Two and a half years ago, I was preparing for a talk in Iceland. I woke up in a hotel in Reykjavik with the usual winning combination of hangover/jetlag/exhaustion and went downstairs to get a coffee. On the way down I saw a large viking standing outside with a cigarette. Those fucking Nordics are so good looking they make smoking look wholesome and pure.
And, in a way that surprised me at the time, I went straight out and asked him for a cigarette. I was happy for the company. And we stood together looking at the morning snow, the mountains around Breidha Fjord and beyond to the Greenland Sea. Eventually, he patted me on his giant hand and went inside. I stayed there alone for 10 minutes. Touching the snow, breathing the air and enjoying the existential pleasure of being in a strange place.
Speaking done, I headed to the airport. By the time I got home, Covid had become the topic. Within a week, travel, meetings, and life as we knew it had been abandoned. I remember taking my watch off and putting it away because, for the foreseeable future, those things were unnecessary. Instead, I took a small garnet beaded necklace that I had bought for my wife, which she had never worn, and wrapped it three times around my left wrist. I called it my ‘Covid bracelet’ and never took it off.
The big question was never whether Netflix would advertise, but rather what kind of advertising model it would implement.
It was in Melbourne and then Sydney last week that I realized it was all over. That we were officially living in a post-Covid world.
I know I know That is a medically incorrect observation. Covid has never been more contagious or more prevalent. But damn it, Jim, I’m a salesman, not a doctor! Our perception of Covid, our culture, our way of life has advanced. virus or not So, I took off my Covid bracelet and went to get my watch.
I was in Sydney for a big event by LiSTNR, the digital arm of Australian media company SCA. The company was promoting a lot of great podcast shows to advertisers, and for some reason, I had been invited to the fancy dinner with all the talent and top executives. It was my first talk in the industry in almost three years and I enjoyed every drink.
Podcasts are not radio.
At one point, a particularly serious and familiar-looking media executive looked across the table and asked, “What are you doing here?” I was a little taken aback, and as I contemplated the question, I realized that I didn’t have much of an answer. I stuttered something about writing a column on podcasts.
He pondered my answer for what seemed like five minutes and then said, “I’m looking forward to it.” Damn, I thought, I’m actually going to have to write something because this asshole is going to control me.
Are you one of the SCA executives, I asked meekly? She paused again. “Me?” he exclaimed. “Nah mate,” he chuckled, “I’m Howie.”
And then everything started to fall into place. It was Mark Howard, famous Australian sports commentator and official holder of the World’s Most Australian Look and Sounding Bloke award for nine consecutive years. Howie hosts Howie Games which is a massive podcast for anyone who loves sports in Australia. He was one of the “audio celebrities” featured for the event and was also the only person at the dinner to drink more Chablis per minute than I did, so we quickly struck up a very nice conversation, or ‘convo’ as we call it Down. Under.
[It’s] about recognizing that the linear television advertising model was created in the 1950s for a different kind of consumer, using a different kind of technology, in very different settings, and for very different brands.
One moment really stuck with me. Howie knows “fuck” about marketing, but he’s a smart guy and a bit of a podcast pioneer. And he was wrestling with the idea that radio ads had any place in commercial podcasts. His point was that every time his podcast included ads that had been created for radio, they seemed wrong to him. “What,” he wanted to know, “are marketers thinking?”
And it’s an interesting question that is rarely asked. Most marketers are aware of the potential of spreading your media dollars across multiple channels. But the temptation to save time, money, and effort by repurposing the same video run that was created for TV on YouTube, or repurposing print ads for digital purposes, is all too often the most common approach.
I told Howie about some interesting data I had seen from Analytic Partners years before. The data, shown below, suggests that when you create your own dedicated native content for digital video, it’s likely to be three times more effective than TV creative that’s been repurposed for digital channels.
By extension, Howie’s theory that radio ads should stay on the radio and podcasts should develop their own format stands up to scrutiny. The only example my Chablis-soaked brain could give him that night was Russell Brand’s old podcast from a decade ago.
The controversial comedian was one of the first celebrities, along with faithful co-host Matt Morgan, to successfully cross over to podcasts. In 2015 he brought his show to AudioBoom and, for the first time, advertising from brands like Audible and Visit Las Vegas funded the show.
In a bold move, the advertising messages were read live by Morgan. Inevitably, since he was Russell Brand and the point of his show was to turn anything into dodgy, occasionally super dodgy territory, he took the opportunity to mercilessly piss off just about every sponsor who tried to promote himself on his podcast. . As the series progressed, it became clear that many of the brands were clearly uncomfortable with this puncture.
Much to Brand’s hilarity, Morgan took it upon himself to prevent the irascible host from going off script during the commercials, thus ensuring that Brand would be further annoyed. And making advertising on the show more and more fun.
Despite the apparent discomfort of some of the advertisers, there was something surprising about the way Brand dissected, retargeted, and reversed each ad. If you were an untrained, unthinking marketing manager, your approach would have been a cause for great concern. Most dumb sellers look for consistency: control at the expense of any proper impact on the market.
Instead of trying to improve this 80 year old man [TV] model, Netflix needs to ignore it.
But if he understood marketing right, there was a lot to like about Brand’s approach. To begin with, what was meant to be a one-minute ad often turned into a five-minute profanity-laden adventure. And while it was dangerous territory, each brand was given a massive prominence multiplier, as Morgan tried to top each ad message while Brand bombarded him with innuendo and arguments, around and below each message.
Ironically, given Brand’s anti-commercial agenda, his ambushes dragged ads from the show’s periphery into its molten red center. Promotional nirvana, in other words.
And prove Howie’s point. Because those incredibly electric commercial takedowns would have been unlikely in the more controlled and forced environment of radio. He suggests that while marketers should aim for cross-channel campaign synergy, they should do so with distinctly created assets that are designed natively for each specific medium.
Streaming is not TV
And that brings us to Netflix, and the biggest moment in advertising next year. As you may already know, the streaming giant is set to split into two tiers in early 2023: a premium-priced service much like the one it currently runs, and a lower-priced, ad-supported tier. And Netflix certainly won’t be the last streaming company to take this route, as other giants like Disney+ shift their focus from customer acquisition to profit.
The big question was never whether Netflix would advertise, but rather what kind of advertising model it would implement. CEO Reed Hastings has frequently spoken of a “better-than-linear television advertising model that is more fluid and relevant to consumers, and more effective for advertising partners.” But, with respect, I think that statement is misguided.
It’s not about being “better” than linear television. It’s about being different. About recognizing that the linear TV advertising model was built in the 1950s for a different kind of consumer, using a different kind of technology, in very different settings, and for very different brands. Instead of trying to improve on this 80-year-old model, Netflix should ignore it. The company should take a step back and invent a native form of advertising that only they could operate and monetize.
Maybe you are a sponsor of a single brand on the platform every day. Or every week. Maybe it means several messages that can be skipped before the show starts. Or a break in the middle of the show with a single 90-second targeted ad that allows viewers to do something useful, like grab a drink. I’m making all this up, of course. I don’t have a specific idea what Netflix should do. Apart from something that cinema, television and YouTube would not do. Maybe Howie can give them some advice.
You can expect more wit and wisdom from Mark Ritson at the Marketing Week Marketing Festival on October 6th. The theme of this year’s event is the growth of brands, businesses and careers. For more information and to buy your ticket visit the Festival website.