Category Archives: Digital Marketing Ireland

The Second Captains paywall – A smart, calculated experiment in new media models…

Full disclosure before we kick off – as you can see below, I’m a huge Second Captains fan. I’ve got the mugs and yearbooks. I know all the quotes, I’ve seen the TV show and I’ve followed the lads since they were fledglings on Newstalk.

And I’m also an avid media watcher, meaning this week’s announcement that Second Captains is moving from its cushy nest in Irish Times towers towards the wilds of a paywalled, community funded model from next Monday made me irrationally excited.

Maracana with the lads

A photo posted by Shane O Leary (@shaneoleary1) on

The Captains have decide to offer fans a ‘metered paywall’ model, in the guise of a New York Times or Irish Times, and will begin charging users €5 a month for a new ‘World Service’ edition.

The show will be kept ad free, and two free shows on Monday will remain, but in place of Thursday’s double bill, they will instead put out one daily podcast between Tuesday and Friday.

Mark, Ciaran, Ken, Simon and Eoin have shown plenty of balls in their media career. They’ve backed themselves to move from Newstalk, set up their own podcast against the backdrop of some scepticism, pitched and their own TV show, and won a new audience through their summer stand-in slot on RTE Radio 1.

In all of this, their fans have followed them.

But this is a different kettle of fish. Asking people to pay 5 quid a month is where the rubber hits the road.

Niche or enormous, there’s no middle

I’ve spoken before on this blog about how media is fragmenting and new models are emerging. Essentially, to succeed in modern media, there are two choices.

On the one hand, you can strive for enormous scale and hope that pays off. Try to make money by monetising your readers through display, print or paywall subscriptions, try to speak to everyone and cast the net as wide as possible. This requires experimentation and a reliance on distribution platforms, since most of us consume our media through social feeds now (and also leads to clickbait). Buzzfeed is probably the best example, but most daily papers play this game too.

On the other hand, you can be really, really valuable to a small cohort of people and hope that they love your work enough to provide enough income. Often, this requires a heavier paywall and ancillary revenue streams like events, merchandise etc. You can see this in effect across media, in places like The Economist, The Farmers Journal, The Information, Skift and in podcasts like ‘The Anfield Wrap’ and Marc Maron. In a similar vein, individuals like Tim Ferriss have created their own mini media empires too. It requires that you understand your fans, are very close to them and relies on you continually creating lots of value for them.

There’s very little middle ground between these two options, and media companies without serious scale or serious relevance are getting squeezed badly.

With the Second Captains paywall, the lads have chosen the latter route.

‘1000 True Fans’

They might not have heard of it,  but the way Second Captains as a brand has grown takes a lot from the ‘1000 True Fans’ approach, first coined by Kevin Kelly. According to Kelly, because of the lowering distribution costs on the internet, it’s now much easier to reach the people who really love what you do. The 1000 figure is just an arbitrary number, but the essence to his point is that if you can find a certain number of people who will buy anything that you put out, who really get huge amounts of value from what you do, and then service them directly without intermediaries,  you’re in business. It’s a theory that’s still very relevant in 2017, as the lads will attempt to prove.

If you lived in any of the 2 million small towns on Earth you might be the only one in your town to crave death metal music, or get turned on by whispering, or want a left-handed fishing reel. Before the web you’d never be able to satisfy that desire. You’d be alone in your fascination. But now satisfaction is only one click away. Whatever your interests as a creator are, your 1,000 true fans are one click from you.

The way Second Captains has grown its following has been both methodical and masterful. This move to paywall hasn’t come all of a sudden. They haven’t just started asking people for money, their growth has been staged, they’ve built slowly and smartly creating products and events, branching out into other media and even building their own brands through journalism.

With the new model, they’ll likely be ramping up these extra revenue streams, but critically fans are already used to paying. According to producer Mark Horgan, speaking in the Indo this week, “The way our audience has developed is interesting. Many are the same people who listen every week and they want more. They’ve been dedicated since the beginning. It’s also rolling the dice in some ways, but it’s perfect for this type of journalism. At our last event, in December, we sold out in hours. Part of the deal with the new membership subscription is that members will get first call on tickets.”

The benefit of radio and podcasting is that it also really lends itself to creating strong relationships with fans, since your in their ear for 4-5 hours every week. It seems the lads are now ready to monetise all the work they’ve put in to these relationships.


So what are the economics like? From the outside, this seems like a gamble. Why move from under the brand of a large media group (The Irish Times) that can offer you distribution and fame?

But Killian Woods put out this interesting set of tweets during the week, and, even with back of fag packet sums, the money part seems to make sense.

When you really analyse it, the risk here is small and calculated. The lads have a hugely valuable brand. That won’t be going away. They own their own channels too, which is crucial.

And even if this goes wrong, the worst case scenario is they go back to usual podcasts and sell advertising. I’m also pretty sure that another media company would come calling very quickly. But it won’t go wrong. They’ve done the sums, they know how much their fans love them and they’ve seen other models in media make money this way. This is never going to be an explosive growth business, but I’d be pretty bullish that it’s a smart decision.

Irish people are willing to pay small recurring amounts in subscriptions for a high value service, particularly in sport, and particularly if it’s a company with a strong value offering that you can’t get anywhere else.

Best of luck Second Captains, and congrats on a ballsy call that should show the way for the rest of Irish media.

They never go home those boys.




The Irish Digital Consumer Report 2017

Since 2013, I’ve been putting together a yearly database of publicly available digital statistics for the Irish market as a personal project. It’s nothing fancy, just a list of stats, but plenty of people seem to find it helpful for work and college.

I took a bit of a break in 2016, but to kick off the new year, the ‘Irish Digital Consumer Report 2017’ is back, with more info from a wide variety of sources. Hopefully, you’ll find it interesting to thumb through, but also, more importantly, very handy in your day to day work.

Of course, stats on their own are pretty meaningless, and nothing in here will give you the secrets to success with digital marketing, but something is guaranteed to spark a thought!

NB: These stats are all from publicly available sources, released throughout 2016. I take no credit for any of them, nor any blame for their accuracy!

Inside, you’ll find

  • how Irish people young and old use social media, and what new channels are growing.

  • how our media consumption habits are shifting.

  • how we shop online, and why.

  • some comments from myself, contextualising all of the above and much, much more.

As usual, it’s all free!

You can either pay with a tweet by clicking below…

or email me for a copy on






Moving towards maturity and making digital marketing redundant…

make digital redundant

Let’s be honest with ourselves here for a second.

There’s been hundreds of millions (possibly billions?) in marketing budget wasted on digital marketing because of over zealousness about its effectiveness and misunderstanding about how it works.

That’s not an over claim. Look at the scandalous view ability rates of digital display, the amount of money that brands spend each month on creating social ‘content’ that nobody ever gets to see, or the budget pumped into the latest ‘silver bullet’ (branded apps, messenger bots, ‘influencer’ ‘real time’ or whatever the latest buzzword is).

Agencies are happy to keep pumping this stuff out for cold hard cash, while many marketers are afraid to call them out on it for fear that they’ll be seen as ‘not getting it’.

Everyone in the industry has been guilty of hyping up digital, getting excited about tactics and and forgetting of the bigger strategic picture.

But by focusing on the revered efficiency of digital, we’ve lost sight of the real value of creative advertising.

We’ve lost sight of a lot of things.


As Ian Leslie said in his recent excellent piece about adland…

“The ad industry has been bamboozeled by the rise of digital, because most of it had no idea how advertising worked in the first place.”

Sure, the growth digital has completely changed the ad industry. It’s hugely exciting and has had a bigger impact on consumer behaviour than almost anything else in history.
But it’s has also led to many negative side effects.

  • It’s meant that we prioritise short term, easily measurable data instead of clarifying thinking and focusing on long term brand building.
  • It’s led to biased thinking from marketers eager to cosy up to tech cos and desperate to distance themselves from the supposedly moribund world of “traditional” media.
  • It’s led to many of us thinking like direct marketers, not brand marketers and ineffectually using ‘precision targeting’ to try to engage the perfect individual, while forgetting that wastage is actually a good thing.
  • And of course it’s led to fraudulent practises within an industry that can’t really afford to lose any more credibility.

We seem to have convinced ourselves that digital is this completely different approach and the learnings of old don’t apply.

But as contrarians like Mark Ritson, Byron Sharp and Bob Hoffman have been saying for years, digital is just another interesting tool to add to the marketer’s arsenal. It’s not a panacea for everything and those who tell you it is are either wilfully lying, utterly biased or just don’t know enough about how advertising really works.


But maybe this period of inflated expectations and unnecessary buzz has some positive outcomes. Maybe it’s just the early stages of us truly understanding digital.

As with any technology, it takes time for it to stabilise and for smart people who are impacted by it to really understand and stop get carried away with talk of ‘disruption’, ‘game changer’ and ‘the death of’ everything else.

As a marketer who has only known the digital age of advertising, it’s been all to easy for me to over prioritise it and to demonise everything else as old fashioned. That’s the same for many under 30s in adland. They refer to ‘traditional’ advertising in a pejorative sense, and hail any small new tactical evolvement of digital as a huge step.

Tom Goodwin sums this up well when he says that…

“It’s not unusual in technology leaps to think you’ve understood the power of the new when you haven’t. We thought the wonder of the mobile phone was making phone calls anywhere, when in fact it was a personal gateway to the Internet.”

We’re only beginning to get to grips with the best way to use digital now, and this learning curve will continue for a long time yet.

But things seem to be getting better. And even the past few months, the signs are that our approach to digital seems to be maturing.


Firstly, we’re starting to see a more sophisticated approach to digital that’s more in line with the way we believe advertising works, and less inclined towards believing that it requires a completely new approach.

Let’s focus on FB for a minute.

P&G’s recent announcement about its spend on Facebook advertising is a good example. In line with Byron Sharp’s theories of brand growth, one of the world’s largest spenders is actually moving away from uber targeting and starting to remember the rules that emotional fame campaigns that reach lots of people and get talked about (building mental availability) are far more effective in the long term.

“The inference is they are switching to TV but what’s really happening is a shift to reach and frequency and away from highly targeted buying, but still on Facebook, which we’ve been doing on similar clients for the past two years.”

Ironically, this news could turn out to be a good thing for Facebook, as the digital brand building platform with the largest mass reach in the world.

BBDO’s excellent comms planning division also underline the shift in approach in their recent ‘About Face’ report.

In the past 5 years, brands have focused on building up Facebook ‘fans’ and pushing out organic content to them. But there’s two fallacies at play here.

Firstly, the likelehood is that these ‘fans’ are already existing heavy buyers and thus, this approach contradicts the fundamental marketing theory that for brands to grow, they must aim their marketing efforts at all buyers, as opposed to only loyal buyers.

And secondly, for most big brands their organic reach is less than 1%, meaning their carefully cultivated posts (likely created by an agency on a huge hourly rate), aren’t being seen by 99% of the people who ‘like’ their page, never mind anyone outside of that already qualified base.

Therefore, smarter brands are starting to realise that focusing on reaching as many people as possible is a much more lucrative and viable tactic than micro targeting.

But it’s not just brands that are seeing the light. Ironically, Facebook also supports this return to the same logic that we use for ‘traditional’ advertising, emphasising in its literature to advertisers that ‘reach’ is a much more effective KPI than precision targeting or optimising for engagement.

“By optimizing towards reach rather than towards action-based objectives, advertisers can generate a much larger impact for their brand, more cost-efficiently.”

The excellent Jerry Daykin sums it up well:

“Behind those unintelligible digital headlines, ever changing platform specifications and powerful speeches about consumer engagement & conversation is a simple truth: digital marketing is most effective when it plays by traditional rules, but does so better than traditional media can. The real advantage of digital is often when it can help us broadly reach more consumers, not specifically target fewer.”


Another sign of digital maturity is its continuing integration with other channels. We’re seeing the light that the most effective way to use digital is in tandem, rather than it being expected to do everything alone.

Consistent research has shown that multi-channel campaigns actually make the same budget work harder and more efficiently and advertising across platforms delivers a higher ROI, and that integrated campaigns build better brand associations and more brand equity. Binet and Field’s seminal research found that adding an online response element to a TV advert boosts the efficiency of TV by a factor of 4x.

Digital is strong alone, but better together.

Indeed, the best, most awarded campaigns at Cannes, in Warc awards and in IPA/ADFX tend to be those that use a variety of media to communicate their message, and the average number of channels used in awarded campaigns is increasing.

It’s clear to see that cross platform advertising builds brands in consumer brains better than a single platform. It leads to a multiplier effect. No individual media channel can become a silver bullet for a campaign, not least digital.

Make digital redundant

I’d like to finish with a proposal that I’ve stolen from elsewhere.

As an industry, let’s focus on making the term ‘digital’ redundant.

Let’s not see it as a separate thing. That’s outdated thinking.

Digital is like electricity, it’s everywhere, it’s the thing we build on top of.

Imagine if some new agency came to you with an ‘electricity strategy’.

Digital marketing is not a thing. Digital is a marketing channel, not a marketing strategy. And increasingly, everything is digital anyway.

It should be baked into every idea that we come up with, but it’s also not a replacement for any other tool.

This would mean the death of purely ‘digital’ or ‘social’ agencies too, which in my view would be a good thing for the industry, and lead to less biased thinking.

The call for talent in the future won’t be for ‘digital marketers’. It’ll be for well rounded marketers who understand how advertising really works, aren’t biased towards any one medium and can create an effective integrated plan. People who not only ‘get’ digital, but also don’t put it on an unnecessary pedestal as the silver bullet for everything.

As Jerry Daykin says, in this new age of maturity that we’re hopefully entering, It’s not so much about mastering a completely new art of digital marketing, as it is about mastering traditional marketing in an increasingly digital world.

So paradoxically, the best thing that marketers could do to push digital marketing forward, is to kill the term itself.

But enough of my rambling, there’s bound to be some holes in the thinking above, so what’s your take?





Further Reading