The fallacy of user generated content.


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You’re hearing more and more these days of marketers turning to their customers, fans and followers and asking them to create “content” for them. Social media has been great at opening dialogues and permitting conversations between a brand and its followers. So in some ways, it’s not surprising that brands reach out to its fans for ideas, such as Mars Candy allowing fans to dictate the color of its “new” M&M (blue, of course).

But today, user generated content( UGC) has been taken to a whole new level. Major marketers like Pepsi, Chevrolet, Doritos and more are bullding (or are poised to build) their entire marketing campaign around user generated content.

By itself, user generated content has been around for quite a while. “America’s Funniest Home Videos” for example has relied on content from the show’s followers for more than two decades. And few years ago, Chevy put running footage of its Trail Blazer 4×4 on its website and invited fans to do their own “remix versions of a commercial” and share them online (with some of the remixes being not too complimentary).

What’s happening today, however is on a totally different scale. Marketers are backing user generated ideas with millions of dollars. Doritos arguably set the bar for user-generated content when the marketer held its first “Super Bowl Commercial Contest” where three winners were guaranteed $20,000 plus a coveted Super Bowl slot for their commercial (the following spot actually won the #1 rating from USA Today’s Ad Meter).

And since then? Pepsi solicited fan photos to be part of a Beyonce spot. Chevrolet got back into the act by having fans create a Super Bowl commercial (“Happy Grad”) for the Camaro. Target crowdsourced a new shopping app by appealing to programmers. Even staid companies such as Proctor & Gamble are getting into the act.

Interestingly, as the Big Money has begun getting behind crowd-sourced ideas, it is no longer the everyday “fans” of the brand that are creating the content. In many cases it is groups of advertising, production or web professionals who are “moonlighting” in an attempt to win the exposure and the big bucks. In other words, soliciting user generated content has gone from engaging real fans in the creative process to a way to bypass agencies of record by outsourcing projects to bands of loosey-goosey creative teams.

It makes me wonder. What are these marketers’ motivations? The novelty of UGC has worn off. In most cases, real fans have a snowball’s chance of winning. All I can guess at is marketers see using UGC as a way to cut costs. To get tons of concepts delivered to them, already produced, on the cheap. Just like with “America’s Funniest VIdeos” where the producers were able to create a primetime network show with no screenwriting expenses, no production expenses and no performer fees. Talk about a dream come true.

All talk of dollars and cents aside, does an excited grad who mistakenly thinks his neighbor’s Camaro is his graduation gift from his parents help Chevy sell cars? Does an office worker throwing a Sno-Globe through the front of a vending machine sell corn chips? These spots will get the buzz, but do they advance the cause of the marketer?

I’m reminded of one of the first lessons that was drilled into me by one of my mentors back at The School of Visual Concepts: understanding the difference between a great spot and a great campaign. A great spot will entertain your audience. A great campaign will change the way your audience feels about you.

And for me, that’s where UGC comes up short.

As most any creative worth his or her salt can tell you, the hard part is not creating a funny car spot. The hard part is creating a funny car spot that makes viewers rush out to buy.

In theory, UGC has a role in most every marketer’s mix. But building a marketing program around it will result in a series of “one-offs” that might score some short-term laughs, but will fail at doing the “heavy lifting” that marketers need today.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.


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