At this site you will find video spots for major advertisers created not by agencies but by civilians. The spots are called V-CAM-Viewer-Created Advertising Messages -- but unlike most of the citizen-produced spots dwelling on the Net, these aren't the random output of product groupies. This stuff is sanctioned by Sony, L'Oreal and Toyota, which are experimenting with the idea of consumer control. If people are going to produce spots about your brands uninvited, why not join the party?
One answer, based on the Current TV entries, could be: because it's a complete waste of time. The majority are amateurish exercises in homemade digital effects. The remainder are vignettes starring the filmmakers, their friends or their kids. As a group, they make "Funniest Home Videos" look like "Citizen Kane."
Lacking technical sophistication
No surprise that the submissions lack technical sophistication. What's striking is the utter vacuum of underlying ideas. For lovers of the status quo, this is encouraging, because even the bottom tier of agency-produced ads worldwide have a point to them. It's often a stupid one, but it's there.
Part of the explanation may be the demographics of Current TV, a citizen-video cable channel catering to young people. In fact, the highlight of the whole enterprise is the text of the channel's FAQ material, aiming to address potential V-CAM contributors in their own language and to reach them where they live.
Which is, apparently, Wayne's World. Here's an excerpt from the description of the tiered reward system for winning submitters: "The ad is rocking out; everybody loves it. So they run it on one of the big broadcast networks. Hello, $15,000."
Yikes. Rocking out? Dude, that is so the most patronizing thing ever. (For extra hilarity, imagine those sentences coming out of the mouth of Current TV's co-founder, Al Gore.) All the more surprising, then, is the winning entry, which isn't dreadful. It's a 24-second spot called "Transformation" from a 19-year-old Minneapolis animator named Tyson Ibele.
The kid knows what he's doing. Using as a point of departure some logos and stills provided by the advertiser, he depicted products morphing -- a la Transformer toys -- into one another. A boom box turns into a plasma TV turns into a notebook computer turns into a camera turns into a handheld Mpeg player turns into the Sony logo. Meanwhile, on-screen type punctuates the images: "Innovation. Compact design. Experience. Vision. Adventure. On the move. Groundbreaking. Revolutionary."
Ibele does this for a living at a small Twin Cities digital house, so its no wonder the piece is well-constructed. It's also no wonder that it offers not much more than the seamlessness of the effect. The transformation idea has been done quite a bit, including a wildly overrated Renault spot. But like that spot, "Transformation" transforms for its own sake, not to make any positive statement about the brand. The takeaway here is, "Hey, pretty cool."
Slick iteration of nothing
That's not nothing. But it's not enough. It's certainly not an advertising idea. And hence the irony of this winner. The brief to entrants said explicitly, "Remember, we're not just looking for something slick. We want to see things from your point of view, so have fun and break the rules." But the winner was just another slick iteration of nothing -- in short, what the agency industry produces by the barrelful every day.
Which is the problem with revolutions. Most of the time, the new regime just picks up where the toppled one left off.
Review: 2 stars
Ad: Sony/Current TV
Creator: Tyson Ibele