Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stream It Like You Mean It

Last month, Esurance took the wraps off one of the more unusual promos to come along in the interactive-media age. Recruiting its cartoon spokesperson Erin Esurance (the spandex-clad insurance spy with the pink hair), the Web-based auto insurer invited would-be directors to create a music video riffing off one of 10 dance numbers selected from recent Bollywood films. Launched in partnership with cable TV network IFC—aiming to promote its “Wake Up to Bollywood” film series—the “Esurance Bollywood Casting Call” promised a suitably themed grand prize. The winning homemade video will be turned into a cartoon episode starring Erin herself, and then aired on IFC.

As a piece of Web-based participatory marketing, the Casting Call had a lot going for it—uniqueness, brand exposure and, of course, a good chance of soliciting clever material. But Esurance had a problem: How to reach hard-core Bollywood fans. After all, the popularity of “Slumdog Millionaire” notwithstanding, not everyone in the U.S. knows the words to “Bas Ek King” from “Singh Is Kinng” or the dance moves to “Tandoori Nights” from the film “Karzzzz.” The company needed a way to reach a highly specific audience while also keeping the appeal broad and national in scope.

The answer was Internet radio. Esurance developed a 30-second spot featuring Erin’s voice: “Showcase your acting chops and moves!” she pitched. Then, while running a light schedule on broad-appeal channels, Esurance ran the spot heavily on Web streams of East Indian music, which boasted the kind of listeners who can hum a few bars of “Marjaani Marjaani.”

According to the company’s media director, Darren Howard, the choice of streaming radio was simple. “We can go to our streaming vendors and find those specific channels that play that type of music and would draw interest in our contest,” he says. “It’s not something you can do on terrestrial radio.”

Esurance has made streaming a key component of its media mix since November 2006. While TV still gets the bulk of its ad dollars, the company is funneling half its radio budget online this year. And it’s hardly the only advertiser sinking its marketing dollars into Internet radio. Web-based companies like LendingTree, and Orbitz have made the medium part of their marketing mix for several years now. But streaming’s popularity with a demographically desirable and ever-widening audience (according to Arbitron/Edison Research, online radio reaches one in five consumers each week in the 25-54 age group) has turned the heads of older and more traditional brands. Walmart, Ace Hardware and Procter & Gamble are among the companies buying streaming time today. According to Priscilla Fladgler, radio supervisor for media agency Mullen, “There’s a lot more interest from our non-Web-based accounts.”

Much like the slumdog millionare Jamal, Internet radio has emerged as a young and unlikely success story. But it is not without its challenges. While the medium has proven itself a worthy buy for national campaigns, for example, Webcasters have yet to make significant inroads into the lucrative local marketplace. Agencies also complain that, in a frenzy to deliver sufficient impressions, some Webcasters end up annoying listeners by airing the same spot too frequently, while others mislead clients by padding their advertising proposals with international listeners that are not relevant to the buy. Perhaps most significantly, while Web-radio audiences can be quantified with far more precision than can those of terrestrial radio, advertisers universally complain about a dearth of reliable, comprehensive demographic data.

Read the complete story on how a growing list of advertisers are making Internet radio part of their media plans in Mediaweek by clicking here.

1 comment:

  1. Paul, I liked this article a lot. You should check out a new company called Tongal which has an online platform for crowdsourcing and creating original video ads. They are in the middle of a contest with Lending Tree right now.