Mediadefender Moves into P2P Marketing

You’re trying to download the latest Madonna album, only to find the pop queen calling you…a thief? Welcome to the odd and oftentimes annoying war against piracy. The entertainment industry has been hiring companies to pollute P2P networks with phony files for years, and now some of these very same companies are going into marketing. Instead of sabotaging file transfers, they offer their own media for download, and instead of corrupted files, suddenly it’s all about branding.

Santa Monica, Calif.-based Mediadefender has been at the center of this shift. The subsidiary of ARTISTdirect is known and hated in the file-sharing world for its anti-piracy work, but has recently gotten a lot of press for an upcoming campaign involving ad-supported MP3 downloads. Mediadefender has been experimenting with P2P marketing for a number of years now, and they’ve learned a few lessons along the way. VP Jonathan Lee agreed to share some of them with me.

Mediadefender has thousands servers in co-location facilities around the globe; the decision to put them to use for marketing has been brewing for some time, Lee tells me. With such an abundance of resources, he notes, “What else can you do with it?”

Distributing actual content was an obvious idea, but for the longest time the entertainment industry wasn’t ready to utilize P2P. Companies felt they would undermine their position in legal conflicts if they distributed their own files through these networks. But all of this changed when the Supreme Court ruled against Grokster in the summer of 2005. “After the ruling those gloves came off,” says Lee.

And with that, the learning curve began. “We’re throwing things at the wall and see what sticks,” he explains. Early attempts to do advertising on P2P networks involved what Lee describes as a “bait and switch”. Files were mislabeled in order to get people to watch ads or load Web pages. “Obviously there are tremendous problems with that,” he acknowledges. Most brands just don’t like to frustrate their customers –- except, of course, porn companies, which still use this technique heavily to spam P2P networks.

Another strategy involved sending people to iTunes and similar download stores to make them buy legitimate copies of the content they were looking for with Limewire and other clients. “That really hasn’t worked so well,” admits Lee. Same goes for the idea of mixing ads with search results in order to get people to buy concert tickets and ring tones. He believes that people are just too suspicious to click on anything that remotely looks like an ad in a P2P network, which is why they tend to ignore them.

So what does work? “Things you can’t buy online,” says Lee. It turns out that P2P is actually really good for branding. Mediadefender had a lot of success with a campaign for a soft drink maker that offered people videos they actually wanted to watch. Music works well, and so does goofy stuff. Funny commercials –- the stuff that people re-post on YouTube and then forward to their friends — are a big hit on P2P networks as well.

Does this mean people should just abandon their annoying anti-piracy tactics and instead post some goofy clips on P2P networks? “You are already dealing with your anti-piracy issues if you are doing promotion,” admits Lee. He doesn’t think that the anti-piracy part of his work will go away anytime soon, though.

In fact, Mediadefender is still making most of its money by polluting P2P networks with spoof files, which is why the company will remain be one of the most hated enterprises in the file-sharing world for the foreseeable future. Jonathan Lee doesn’t seem to mind, and he doesn’t think it impacts their marketing business at all. Successful P2P marketing campaigns always looks very viral, he tells me, and the focus really isn’t on his company. “If it is good content, then it’s gonna carry itself.“