Web Exclusive | September 2012 | By Kevin Hardy

What Comedy Can Do For You

Wahoo’s uses comedy podcast to reach new customers.

Wahoo's branding is used throughout the podcast network's website.
Wahoo's branding is used throughout the podcast network's website.
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Wahoo’s Fish Taco has always had a flare for the unusual. From the menu to the décor, the brand fuses fun and quirky characteristics with a cool atmosphere and image.

That edginess was top of mind when Wahoo’s recently became the sole sponsor of a new integrated podcast network featuring comedy, sports, and entertainment content. The site, HAHAJK Podcast Network, was co-created by comedian Jamie Kennedy and engage:BDR, a full-service digital marketing and advertising agency. HAHAJK features news and lifestyle parodies and integrates Wahoo’s branding with original programming.

Wahoo’s CEO Wing Lam says merging his company’s pitch into the podcast content makes the message more genuine and less intrusive than traditional means of advertising.

“For us, the more integrated we can be in the message, as opposed to a commercial, [the] more genuine,” he says. “Kids basically opt into this because they want to get cool information that hasn’t been filtered.”

The plan, Lam says, is for Wahoo’s to integrate the network with its existing online presence. That will allow HAHAJK to build a reliable audience with Wahoo’s customers.

“It’s all intermingled,” says Jason Steingold, vice president of business development and branded entertainment for engage:BDR. “In order to support these great programs and have a conversation for these programs, we bring in major branding to help fund [them] and make the conversation more interesting.”

“They’re tapping into an audience that they wouldn’t normally be able to tap into and they’re entertaining their audience where there was no entertainment before.”

Such a marketing effort allows a company like Wahoo’s to engage with its customers in a way that advertising alone can’t.

“Those listeners might not be the same people that would click on an ad or would be entertained by traditional advertising channels,” Steingold says. “I think they’re tapping into an audience that they wouldn’t normally be able to tap into and they’re entertaining their audience where there was no entertainment before.”

Instead of shoving its message in front of potential customers, the brand meets them where they already are, paying attention to their existing interests.

“You might like tacos, but your interest isn’t tacos. Your interest might be comedy, rock bands,” says Jacob Morgan, principal of Chess Media Group, a social business consultancy.

With a TV or print ad, what you see is what you get. Viewers can’t respond or ask questions. But a more personal interaction allows Web surfers to share, comment, and post about a brand’s message, Morgan says.

“I think it builds a deeper relationship with the consumer,” he says.

Lam likens the podcast network to many of his past marketing efforts. Because the 65-unit Wahoo’s serves “surf food,” he’s focused much of his branding on reaching a younger, hipper audience. The company has long worked with bands, professional skaters, and snowboarders, sponsoring events and competitions to reach its typically younger audience.

“I was the only guy that was dumb enough to say, ‘Hey, let me bring some burritos while you play for 50 people,’” he says.

Those relationships have proven valuable. Take two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White. While retailer Target likely spent millions to land the snowboarder’s sponsorship, Lam says he was able to put his picture on Wahoo’s gift cards without spending a penny.

“He doesn’t need anything from us. He’s just happy I supported him for years,” he says.

Lam thinks the podcast network can work a similar type of magic, delivering listeners who would be more likely to eat at his restaurants.

“I think podcasts give them a chance to see things that are a little edgier,” Lam says. “And anything that has to do with social media [taps into] a younger market.”

His strategy of reaching younger potential customers isn’t too much different from McDonald’s Happy Meal draw, Lam says.

“The way it works is, if you have kids, kids drive where you’re going to go,” he says. “Try to tell a 10-year-old where you’re going to go. They say no. If it’s somewhere they want to go, you’re going to end up going there. So if we make it relevant to them, you as a parent don’t have a choice.”

To do that, Lam says, he sells the cool factor to the kids and saves the healthy, tasty food pitch for the parents. The collective marketing and branding efforts help build awareness and loyalty through association.

“In the [podcast], you’re going to remember, ‘This is made possible because this company called Wahoo’s is a part of it,’” Lam says. “They don’t know what the association is. They just know it goes hand in hand.”