Feb 15, 2007

Consumer Generated Content: Friend or Foe?

After a lengthy series of back and forth comments about Consumer Generated Content, Joe Jaffe, the host of JaffeJuice, asked me to write a guest blog about it. So this is being Simulblogged™ on both The Toad Stool and on Jaffe Juice.

From the rise of YouTube to the rash of "consumer generated" commercials on the Super Bowl, much has been made of what's being loosely called "Consumer Generated Content" (hereafter, CGC). But it's my opinion that those of us in the ad business have little to fear from CGC since precious little of it is actually being generated by actual C's.

Consumers, that is.

One of the not-as-widely-publicized-as-I-thought-it-should-have-been secrets of the Super Bowl this year was the fact that many of the entrants in say, the Doritos "make your own Super Bowl commercial" contest were, in fact, aspiring directors of TV commercials who essentially submitted the same sorts of spec spots they've been putting on their reels for years. Ditto the guy who made the NFL spot (with Pytka) - he was a reformed ad copywriter who was getting an MBA in marketing. Not a random NFL fan.

Joe Jaffe himself gushed madly about the cosmic significance of Coke honoring a sideshow act called Eepy-Bird, who have a well-choreographed routine of Mentos-infested Coke bottles spewing soda. But again, that's not CGC and Eepy-Bird aren't consumers either. They're performers. Performance artists, if we're being charitable.

So lets' lay out a few rules for what constitutes CGC:

1. The creators must be amateurs. By amateurs, I mean no aspiring actors, filmmakers, songwriters, singers, comedians and the like who've done this before and are using YouTube as a way to get noticed by agents and other people who will actually pay them to sing, write, film or spray soda from Mentos-infested Coke bottles. Ad agencies have been getting crap like this from these people for generations. The fact that they can now post them on the internet only means the rest of the world can see how awful 95% of it is. CGC can only be created by people whose main goal is to let the world know how great (or awful) Product X is or to show everyone a really cool/funny/dangerous thing they've figured out how to do with Product X. Not people whose main goal is to boost their fledgling careers.

2. The content must be created for the express purpose of sharing it with as many people as possible. So no, your home movies that you share with your family don't count. It only counts if your goal was to put it on something like YouTube and get as many hits as possible.

3. It must be created as a paean to, or dis of, a specific brand or product. Spewing Coke is about blowing things up. It's not about soda or Coke or even beverages. It's about making carbonated liquid spew. The tie-in to Coke is inconsequential and the acts do not demonstrate any positive or negative value about Coke-- just that it's fun to watch Coke spray when you add a Mentos to the bottle.

If you meet all 3 criteria, then yes, you have Consumer Generated Content.

But I wouldn't hold my breath. I don't see too many consumers with the time or the energy to make a real film about a brand. Particularly one they won't get paid for. Few brands inspire this sort of loyalty. Maybe iPod, maybe Harley, maybe an ode to a well-loved car. But I can't think of too many beyond that.

The ones who do actually create CGC tend to create something that is at best, notable for its earnestness and amateurishness. (You know, the stuff that the Teddy K's of the world call "authenticity.") And that's a style that gets old pretty quickly.

Bottom line is, our jobs are pretty safe right now. Well, at least when it comes to competition from consumers.


Anonymous said...

These are just random thoughts which may dovetail with or buzzcut through the topic, not sure.


Where do you draw the line though at amateurs? How many of the spots entered during the Super Bowl brand competitions were by aspiring commercial makers or creatives?

Not to mention, consumers who participate in these things are handcuffed by restrictions no agency places on its creatives when they themselves have to pitch a client. (Celebrity talent such as actors or bands, access to serious CGI/post, etc.)

True CGC/UGC in my mind has zero limits or restrictions in terms of copyrighted material or subject matter, save for the usual limits placed on it by the FCC (seven dirty words, etc.)

It's all about consumers doing whatever they want with the brand because they either love it so much or they just want to get attention.

Problem for me is, no matter how much consumers think they have control, I do not want my brand's messaging going off in several different directions just because a video clip got a million hits on the YT.

'Coke side of life' and Mentos exploding. I'm sure W+K is just thrilled that stuff's out there.
UGC/CGC seems like it can be PART of a larger brand's efforts as long it's reigned in to support those efforts.

I have yet to see true, 100%, brand-unrestricted UGC that also supports a brand messaging, and instead only generates buzz with whacky stunts – something any agency worth a damn could do if brands would just take the handcuffs off them.

(Maybe Jones soda comes close, but I still think we're waiting for that phsycial product that came from the people.

Having said all that, I'd argue this though, that the products that need to be 'made' by consumers are actually here now in the form of social networks like SL, myspace, etc. True users made them, populated them and run them, and it's brands who are trying to fit in.

Talk about ironic.


Alan Wolk said...

I'd sat dovetails, MTLB.

Because at the end of the day, it boils down to this: How many people are really going to want to make free advertising for a company that rakes in millions in profits every year?

Why make Coke richer and more famous if you can make Bill Green richer and more famous instead?

They're brands. Not religions. Except maybe for Apple, but that's another discussion ;)

Anonymous said...

Well, the people who absolutely hate a brand will also do whatever they can to go after a brand they despise, look at the FUH2, the site dedicated to people who hate the H2 and ask people to send it shots of themselves giving Hummers the finger.

Contrast that with someone who seems to truly ove the brand and wants to be an evangelist if you will: teh recent spot on YouTube I saw for the Gap and their tie-in with ( RED ) found here.

Raw, needs work, but there's a certain charm about it and it feels honest. If it's a plant by the brand, I don't know, but I like the effort.

Anonymous said...

(Excuse my consumer-generated typos.)