Commentary

User-Generated Video: Promotable Or Perishable?

  • by January 22, 2007
Now that we're comfortably ensconced in the culture of the viral video du jour, it seems only natural that more and more advertisers want to jump on the bandwagon. Which is a good thing for some of us in that we're finally getting our advertisers out of the habit of relying too much on :30 network TV spots, trade spiffs, a few print ads and some quarterly coupon drops--and getting them to think more about the emerging media imperative.

The danger in this, if you're on the agency side, is, you're damned if you do, and damned if you don't. If you're proactive and run out and sell your advertiser on the value of drafting off this momentum with another user-generated video contest, tying it to a campaign idea, posting it on the advertiser's Web site, YouTube or Google, and letting the home videos begin, you run the risk of being accused by the next CMO of being:
a) too tactical;
b) me-too;
c) amateurish; or
d) all of the above.

On the other hand, if you sit idly by and bask in the glow of your last TV campaign's million-dollar production values while your client reads the latest viral numbers on YouTube's most popular videos in The Wall Street Journal, then you run the risk of:
a) watching your client make a deal directly with two up-and-coming film-student-come-music-video directors who pitched them on a really "quirky" viral video idea;
b) having to write a POV on why you didn't inform your client about YouTube earlier;
c) not being innovative enough; or
d) all of the above.

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What to do? Take a step back.

Viral video push is a big bonus to a well-conceived and executed media plan, but it's not in itself a substitute for a big brand Idea. And don't confuse trends with trendy. The trend is consumer as creator, not consumer as creative director. If we use it properly, as some consumer researchers and fan culture monitors are doing, the consumer as creator trend can provide lots of valuable insights into how people perceive and interact with brands, how much cultural currency those brands posses, and their real relevance to different segments. This is the trend to draft off of -- not the trendy.

Trendy are the terrifically clever one-off spoofs, commercial parodies and even laugh-out-loud amateur commercials being posted which, in most cases, lose their relevance and cultural currency almost as quickly as they gain it. They simply aren't grounded in the equity of a smartly conceived brand idea that leaves you longing to see the next one, and the next one and the next one. They're more like the photos you take on your cell phone -- made fresh daily, portable and perishable.

Which is not to say there haven't been great user-generated commercials whose humor might trump that of the Creative AOR's actual brand campaign. The question is, over time, which is truly promotable and which becomes perishable? Only the consumer knows for sure.

It's gutsy to throw your campaign idea out there to the hand-held consumer cameras and see how well they can draft off of your idea. Cadillac, Chevy, Coke and many others have blazed the trail, so you too can follow if you wish. But as the video shorts come rolling in, be sure you're mining for the right brand measures. Then, check their expiration date. We're living in times when we consume and spit out that which is considered "new" at an extraordinarily fast pace, so those user-generated videos you just collected are likely to become perishable... long before your campaign idea does.

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