About Consumer-Generated Ads: Have We Gone Mad?

Why Our Agency Has Decided to Pass on This Fad

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Seems the latest fad in our industry is consumer-generated advertising (affectionately known as 'desperately seeking buzz' marketing). Everyone's doing it.
Marc Brownstein Marc Brownstein
Clients are looking far and wide for new ideas. Agencies are getting in the game, too. Just look at what Quiznos, Alka-Seltzer, TBWA, Frito-Lay, Converse, the NFL, and Chevrolet are doing.

For those of you who haven't been following it, advertisers and ad agencies are asking the general public to submit their best ideas to promote their brands (and in TBWA/London's case, their clients' brands). In some cases, the agency will produce the idea; in others, Joe Consumer is being tasked with actually producing a finished, 30-second spot. And these are not spots that are going to be buried in some obscure test market; we're talking Super Bowl spots! Yes, Alka-Seltzer , Frito-Lay, NFL and Chevy are all planning to air their spots to the world's largest television audience.

Have we gone mad?
Now, I'm all for exploring new media for our clients. But by asking amateurs to do a professional marketers' job, have we gone mad? Or have clients and select agencies lost faith in the creative talent on their payrolls?

The risks are huge. "It's great way to build buzz, but a debatable way to build a brand," says Harvard Business School consumer marketing professor Stephen Greyser. What's more, imagine the time it will take to sort through the ideas to get to ones that are in good taste, on strategy, affordable to produce, and relevant. Who's paying for that time? Cost-sensitive clients? Or their already-over-worked/under-paid agencies? And what about the legal implications: sure, the winning submissions will be paid for, and contracts will be signed, but what happens when Sally in Des Moines claims that the Doritos commercial on the the Super Bowl is HER idea, while Bob in Seattle is the lucky one who got credit and big bucks for it? Talk about opening a pandora's box!

If your agency wants to trim its creative payroll, perhaps opting for consumer-generated ideas is the way to go. But if your client needs continuity of messaging, coherence of vision and an agency that spends its time thinking about the brand versus getting mired in thousands of mind-numbingly bad ideas to find a handful worthy of consideration, then a staff of conceptually-trained art directors and writers still makes sense.

As for Brownstein Group, we'll let this fad pass, while we focus on growing our clients' brands.
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