By: Justin Relph, Principal Consultant
Have you listened to a podcast recently? Quite a few will be nodding yes. We’ll also guess that more than a few of you who listen to podcasts have heard those ‘sponsored’ bits during the show. Have you ever wondered if ‘sponsor’ is the right term to describe those advertisements and endorsements read by the podcast host? Aren’t they just ads?
Personally, they remind us of announcements in the age of the radio soap opera—the original ‘tv’ series. If you’ve listened to CBC’s Under the Influence by Terry O’Reilly, than you will know that these ‘soaps’ truly are sponsorship in its original form. It was soap producers of the 1930’s wishing to harness homemaker’s affection and loyalty to series based stories delivered over the radio that spawned what we now know as sponsorship.
While we would never reduce the modern holistic form of sponsorship with savvy placement of traditional advertising in this case; these podcast announcements are indeed a form of sponsorship. They fall into the category of celebrity\athlete endorsement. Could these podcast sponsorships be better leveraged? Absolutely! The challenge in the Podcast space is that, in many cases, there simply aren’t any more arms and legs that a sponsor can integrate their brand with. They generally do not extend into the real word, they don’t have significant advertising plans (but do often have large social media footprints), and you can’t ‘go’ to a Podcast.
Why do we mention this?
Well, recently our Principal Consultant Justin Relph was listening to the most recent episode of Undisclosed, a sort of companion podcast to the original series that is produced by a team of lawyers researching the wrongful conviction case of Adnen Syed. In this episode, the team debriefed the recent Supreme Court ruling that vacated Adnen’s conviction 17 years ago. The lawyers work closely with Adnen’s lawyers and have a strong personal connection to his case and social justice in general. Side note: If you have an inquisitive, detail-oriented mind do your self a favour and listen to Undisclosed. You will need about 50 hours and be warned it’s heavy on detail, legal minutia and argumentation.
Anyway, as the episode begins with the usual repartee between hosts about how much they like a particular brand of underwear, how easy it is to use a certain website and how great Audible.com is, we wondered: Is it appropriate to advertise in this fashion given the subject matter being discussed later? Are we OK with this? This cannot possibly work in favour of the brand! Has the podcast sold out?
In one breath “my husband loves his merino wool boxers…” and moments later dissecting a Supreme Court opinion and it ramifications for a man wrongly imprisoned for 17 years to this very day. Odd but, you know what? We listened to them!
Apparently, we trust these people enough that we dismiss our concerns, happily taking in their opinions about well-fitting men’s underwear. We trust their judgement. Well specifically, after 50 some hours of listening, we trust their legal and ethical minds. Somehow, our trust of them now extends to men’s fashion…weird.
How can this be? Not only are these casual, seemingly unscripted endorsement dialogues correctly defined as a sponsorship but they also WORK. Even when the relationship between brand and property may appear incongruous, they work.
The answer, in part, is in the emotional connection embedded in trust.
The sponsorship marketing industry has a number of ways to describe this phenomenon: leveraging a passion point, extending affinity, growing consideration, changing perception and behaviour, building trust. The industry hinges on the power of this emotional phenomenon.
The other part is a breakdown of logical reason…
We’re no physiologist, however, that field can help define the power of emotion in sponsorship marketing. The mechanic is cognitive bias, specifically (if we are not mistaken) the confirmation bias and resulting state of cognitive dissonance. Essentially, the mind searches for or interprets information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions. This bias is neither intrinsically good nor bad but it is a heuristic—a mental short cut. We trust you on topic A so you must be right about topic B. In short, sponsorship is effective because it exploits the way emotional connections like trust (among others) effect our reasoning.
Truly, sponsorship marketing is a powerful tool! As the Rio Olympics come into the public spotlight hopefully, we will see great innovations, creativity and results from their truly gigantic and globally influential sponsorship deals.
Ironically, our industry sometimes feels the need to prove itself as we have done with my very small, fringe example. Great pains are made to prove that sponsorship is influential and does work. Really, the focus should be on using our niche marketing discipline responsibly exactly because it is overpowered!