User-generated advertising is not the future of advertising. The task of imagining, producing and distributing a compelling brand message will not be left to whoever chooses to pick up a webcam on a random Sunday afternoon. Instead, I propose that the radical shift, commonly mis-titled user-generated advertising, descending over the world of advertising is in fact better called distributed creative development (couldn’t find the term on a Google search, so let’s coin it on the Spin).
If you were at OMMA Hollywood last week, you were no doubt inspired (or worried) by the success story of Doritos’ “user-generated” Super Bowl commercial and feel-good story surrounding the teams that produced the winning spots. But if you watched the presentation, you would have seen that there was a significant coordinated effort to establish and promote the contest --- including developing the technology platform for participation, the operations for submission review, and numerous other moving pieces that had to work in perfect unison. The coordinated achievement incorporated the efforts of Doritos’ creative agency, PR, media buying, among other partners. There was direction given to the participants, similar to the direction a brand might give any agency pre-pitch. In the end, it was not a “set it and forget it” solution, it was a carefully, and might I add artfully, managed process.
One of the winning teams was present to receive Doritos Managing Director Jason McDonell’s glowing endorsement for future work from the advertisers in the audience. I don’t think I missed the stipulation that the winning team had to be users of whatever product was going to approach them for work. I am sure they would have been open to work from a number of brands. Wouldn’t that make them a talented creative/production group looking to make a profession of advertising, not a “user”? In fact, that’s exactly what they are.
The truth is that many entrants in these types of contests (advertising, video, music etc.) are aspiring professionals, or at least hobbyists approaching amateur status. For this reason, “user”-generated advertising contests can demonstrate many characteristics similar to an open call for creative development. In this open call the prize money plus the perceived value of recognition is the total compensation. It is for this reason that the Doritos Super Bowl commercial contest more closely mirrored “American Idol” than a karaoke contest. Raise your hand if you think “American Idol” is user-generated content, or the contestants are your everyday kids (never mind -- I can’t see you anyway). “American Idol” is a talent search, judged by the people the talent is supposed to affect -- a better comparison for distributed creative development.
It’s easy to see why agencies not looking for the recognition, which would be most established agencies, could not justify the expense of participating in the contest against its expected financial outcome. But what about when marketers increasingly turn to distributed creative development? There are a number of market effects that will have to play out. Doritos had the market to itself in many ways for this run. All of the press clips that Doritos showed (read: free promotion of its contest and its spot) won’t occur the sixth and seventh time “users” get their ad distributed on a major platform. Also, the more brands that test the market for distributed creative development, the greater the demand for amateurs’ and aspiring professionals’ time. This will drive up the cost of attracting the critical mass of submissions (the key to reducing the risk of distributed creative development). Will the cost get high enough that we will see smaller interactive and independent agencies participating in these open calls? Can you create an efficient market for distributed creative development (Google, are you listening)?
As the market determines a price, and all hidden costs and risks are assessed for distributed creative development, traditional full-service agencies will be forced to compete against the cost of initiating, managing and compensating a successful distributed creative campaign. Traditional agencies will also have to match the success rate of distributed creative development.
Successful agencies will adapt to be able to participate in a market with elements of distributed creative development. This will take three forms: 1) Facilitating or providing complementary services; 2) leveraging expertise and adapting organization to actually participate efficiently in the market of open calls for creative; and 3) utilizing advances in technology to consistently outperform cost and effectiveness measurements of the distributed creative market (and being able to prove it). Don’t say this isn’t possible; look at the funds that consistently outperform financial markets. So who is Madison Avenue’s Goldman Sachs?