And, now, a (welcome) word from our sponsor

Would anyone ever sit still for an ad that goes on for eleven-and-a-half minutes? Not a chance, right?

And yet, this just happened on a podcast I listen to — The Talk Show — in which John Gruber and Merlin Mann burned through almost 700 seconds talking about a new iPhone app, Launch Center Pro. It’s an ad, to be sure, but it’s a also a damned informative and entertaining chunk of audio, perfectly integrated with the programming around it:

I never once thought about reaching for the fast-forward button.

But I did click on “Buy.”

And this isn’t all that unusual. Podcasts have figured out what old-time radio and television nailed long before the internet age: Sponsorships. Not all ads are of this epic length, of course, and they do tend to vary wildly in quality depending on the hosts’ passion for and knowledge of the product itself. But I think this is exactly the right direction for advertising to go in the digital and mobile world.

“And now a word from our sponsor…” isn’t a grudging interruption — at least it shouldn’t be — but rather a shared wink between host and listener that what’s about to follow is not programming, but is worth your attention nonetheless. And it works, because the listener learns that the podcaster won’t simply start screaming “PUNCH THE MONKEY!!!” at the top of his lungs but, rather, is taking a commercial detour into an area that’s likely to be aligned with the interests of the show and its listeners.

It takes work. More work than just jamming in a sixty-second spot or reading cold-blooded copy. It means thinking about why this product might make sense to the listener and, then, telling them, without affectation or pretense, in a human voice.

I don’t have access to Gruber’s advertiser stats, of course, but I bet this works really, really well. I know it does for Leo Laporte’s TWIT network — which I profiled for Nieman Labs in 2009 — where they’ve been doing ads like this for years with great results.

Do people listen to long ads? They do if they’re relevant to their needs. Or if they’re somehow useful. Or entertaining. After all, we all claim to hate advertising, but whenever one of those bells is rung, the ad moves into another realm, where it’s something that we pay attention to. The ad becomes valuable content.

Imagine how great this same approach could be if local publishers did something similar with the advertising on their sites, if they respected their site users and site advertisers enough to try to find a way to present commercial information (advertising) in a way that worked as well for both sides of the equation as the Gruber/Mann conversation about Launch Center Pro does.

Instead, the average local site is, at best, a NASCARish nightmare of tiny, flashing competing banner ads, the vast majority of which will a) add nothing to the brand’s value and b) never be clicked.

Where’s the money in local publishing? It’s at the intersection of consumer desire and advertiser need. Sometimes just a banner screaming “SALE!!” will work, but most times, the site and its advertisers will have to work harder to present a compelling argument at that intersection.

Think of what podcasters like Gruber and Dan Benjamin and Leo Laporte are doing and get creative on behalf of your advertisers and users. Otherwise, you’re just stealing money from advertisers and missing a great opportunity to put relevant, useful and entertaining information in the hands (or ears) of your users.


Tim Windsor

VP, Content & Conversion at LendingPoint LLC
I lead media companies and other organizations that want to develop and improve their mobile and digital strategies and technologies, grow audience, and build sustainable digital revenue.