Brands get the shivers as sheen is rubbed off podcasting’s image

Ricky%20GervaisRadio One DJ Chris Moyles is a podcasting evangelist and regularly encourages his audience to get downloading, while Ricky Gervais’s popular podcasts top the daily charts. Yet despite these high profile media names, few believe this is a medium of the future for brand owners.

It all sounds simple enough. Buy an iPod or other MP3 player, install software into your computer and subscribe to a podcast on your favourite website. This will send out a short programme directly to your computer, and you can transfer it onto the iPod or other player and listen to it when you like.

However, some commentators believe people are getting increasingly confused about podcasting, which is becoming jumbled up in the public’s mind with the many other new formats available from the Web.

Brands have experimented with the format ever since the first podcast was downloaded in August 2004. As iPod sales have rocketed, some have predicted that podcasting would grow into a powerful new medium. While there have been successes, convincing evidence that podcasting is a useful tool for promoting brand messages has yet to emerge.

One drawback for brand owners is the difficulty of measuring whether people have actually listened to the downloads. Since users often subscribe to a series of podcast downloads, they may listen to the first couple of episodes then stop. There are no reliable measurement tools and podcasting is less transparent than other online media where usage can be directly assessed.

Many brands have dipped their toes in the water, funding their own informative podcasts. Arla Foods has launched recipe podcasts to support the relaunch of Apetina feta cheese. BA launched a series of podcasts in a campaign through Agency.com. Each podcast featured sleep expert Dr Chris Idzikowski giving hints and advice on sleep.

Meanwhile, the AA has launched a series of podcasts showing how to carry out basic car maintenance. The podcasts show AA patrols demonstrating techniques and giving tips on everything from changing a wheel and checking oil levels to winter driving.

Steve Jay, e-business manager at the AA, says: “We have recently carried out some research that revealed 81% of motorists would carry out checks if someone showed them how to do it. People need instant access to this type of advice and now they can get it from AA.com.”

But observers believe that the take-up of podcasting is trailing off and it could end up as a niche format with few outlets for brand promotion. Use of the medium has plateaued, according to research from BMRB.

The research shows that last year 24% of respondents said they were expecting to download a podcast in the following 12 months, but this year only 19% said they had actually done so. This was only a small rise from the 17% of respondents who said they had downloaded podcasts last year.

BMRB marketing director Steve Cook says: “It hasn’t taken off as we would have expected. The term podcast has developed into such a broad definition, whether it’s downloading, streaming, or subscribing and now there’s vodcasting as well, people are confused about what it is.”

And he warns: “Unless you’ve got genuinely new content only available on podcasts which isn’t a repeat of television or radio, it is going to be difficult to increase the audience.”

That is not to say that brand owners won’t continue looking for creative opportunities with the medium. One of the more successful sponsorships was Chrysler brand Dodge’s endorsement on Baddiel and Skinner’s 2006 World Cup podcast. This was considered appropriate as Dodge sought associations with the sharp, laddish yet irreverent humour of the comedians. Created by media agency BJK&E, nearly 1 million of the podcasts were downloaded.

However, the agency’s marketing manager Paul Capleton is sceptical about whether the format will catch on as a promotional medium. “I don’t think it is being utilised properly by many people yet, though occasionally it is done very well,” he says.

Capleton believes spot advertising in podcasts is best avoided because people are unlikely to welcome listening to re-worked radio ads and may end up fast-forwarding through them.

“Advertisers that have tight marketing budgets and are just dipping their toes in the water of this new format run the risk of missing the point,” he says.

Instead he advises that sponsorship of a show on a regular basis is a better way of building relationships with customers. If the sponsorship message can be delivered by the podcast presenter, this will further enhance the effect.

Another possibility is product placement within the content of the podcast. “If the product is applicable to the content, there is an opportunity to integrate a message, service or product,” says Capelton.

But the online world is so fast moving, some wonder whether podcasts will soon be superceded by vodcasts, downloadable videos which can be viewed on video-enabled iPods. Everything is up for grabs in the rapidly transforming online world.

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