Columbia Sportswear's done a great job of incorporating utility into their marketing on Pandora.

Columbia Sportswear has done a great job of incorporating utility into their marketing on Pandora.

I love utility. My dad was very hands-on and could build or fix anything: a car, a plane, a house, whatever. Luckily, I got his knack for being able to fix things, and while I am no longer a “practicing” carpenter, I spent several years doing it, still take on my own home-improvement projects, have a shop full of tools and am a big sucker for hardware stores and Tool Crib catalogs.

I’m also a pragmatist and favor products and services that make my life better or easier, and that translates to marketing. There are all kinds of examples of utilitarian marketing strategies (though still far too many non-utilitarian marketing efforts), and with the interactivity of online marketing, these “utilities” are becoming more prevalent.

That’s why I was pleased to see what Columbia Sportswear has come up with in its marketing on Pandora. First of all, Pandora is a great example of radio letting us drive the bus, to a certain extent. We get to vote up or down songs within a particular strain of a genre, or “station,” in exchange for great free music of almost any type. A compromise for sure, but it is interactive radio at its best.

Now, because the reality of all this online content is that it actually costs money to produce (as much as we want to be in denial about that), Pandora has had to explore a few monetization schemes, and I give them kudos for introducing advertising in a way that isn’t too obtrusive.

I’m not enough of a regular listener to pony up for the paid account and, while I didn’t like it at first, the new audio ads they have aren’t all that obtrusive. It’s still better than what I have to put up with at my local radio station(s) where not only are the ads really annoying, but they’re almost all voiced by the same 4 or 5 local DJs who have been on the air here for almost as long as there’s been air.

But the beauty of Pandora is that their ads can be interactive, and smart brands are engaging listeners in ways that are pretty cool. Because Pandora encourages you to give the thumbs up or down to songs you’re listening to, you usually end up paying attention to the ads, at least a little bit. So here I am voting up a particularly good song when up pops an ad for Columbia Sportswear. And here’s where the interactivity impressed me.

The ad shows up with the current weather and forecast for my zip code, and gives me the opportunity to check on somewhere else by zip code. Then it gives me an appropriate piece of clothing for the weather (“Hey, you might like this piece of technical fleece.”) with an option to look at other equally appropriate pieces. Of course there’s a “Buy Now” button. Then I get the five-day forecast with more appropriate clothing. Finally, at the bottom Columbia has offered me a Pandora playlist for the day. And as if that weren’t enough, I can choose from the “Rainy Day,” “Sunshine” and “Winter Wonder” playlists. (And go figure, some of it’s actually music I like!)

While Columbia isn’t my favorite outerwear company, they’ve always had a knack for pretty good marketing, and they show here that they’re tuned in to what engages their potential customers.

And this ad engagement shows just a couple of the benefits and challenges of online marketing. First, it’s sticky. Because I was curious enough to see what Columbia had in their playlist. I now have their stations as part of my Pandora station list and might come back to it another time. The challenge is that there are so many social platforms upon which to engage customers (and I would consider Pandora a type of social platform) that brands need to even more carefully choose where to engage potential customers and then tailor that engagement to the platform. It’s like creating an app for the iPhone: it only works on the iPhone. I doubt that Columbia ad for Pandora works anywhere other than Pandora. But hey, it works. And they may even get some people to click the “Buy Now” button and go from potential customer to actual customer.