This past week author J.K. Rowling released her 6th book in the now illustrious Harry Potter series called, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” It’s yet another compelling entry in this continuing saga about a young wizard’s adventures at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. HarryPodder1
These books are memorable due to great story-telling and extraordinary detail. In short, with Harry, one experiences interesting people and situations which, (surprise), makes for an interesting way to pass the time.

About a week previous to the latest Potter release, Apple came out with a new version of iTunes which includes access to thousands of podcasts. If you’re unaware of what a podcast is, there’s a great definition of it here. As a quick explanation, however, its a “Radio Show” that you can subscribe to and listen to at your own leisure on an iPod or other MP3 player. Podcasts, in current parlance, are the latest example of “time-shifted media” – like TiVo, but for audio. If your over forty, think of it as a “digital audio VCR” that never blinks 12:00, 12:00, 12:00.

The confluence of these two events is in and of itself a peculiar twist. With the latest Potter you’re guaranteed an engaging and mysterious adventure that’s sure to envelope you for hours. Podcasts are a separate mystery – finding ones that are good, original, well recorded, edited and produced is its own adventure. It can take some time to find one you like that doesn’t sound like an amateur radio hour. This is understandable as, with any new medium, there are bumps and bruises along the way.

I’ve been combing through the many shows iTunes has available and, not too surprisingly, the shows that are the most cogent and well produced are those that come from major networks who are repackaging their material. There are plenty of quirky, bizarre and informative shows too, covering a wide range of topics, but (in general) their lack of production value and show structure makes them less easy to follow or listen to on a regular basis. The fact that, quite literally, anybody with a laptop computer and a cheap microphone can make a podcast is part of the charm and flaw of this medium. Its kinda like dancing – sure, anyone can wag the dog – but busting a move for the masses is a different deal.

As an advertising tool, podcasting could be a huge benefit for those advertisers looking to reach a highly mobile audience that is technically savvy, engaged, and used to having things tailored to their tastes. If its anything like the ring-tone phenomenon there’s a real chance to build brand relationships here.

How? Here are a few ideas that come to mind…

Let’s say you have a client who makes fishing gear. Why not professionally record and create a series of half hour shows with a fishing expert who’s out on the water explaining and demonstrating how to use one of the products? Post the podcasts on your clients website and, with a valid receipt or serial number, they can go to the site and download the mp3 file. When a fisherman heads off to the lake, he can listen to that show in the car or in the boat. Beats a manual. Sexier than a .PDF file. And, with no broadcast media to buy, cheaper to produce. What’s more, this doesn’t have to be a weekly or monthly thing. Plus, it doesn’t have to be listed in the iTunes library as entertainment for the masses if you don’t want it to be.

Maybe you’ve got a Pizza client. Pizza is a party food. Your pizza company could strike a deal with unsigned bands in their areas. Simply head into the recording studio to assemble an hour long podcast with music, mixed with local comedians and/or celebrities that they can download with a receipt of some type. Embed your own :15 or :30 second radio spot inside the podcast. Better yet, get other people to advertise inside of it.

Perhaps you’ve got a client who’s message isn’t easily shared within the confines of a 30 or 60 second radio or TV ad – maybe a medical device creator. If the product or procedure has gone through successful human trials your client will have some wonderful stories to tell through the patients they’ve helped. A show that would cover interviews with doctors, nurses, and patients could be very powerful for those who might be considering a procedure using that technology or device. Do the interviews in interesting locations with studio narration and music. Create a print ad with directions to the url of the podcast. It might be a unique way to get potential customers linked in.

This medium might also well be used to benefit traditional radio advertising. Now that Clear Channel has executed its Less Is More campaign, which pushes :30 second radio ads instead of :60 radio spots, you’ve got less time to share your message. You could steal a page from the film industry and have a radio spot that draws you in for the first :25 seconds, and then goes silent for :02. The last three seconds is the web address of where to get “…the rest of the story” Or, if your radio ads have been buried in offers or legal copy, create a radio spot that talks about the value of your brand. Tell listeners they can get more by going to your website. Find an engaging host or hostess to chair a podcast that talks about those products in a way that isn’t just prattling price points and your sale has a bit more caché.

The linchpin for any and all of this is that, like the Potter series, if you’re going to create something memorable, make sure its crisply written, edited, and produced for your specific audience. Even though I must admit there’s something cool about the indy aspect of lo-fi, lo-tech, in-your-face production from ones basement, its unlikely that particular style will work for most who wish to burnish their brand, or who wish to be taken seriously.

Podcasting might not ever be as magical as J.K.Rowlings series of books but, as the latest chapter in “time-shifted media” I’m betting that it’ll at least be a surprising adventure… and a pretty good listen.

Got an opinion? Please click the comment button below and let us know.