An Advertising Agency Enters a Consumer-Generated Contest

What One Shop Learned by Joining the Crowd and Making a GoDaddy Commercial

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Scott Cohn
Scott Cohn
When our account director Rachel came to us with the suggestion that we enter GoDaddy's commercial contest, a light bulb went off. In the men's bathroom. So we fixed it. Then we discussed the contest and decided it would be a worthwhile experiment for our agency to enter.

Normally we'd be the ones building, administering and fulfilling user-generated campaigns as we've done in the past for clients like Hanes, Keds and MTV2. After thoroughly going through the rules, we found that ad agencies weren't proscribed unless they had worked with GoDaddy before. We hadn't, so it was on.

Being on the user side of the contest turned out to be an enlightening experience -- particularly when we were notified that we had advanced to the finals, at which point we were no longer an agency doing field research, but competitors vying for the gold (we wound up taking home the bronze, but more on that later).

Along the way, we couldn't help but crib some of the smart things GoDaddy did with this particular effort to make it compelling enough for even an agency to want to enter.

Here's the three most important takeaways from the contest:

1. The prizes have to be big enough to break through the clutter.
It's very easy to ask people to go out and film a bunch of videos for your brand, but if you don't provide a real incentive, you're going to have trouble getting the submissions. There are enough video contests out there -- there are even websites that index them -- that a discerning entrant will only go after the better prizes. A low-value prize will lower the production bar because no one will want to spend what they can't earn back. GoDaddy's high-value prizes, which included a $100,000 first prize and a broadcast during the Indy 500, attracted dozens of broadcast-quality responses. As a result, GoDaddy was able to run most of the top 10 finalists during last Sunday's race, and even awarded $15,000 to three "honorable mentions" at the last minute. Our third-place finish netted us $25,000 that we're happy to deposit in the agency bank account.

2. Deputize your entrants.
When you have a great opportunity, word will spread organically, at first through the video contest community, but then outward to other networks and beyond. A great idea GoDaddy had was the "community contest" aspect of this campaign. By having a second tier of winners based on online public voting, they created an army of independent publicists for what were, in effect, commercials for their brand. To have awarded their primary cash prizes to the community vote would have been dangerous, as online votes are subject to abuse in the forms of click spamming and outright hacking. Instead, they awarded lower-value prizes to the community winners and reserved the cash prizes for closed judging within GoDaddy. In the end, they get great word-of-mouth while avoiding any controversy or accusations of foul play.

3. Keep it open.
GoDaddy became a household name through its controversial Super Bowl ads. They helped to set the tone for the creativity displayed in the video submissions. Many simply followed the form of those original infamous spots, but others took cues from the underlying attitude to create original spots full of humor that were still recognizable as the GoDaddy brand. If you try to prescribe the creative, you limit the variety of responses you can expect. Someone out there may have an insight into your brand that you never considered. GoDaddy was able to learn a lot about its brand's perception through the hundreds of videos it received from across the country.

Other things our agency learned
Publicity is key. If there's one thing GoDaddy could have done better, it would have been to publicize the contest more widely. We only learned about it because we're existing GoDaddy customers.

There is something extremely gratifying about selling creative work as you would an orange, or a pair of running shoes. As a client, wouldn't it be nice to just say, "Go make something," and sit back and review the yield rather than put all of your eggs in the basket of one creative director at one agency? As a content creator, it certainly was worthwhile to put our best creative foot forward for the potential reward. And what does that cost GoDaddy at the end of the day? The answer is far, far less in time, money, and frustration than it would have if it went the agency route.

That's not to say we are oblivious to the dangers of crowdsourcing. Some sites attempt to commoditize creativity by infusing competition into every creative assignment, in turn pricing quality out of the game. Creativity and invention are delicate arts, and playing "how low can you go" is a surefire way to murder a muse.

So did we feel threatened by the high-quality responses this contest generated? Not really, no. But it's not something we're prepared to ignore either -- and neither should any agency that's interested in maintaining its accounts.

As younger, savvier marketing executives start calling the shots at the best brands in the world, the "relationships" more traditional-minded agencies rely on for their daily bread will matter less and less, and the quality of work will be the determining factor in who gets paid.

The fact is, with the increasing sophistication of consumer-grade equipment and its relative affordability, more people now have the ability to produce broadcast-quality material. The technical barrier is breached; now all that remains is the creative hurdle. Creativity can come from anywhere. Contests like this and other crowdsourcing efforts, if well-orchestrated and providing the proper incentives, can make the cream rise to the top. And that means all agencies must push themselves harder than ever to make sure their milk has not gone sour.

Scott Cohn is executive creative director at the Night Agency.
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