What we've been seeing take place in the UGC arena to date represents the easy stuff; the "no-brainer" ideas. The current trend to invite consumers to create advertising or create content that integrates a brand or the brand message represents the simplistic means of creating content, but within this content, we see some glimmers of future light as well as some possibilities for smothering the idea before it even takes off.
My example for this week rests on Nike. Nike is a great brand, and it's done an amazing job over the last 20+ years of creating one of the most iconic brands in the entire world. You may even remember the original UGC rumor from 1998-1999, when it was supposedly doing away with the "swoosh" and attempting to brand "white space." The fact that a rumor such as that ever took hold at all provides a great testament to the power of the brand.
Regardless of Nike's strength in sports, it's always trailed Adidas in soccer, but with the impending World Cup and the international focus on soccer, it's trying some interesting ideas, some of which are great--but others, not so great.
As a case in point, have you seen the Nike "Ping Pong" spot that was disseminated online? For those of you who haven't seen it, check it out here at YouTube. The spot represents Ronaldinho, who is possibly the most recognized figure in international sports, breaking in some new Nikes with rather extraordinary feats of soccer astonishment.
The clip has been spread all over the world and has sparked much debate about its authenticity (which you may consider to be effective, since it sparked discussion). It has been proven to be digitally altered, but still engaging nonetheless. It recalls the Tiger Woods commercial from a few years back when he bounced the ball on his club a few times and then teed off for an amazing shot. The problem with this new spot is that it's fake--and the Tiger Woods spot was real. The Ronaldhino spot appears shot on a handi-cam and attempts to recreate an authentic, user-generated spot--but, though it's engaging, fails to represent reality. While I love the concept, I'd much rather see actual untouched footage representing the true abilities of this extremely impressive athlete.
On the other side of the coin, Nike is doing something very interesting and quite effective by creating the longest soccer chain. The company invites users to upload a video of themselves kicking the soccer ball around and passing it to someone else, which is then spliced together with someone else's video. So far there are only 90 players representing 23 countries, but I'm assuming I found this in a beta period; I expect the site to grow exponentially once people check it out (and for the record, I do not work on Nike and have no affiliation with anyone who does).
In one case we have an attempt to masquerade a recognized character in "authentic" content, and on the other hand we have a symbolic union of global consumers. One concept represents a situation that need not be falsified in order to provide an example of greatness--and the other concept represents an applaud able attempt to generate a feeling of cohesiveness around the largest sport in the world. I don't even like soccer that much, but the ads I've been seeing from Nike, Adidas and ESPN are all making me interested enough to at least pay attention this year.
Maybe the reason I like the second one so much more is because it takes hold of the core element which makes UGC marketing effective; it turns a brand into a lifestyle. It takes the "beautiful game" of soccer and tries to unite people through the feeling of co-opetition. It allows users to merge with the brand in their own personalized way--and of course it's viral in its own nature, forcing people to come back and see if their video appears. It's not as overt a marketing idea as faking some trickery by the world's most recognized star, but it's possibly even more effective. UGC works because it engages and involves the user. It invites them into the brand. By purporting to show a feat that no one can possibly execute, how do you invite the user to participate in the brand? The soccer chain is doable, and an idea that I think has more legs than the Ronaldinho concept.
Or maybe I'm just bitter because I suck at soccer?
What do you think?