User Generated Ads

Interesting article in the Times today (NYT guys have really gotten their act together and are producing some good content about social media of late) about the high price of creating free ads.

Pic via NYT

From an advertiser’s perspective, it sounds so easy: invite the public to create commercials for your brand, hold a contest to pick the best one and sit back while average Americans do the creative work.

In one of them, a teenage boy rubs ketchup over his face like acne cream, then puts pickles on his eyes. One contestant chugs ketchup straight from the bottle, while another brushes his teeth, washes his hair and shaves his face with Heinz’s product. Often the ketchup looks more like blood than a condiment.

Heinz has said it will pick five of the entries and show them on television, though it has not committed itself to a channel or a time slot. One winner will get $57,000. But so far it’s safe to say that none of the entries have quite the resonance of, say, the classic Carly Simon “Anticipation” ad where the ketchup creeps oh so slowly out of the bottle.

Consumer brand companies have been busy introducing campaigns like Heinz’s that rely on user-generated content, an approach that combines the populist appeal of reality television with the old-fashioned gimmick of a sweepstakes to select a new advertising jingle. Pepsi, Jeep, Dove and Sprint have all staged promotions of this sort, as has Doritos, which proudly publicized in February that the consumers who made one of its Super Bowl ad did so on a $12 budget.

But these companies have found that inviting consumers to create their advertising is often more stressful, costly and time-consuming than just rolling up their sleeves and doing the work themselves. Many entries are mediocre, if not downright bad, and sifting through them requires full-time attention. And even the most well-known brands often spend millions of dollars upfront to get the word out to consumers.

Some people, meanwhile, have been using the contests as an opportunity to scrawl digital graffiti on the sponsor and its brand. Rejected Heinz submissions have been showing up on YouTube anyway, and visitors to Heinz’s page on the site have written that the ketchup maker is clearly looking for “cheap labor” and that Heinz is “lazy” to ask consumers to do its marketing work.

“That’s kind of a popular misnomer that, somehow, it’s cheaper to do this,” said David Ciesinski, vice president for Heinz Ketchup. “On the contrary, it’s at least as expensive, if not more.”

I am not surprised that the Heinz Ketchup folks ended up not having a good experience with what they were trying to do. Their approach does not make any sense on so many different levels:

  1. They are trying to take community content to put it on mass media outlet like TV. The content created by the community is not going to be polished or suitable for mass media. Its like taking square shaped, rough edged user generated content and trying to fit in in a round hole of mass media outlet. No wonder they are not happy…
  2. Its kinda cynical approach to engaging the community to just do your Ads…if they were really interested in working with the community they should have empowered them more…and allowed them to have real influence in the direction of what they are doing. I am not sure what they are trying to achieve here.
  3. If they are interested in really having a conversation with their user they should build up a process for interacting and really listening to them..it would also mean giving up some of the control…its really a tall order and not many companies are up for the challenge…

What do you think?

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