Cable Channel's User-Created TV Spot Goes National

Viewer's Ad for SunChips Brand Chosen From Contest on Current

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Cable-channel Current has long encouraged its viewers to create their own commercials for the channel's advertisers. But those ads worked best -- no surprise -- on Current itself, which was founded on the idea of having viewers contribute material to the operation.

The Current viewer-crafted SunChips spot encourages people to make a positive change in the world.
The Current viewer-crafted SunChips spot encourages people to make a positive change in the world.
Now, in yet another sign that suitable advertising can come from any number of nontraditional sources, Frito-Lay is set to use an ad crafted by Current viewers in a national campaign.

In a national TV effort slated to launch today to play off Earth Day, Frito-Lay will use the winner of a contest conducted among people who submitted ads they created through Current to highlight its SunChips product. The ads encourage viewers to make a positive change in the world and feature what Frito-Lay says is a first: a new, 100% compostable bag for its "wholegrainy ridgebacks," a different sort of snack from chocolate or potato chips.

The idea is to get consumers to "develop content or develop their own advertising to carry this message," said Gannon Jones, VP-marketing, at PepsiCo's Frito-Lay.

Perhaps, but the technique also shows a marketer using this type advertising in a more traditional fashion. Since so-called consumer-generated commercials gained traction in 2006 and 2007 -- three ads created by amateurs appeared in Super Bowl XLI in 2007 for PepsiCo's Doritos (also made by Frito-Lay), the National Football League and General Motors' Chevrolet -- the format has largely been treated as a stunt, or as a technique used for viral efforts. And another PepsiCo brand have gone even further: Mtn Dew has gone so far as to "crowdsource" its brand, letting its passionate fans chose line extensions and even help select a creative agency.

The SunChips maneuver suggests the tactic is slowly entering the mainstream.

The debut of the viewer-created ad, known at Current as a VCAM, or viewer-created ad message, this week marks the first time one of the cable-channel's creations has run on national TV outside its own air. Viewer-created ads have previously on Current.com and other online outlets.

"Advertisers still want to be able to speak to customers with an authentic voice," said Ken Ripley, exec VP-advertising sales, at Current Media. As such, they will sometimes have interest in sending out creative briefs to average consumers in hopes their thoughts about how to sell the product will take on greater resonance with the world at large.

But in the past, that authentic voice has largely been a quiet one. According to Mr. Ripley, the VCAMS normally run on Current and its website, and the advertiser's web site, and perhaps in social-media channels if a marketer so desires.

Frito-Lay views such efforts as important in attracting the attention of younger consumers eager to pitch in on a relevant cause. The viewer-created Current ad is "part of an ongoing strategy to engage this generation" interested the health of the planet, said Frito-Lay's Mr. Jones, "in a message that's not going to go away."

The winning ad for the SunChips campaign comes from a New York resident, Heather Kramer, and was selected by Al Gore, Current's chairman and co-founder. The ad uses stop-motion animation to show the journey of a compostable SunChips bag and its journey from trash to compost heap. Three other ads were selected from submissions and each awarded a $5,000 prize. Mr. Gore will also promote the SunChips campaign through Twitter and Facebook. Ms. Kramer's ad will also be featured on Current.com and Sunchips.com.

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