Podcasts are audio files that people can download from the Internet and listen to on iPods, cellphones or other digital devices. As with blogs (weblogs), the vast majority of the thousands of podcasts currently available over the Internet are recorded by amateurs talking about whatever comes to mind, ranging from fashion to trucking (http://www.podcast.net/).
And as in the case of blogs - companies, marketers and PR professionals are looking at podcasts as an advertising and promotion tool.
For now, podcasting is a new and unproven advertising medium that could develop into a great PR tool. Three global companies were the first to experiment with podcasts.
Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. is leverage Paris Hilton’s worldwide appeal for the promotion of its thriller House of Wax, in which she plays a part.
Hilton will be recording a daily podcast that fans can download onto their digital music players. This is the studio's first experiment with podcasting. Warner Bros. is planning to follow up with a regular podcast during the filming of Superman Returns.
General Motors Corp. launched an audio version of its GM FastLane blog in February 2005. In the first podcast, Gary Cowger, GM North America President, introduced the Cadillac DTS and Buick Lucerne luxury sedans at the Chicago Auto Show. Listeners were invited to let the company know their opinion and if they would like to hear more GM podcasts in the future. It resulted in semi-regular podcasts including interviews with GM executives about cars in development.
Heineken NV has also entered the world of podcasts by offering interviews with DJs on the brewer's branded music tour. Heineken Music organizes parties and festivals all over the world and needs therefore to communicate in the music scene. Communication consists of a constant stream of content such as interviews, music and live reporting. In audio format, podcasts are directly delivered to the target group. The Heineken Music podcasts have been included in all kinds of podcasting directories and have been written about in national and international podcast sites. http://www.heinekenmusic.com/
Mainstream radio stations are taking their traditional product to iPods.
De BBC was one of the first in Europe to start with podcasts by offering its history program Our Time in Mp3 format. Officially, it is still in the experimental stages. Virgin Radio has also started with podcasting. Highlights of the Breakfast Show can be downloaded as Mp3 files.
Even if the audience isn't there in great numbers yet, it still makes sense to join early on, as was done before with the Internet and cable television.
Podcasts are rapidly gaining in popularity and we can expect more and more companies to opt for this medium. It is an easy to implement and cost effective tool.
At the low end, a company can put audio ads on the Internet and call it podcasting.
A more creative approach is putting added value to the podcast.
For example, bookstores could sponsor a podcast about literature.
And companies with strong brands and Web presence can basically create and operate their own radio station.
It is too soon to tell how it will catch on as a marketing tool, but podcasting is definitely a phenomenon to watch!