Ads face reality

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Package-goods giants are turning to prepackaged goods when it comes to advertising. The developing trend of do-it- yourself ads may capitalize on the popularity of reality-based shows such as "Survivor." It may even give some budding creatives a break. But it doesn't bode well for the ad world's ability to discover new and original ways to connect with consumers.

A recent TV commercial for Procter & Gamble Co.'s Bounty paper towels uses home video footage of a child spilling orange juice on the kitchen floor. The amateur video isn't simply featured in the spot. It is the spot. Similarly, a spot for Unilever's All laundry detergent features home video of a boy and his dog throwing dirt at each other.

Both marketers are so pleased with the spots they're already on the lookout for more reality-based work. And they're not alone.

The Women's National Basketball Association kicked off its season opener with a homemade spot from a 16-year-old fan -- the first in a new promotion inviting fans to submit ideas for WNBA spots. Earlier this year, KFC Corp. put out the word for "consumers with a creative flair" to "create the next hot commercial" for its "Sandwich Superstar." Other marketers such as Converse and Shedd's Spread Country are reportedly testing similar waters. Others, such as a new campaign from uses video footage shot by young fans of the Web site.

The argument for do-it-yourself initiatives goes something like this: Just take the slice-of-life approach, already popular with so many marketers, and slice out any last vestige of artifice. Unfortunately, that "artifice" includes original concepts, creative work and production values -- not to mention a performer or two.

The reality is these reality-based spots are a short-cut: a cheaper, faster way to tap the consumer mind (with the added bonus of avoiding a run-in with the actors' unions as long as the commercial strike continues). By recruiting consumers to do their work for them, the advertising community is essentially saying: We don't speak consumers' language, so we'll let them speak for themselves.

If creatives don't get back to being creative soon, then next year's Cannes awards might look an awful lot like "America's Funniest Home Videos." And there's nothing funny about that.

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