User-Generated Content Is A Viable Ad Medium

In my 2006 predictions I mentioned that this year we'd see an increase in the usefulness and quality of user-generated content (UGC). I want to take this week's column to explain a little about what's going on in this category and why I'm so focused on it right now.

First off, the fundamental truth of the Web is that it opens the doors to anyone with an idea and a little bit of time to publish for the world to see. The Web consists of trillions of pages, 99 percent of which are not created by any corporate or legal business entity. These pages are created by people all over the globe with a computer and Internet access. In fact, the Web is almost 100 percent UGC, and advertisers have been supporting that content for years through affiliate programs and network ad buys, and most recently with the contextual search products from Google and Yahoo. It's money from advertisers that supports the prospect that the Web can provide an outlet for a new idea or a new business, which keeps the system growing unto itself. Even last year's hottest topic (blogs) are just another form of UGC, and one that advertisers have started to notice.



The next wave, which we are currently seeing embraced by many mainstream publishers, is user-generated video content. I've already mentioned sites like Sharkle and YouTube, but now MTV and VH1 have shows dedicated to "Web junk," as VH1 calls it. These shows take some of the funniest UGC content and republish it on traditional cable television for the rest of the world to see, feeding people back online to find and view more of this new addiction (and trust me, it can truly be called an addiction since you'll find that you've just wasted hours of your time before you even know it).

I consistently hear advertisers state they're wary of supporting user-generated video content for fear that they cannot control the context of where their ads may be shown--and to this fear, I respond that the lesson has been learned and the model has already been proven. Advertising in user-generated video content is absolutely no different from advertising in an ad network or an affiliate program, both of which are models that every smart interactive marketer has taken advantage of. How many ad networks release to you their full list of sites? How many of you have combed through your affiliate program with a fine-toothed comb and reviewed the content of each site's pages on a regular basis to ensure they haven't updated with content that you'd find detrimental to your brand? Probably none of you have reviewed the entirety of either of these, but you trust the systems that are in place to ensure that your brand will be managed to the best extent possible. You trust that your vendors will watch out for you to the best of their ability, and they do. Nothing is guaranteed, and to be honest it can't be in as dynamic a medium as this.

Which brings me to my final point. The fact of the matter is, that once your brand has made it into the public domain, it belongs to the consumer.

Brand Democratization is a topic that I've dealt with before, and it is undoubtedly true. It is the concept that the consumer is in control of your brand once you've put it out into the marketplace and your responsibility is to listen and ensure that the promise of your brand (your brand message) coincides with the experience of your brand. If it does, then you've done your job well.

If it doesn't, then you need to react and respond to your consumers. If you place your brand in an ad unit in any form of media, then you must trust your consumer to let you know when they come across your brand in an environment they feel is inappropriate or incorrect. They are vocal, and if they like your brand, and if you've provided them with a sense of ownership for your brand, then they will respond and take action. They will let you know, and they will trust that you did not mean any association to be intentional. If you are listening, they will accept it and move on, but if you are ignoring them and have not engaged them in a dialogue, they will expose your brand and create an environment detrimental to your brand. This is the wave of the future, and this is the promise of Brand Democratization.

So you can see why I am as hot on the concept of USG as a viable ad medium, and even as a means of creating messaging that brands will find useful and that will possibly resonate more with the consumer. If you're interested in finding out more about the topic, or you have any ideas you'd like to pass on, check out my new blog at

And pay attention in 2006; everything is evolving right before your very eyes.

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