The Onion Peels into iTunes

On Tuesday, March 27th venerable spoof-news site, The Onion, dipped its satiric brand into online broadcasting with the launch of The Onion News Network, a series of short video news podcasts.

First segments on the site consisted of three, irreverent and very funny “news” clips that could have been gleaned directly from the publication’s falsified front pages. In less than a week, the site had skyrocketed to iTunes’ number one most downloaded podcast position.

Way to go Onion. Also, way to go Dewar’s Scotch, who developed a quirky mini ad campaign specifically for this sponsorship. It would not work anywhere else. The following week the campaign was replaced by Red Stripe Beer from Jamaica (which makes one wonder about the future of Dewar’s ad investment). Dewar’s or Red Stripe — judging by the sponsors, you get an idea of the target audience here. (Lush marketing?)

Many big, serious, well-financed broadcasters have been podcasting for awhile. Most have failed to crack the top 20 list at iTunes, much less land at number one – ever. The Onion did it in a week. What’s the lesson here?

First, humor sells. No one familiar with the traditional broadcast advertising model would doubt that. Yet, remarkably, many a would-be top podcaster has chosen a dry, poorly produced editorial or even talk radio format. Some of these work, most do not.

Second, podcasting sells. Literally. The Onion has shown that a good podcast can attract advertisers. Given The Onion’s name recognition, their franchise didn’t hurt them here. But, with their good writing, talent and production values, these podcasts can clearly stand on their own.

Third, integrating the right podcast into an established brand identity can only serve to enhance the brand further. Harvard Business Review’s popular podcasts add to the strength of their print properties, which in turn add to the brand mystique which is Harvard. The sum is greater that the parts. Harvard continues to ride high as an academic voice of authority.

Fourth, The Onion has shown us just the tip of the iceberg. As podcast tracking capabilities get broader awareness, advertisers should be signing on in droves. The ability to reach a measurable, loyal audience with a specific and potentially entertaining message has driven radio and TV advertising for the last 50 years. Podcasting delivers a more savvy, affluent and discriminating audience in new and more effective ways . . . particularly when the content has the appeal of an Onion.