Friday, March 2, 2007

OnlineSpin: Consumer-Generated Ads Will Disrupt Existing Production Models

Friday, March 2, 2007
Consumer-Generated Ads Will Disrupt Existing Production Models
By Max Kalehoff


One of the things that surprised me most about the much-hyped consumer-generated ads during the past Super Bowl was just how subtle they were and how naturally they fit into the entire mix of 30-second television spots.

To be sure, the consumer-generated ads were not purely consumer-generated, nor organically or independently spawned. They were carefully prompted, prodded, filtered, exposed and promoted through the highly controlled hands of advertisers and their marketing agencies. In the case of Super Bowl XLI, those advertisers were Chevy, Doritos and the NFL, and they each had a heavy hand in the outcome. But the truth remains: For most viewers, the ads, whose creation was heavily driven by consumers, were pretty darned easy to mistake for the purely professional ones.

So even if the consumer-generated ads didn't live up to the hype, most agree they lived up to the standards and value of all the others. And despite the advertiser control and apparent lack of spontaneity -- akin to a highly produced reality television show -- the bar they reached is terribly significant.

And here's why:

First, the success of the consumer-generated ads relative to the professional ones will force marketers to reevaluate the long-held assumption that agencies are the primary place to go for advertising creative and execution. Perhaps there's some value in crowd or customer sourcing? Ahem, yes.

Second, following Super Bowl 2007, marketers will think much harder about the production costs historically associated with traditional advertising, especially television spots. The fact is that a huge and growing percentage of PCs today are being shipped with free multimedia production software, which massively narrows the gap between amateurs and the ivory tower. Not only are the technical tools ubiquitous, but so are the number of people fluent in them.

Third, as production tools and techniques become democratized, agencies increasingly will be pushed to rethink what their core role and value is. Sorry, this will not be an open discussion; the topic will be diminished, disregarded or flat-out denied. But the hard reality is spreading. Agencies that revel in and rely on high-production gloss are slowly having their lunch eaten. Anyone can be glossy now.

Fourth, more consumers, or amateurs, will begin to realize their work has value and potential for greatness. The perception of greater attainability and a level playing field with the so-called professionals will prompt more consumers to enter the ad-creation fray. They may do this to compete for traditional advertising compensation, but also will be motivated by raw passion, brand interest, or a desire for self-expression.

Finally, with production value commoditized, as signaled above, glossy creative not only ceases to be a differentiator, but risks becoming a turnoff. This trend will cause advertising interest and expectations among consumers to shift quickly to more fundamental points of differentiation, particularly interestingness, affiliation, locality, candor and authenticity among others. More than ever, raw content will need to stand on its own.

Don Hewitt, the creator of CBS' "60 Minutes," understands this point, as evidenced in a recent Village Voice interview<> about his new online news venture targeted to young people which aims to garner content submissions from young students,. The technical requirements for submission are low-budget -- even cell phone camera footage is OK -- but the storytelling must be authentic and compelling, according to his recruitment email: "If you're interviewing others, make sure they are interesting... Strong characters can save a weak story. Weak characters can sink the strongest of stories. Cast your story with people whose personas make you pay attention.... people who are forceful, animated, quirky, whatever... you'll know it when you see it."

The bottom line: Regardless of how big consumer-generated advertising becomes, or whichever direction it morphs, the phenomenon is going to prompt faster reevaluation of the current ad-production model, among all stakeholders.

Now, be honest. Beyond the me-too hysteria, have consumer-generated ads prompted meaningful soul-searching in your advertising team?

Max Kalehoff is vice president of marketing for Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a global measurement service for consumer-generated media.

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