt to generate excitement has been the explosion of one-off social media campaigns. By this, I mean the thousands of contests and sweepstakes that companies use to build excitement about their brand and generate a larger fan base in the process.

A new study published by Co-Tweet (ExactTarget) reports that over 25% of Facebook users have admitted to liking a page to take advantage of one of these types of campaigns, but then, unlike the page once the campaign concludes. According to the same study, the relationship between a brand’s page and its fans is very fickle. More users than I would have thought take that step and unlike a page. What does this mean for marketers? Well, let’s backtrack to our ultimate hope when running a splashy “impact campaign.” Typically, our goals are to increase the fan base, and then, hopefully, convert these new fans into brand advocates—because of the positive experience and engagement levels on our page. This study tells me that, while the first part may succeed, it doesn’t guarantee the second part will. It is a lot more difficult to convert fair-weather fans into brand loyalists.

The lesson is that it takes work to transfer splash into substance—and you might lose some numbers in the process. A complete strategy for running an impact campaign has to address both issues: acquiring new fans and building brand affinity. There needs to be a dual focus to avoid the fallout that comes after a big splash. But don’t be discouraged, these one-offs do have plenty of value that can make a real impact. Just know that they are most valuable when properly balanced.

Jump…into Social Media!

If you look at marketing magazines and read all the industry trades, social media seems to have been widely adopted and understood by everyone. However, sometimes as industry professionals, we get wrapped up in our own game of inside baseball. We forget that for a lot of America, and some of our clients, this is still an unknown area, and therefore a little bit scary.

I recently attended an event that reminded me of this fact and was the inspiration for this post. The event was Social Media Boot Camp, and it was a daylong workshop of various sessions dedicated to different topics. Throughout the day, I realized that the attendees in the room had varying levels of experience within the social space, and therefore, their comfort levels were different as well.

Empathy is a human emotion that we strive to achieve, and when dealing with clients, empathizing with them and understanding their fears is a huge help—especially in the world of social media. Imagine if you were about to embark on something that scared the bejesus out of you—like starting a company Facebook page. For me, personally, a good example would be to go skydiving. I am not a fan of planes, in general, and the thought of falling out of one, with only a parachute, is not a very comforting thought.

Now, if I do decide to go for it, I want an instructor who is patient with me. Someone who won’t try to force me into something I’m not ready for. The ideal instructor would understand why I am scared, and really make an effort to make me feel at ease. This may mean that it takes more than one plane ride to summon the courage. And it may also mean that I need to take some incremental steps to feel comfortable with the big leap.

When discussing social media with clients, I always try to be this instructor and understand exactly what fears the client faces. It could be they are scared of the negative feedback. It could be they are worried about the business infrastructure they have in place, and they wonder whether their business is truly ready. Or it could be they are worried about wasting their investment—with little or no return. I make every effort to understand these emotions when planning campaigns for clients.

It’s worth it to take the extra time to be a client’s social media (read: skydiving) instructor. Making sure they understand the basics of the platforms, the how and why of the various tools, and what measures they can take to safeguard their reputation, builds trust. It also makes explaining the business case of social media, and how it does affect their bottom line a whole lot easier, too.

Once you have explained the safety features, you still need to gauge whether clients are comfortable assuming the risk. Because like in skydiving, we can’t guarantee the future and can never eliminate risk completely. What you CAN do is make sure they understand how to mitigate risk, and make clients feel confident because you’ll be right there with them—freefalling in the digital open.

Mr. Chocolate, Jacques Torres Tweets Up V-day

Nobody does chocolate like Jacques Torres (@jacquestorres), and after Valentine’s Day 2011, nobody tweets like him, either. The man is truly passionate about both his product and his brand. This love could not have been more evident than through his one-man V-Day crusade to get people buying into his stores—and all that damn good chocolate.

He tweeted nonstop yesterday about his special heart creations. And he was on the move all day, telling followers where and when they could meet him at his various NYC stores. If the 70’s were, themed around “power to the people,” Twitter is defining a new era of “passion to the people.” I noticed Jacques’ stream-of-consciousness tweets, and was impressed how effectively he was using the platform—cutting through a lot of clutter on arguably the biggest chocolate day of the year.

But now, V-Day is over (oh-so yesterday), and I hope he killed it on sales. The man certainly earned it. What I learned from this passionate chocolateprenur are three, delicious things:

  1. Tweet a story by planning a story. Live narratives offer can’t-stop-reading excitement.
  2. Be part of the story. Jacques may create original and delicious chocolate treats, but he manufactures something even more tasty: undeniable, mouth-watering passion.
  3. Twitter is about what is real in real time. When planning events, from flash mobs to openings, nothing has more of an active voice than tweeting all about it.

Hope everybody had a wonderful Valentine’s Day, it’s almost time to start planning 2012!

Shareables from Social Media Week Boot Camp

I could write with a lot of passion about my day at Social Media Week Boot Camp (#smwcampny) all the great sessions, the cool things I learned, and meeting some wonderfully creative and inventive people.  But that would be too easy, and besides, I’ll include a couple of key links, Twitter handles, etc. for you to get the information directly.

The beauty, the reality is the longer I am in the ever-evolving world of social media, the more I see the reality of real openness and sharing. It’s a truly “real time” re-definition of communication transparency, corporate and societal. Compared to partially closed societies, authoritarian nation-states, or even less evolved organizations, the overwhelming sense from a conference like #smwcampny was being in the widest, most open ecosystem of people, places, and things imaginable.

Being on the inside is everywhere on the social web. Therefore, ironically, it makes the inside irrelevant. The “back office” complaints of yesterday are totally done, gone.  Anything a company does can be C-suite level concern incredibly fast.  United Airlines was highlighted at #smwcampny regarding the widely known, like 9,000,000+ YouTube view known,  guy who wrote and sang some damn good songs, glorifying (gore-ifying) United’s total disregard for his guitar. It just proves you don’t mess with a guy’s guitar, even if his name is Dave (and not Slim) in today’s often overexposed social media world.

I’ll take liberty to reflect a little bit here. I have been in love with the idea of totally exposing yourself (in a non-porn kind of way) since watching the value of it in my third-favorite movie of all time, 8 Mile. The essence of this kind of exposure is revealed in the scene where Eminem as “M” freestyles against the reigning champ Papa Doc. M totally outs himself about his pill-popping mom, along with his upbringing and various other issues, including a friend who shot himself—all so Papa Doc would have nothing to say that wasn’t already said. M not only understood the power of transparency, he got the social media reality of today that being first out and owning (therefore managing) even negative stuff is a success-driven strategy.  BTW, how hot is Mr. Mathers after the Chrysler “Detroit” Super Bowl spot? He’s been trending on Twitter and huge on YouTube. Gotta love how he always connects his humanity to his world at large…very large.

My final reflection is about what was so great about #smwcampny. It was the breadth of involved people, from the highly experienced to newbies in marketing or the social space, and in some cases, both. This is what made it a Shake-Your-Boot-Camp kind of event. See some of #smwcampny for yourself, and/or follow these tweeps who I got to see and really rocked as embracing and engaging presenters:

Would Don Draper Go Mad For iAds?

Don Draper meets the iPad and iAd

Fooling around with the Tron: Legacy iAd – the first iAd for Apple’s iPad – I wondered what Don Draper would make of the new advertising format. (Not a curmudgeonly 90-year-old Don Draper of today, who’d probably be more concerned with those loud teens down the block than the latest whatsit. I mean an in-his-prime, boozing, smoking and Kodak Carousel-branding Don Draper.)

“Advertising is based on one thing,” Draper said in Mad Men’s first season.  “Happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay.” The role of advertising in our lives and what it strives to achieve has changed since Draper’s time. The core is perhaps the same – to reach someone in a manner that speaks to them – but the idea of ads telling you you’re “okay” has evolved, as has the meaning of “happiness,” via advertising. Today, successful ads achieve a broader emotional engagement in a way that excites people honestly and intellectually. More than something material, they give you something worthwhile. So what does it mean for people seeing advertisements that they can reach out and physically manipulate, touch and interact with?

iAds are the posterchild of immersive HTML5 ads – the advertising format on all touch screen mobile devices – and this new format can revolutionize advertising altogether. iAds made their debut last year on the iPad’s smaller cousins, the iPhone and iPod Touch, with several top-shelf brands (including Nissan,, and Campbell) making creative entries. They first appear as banners in iApps, can be clicked and activated, and then exited at any time. The hook (and innovation) is that that they’re not passive ads; users interact with them physically via the touch screen and engage with them on their own terms.

iAds and HTML5 ads can make the user a part of the advertisement like never before, and that is genuinely exciting in a, “Let’s create something no one has ever seen before and make a real connection” way. As a gamer, I think of how Nintendo’s seemingly simple innovation of user interaction changed how we relate to video games forever, stirring the imagination in new ways. I watched my friend’s 85-year-old grandfather play Wii Bowling, probably the first time he’d “bowled” in 30 years, invigorated with each strike; I smiled as my uncle played Wii Baseball, swinging the remote like he was back in Brooklyn playing stickball. They were honest moments of joy.

iAds and HTML5 ads can have the same impact on how we experience advertisements. The Tron iAd lets you spin, with a flick of the wrist, a Tron-inspired wheel that takes you to movie trailers, a map with theaters near you playing the movie (the most usable, personalized feature), soundtrack samples and more. Nissan’s iAd for the Leaf, a 100% electric car, makes use of all of the iPhone’s functionality – tapping, sliding, tilting, and even shaking – to give users a unique, in-depth experience. You can rotate the car; see inside it; watch a high-quality video ad; reserve one or compare it, dollar-by-dollar and mile-by-mile, to other cars. It’s almost an app in disguise, and it’s a delight.

So what would everyone’s favorite ad exec think of iAds? Can they tell you you’re okay and bring about happiness by today’s standards? I think Don would argue that they have more potential to accomplish this than maybe any other ad format that came before. The Nissan iAd, through the experience of exploring the car and the message of just how different and innovative the Leaf is, does tell you you’re okay. It tells you you’re taking a step into something important, social and worthwhile. That is happiness. Imagine what Draper could have done with this technology while working on the Kodak Carousel? Maybe he’d give users the chance to spin it themselves, upload their own photos instantly, and share them – and the stories behind them – with friends.

iAds and HTML5 ads represent change. “And let’s also say that change is neither good nor bad,” Draper said in the show’s third season, “it simply is. It can be greeted with terror or joy, a tantrum that says, ‘I want it the way it was,’ or a dance that says, ‘Look, something new!’” My guess is, he’d be excited by the “something new” that iAds bring: the chance to connect with people on even deeper levels than ever before.