When it comes to consumer generated content, most of it tends to have a pretty short shelf life. A video, a tagline, etc. But one submission headed for the Heinz Top This TV challenge has a bit more staying power. Sculptor Robin Antar has made a ketchup bottle out of marble and is going to film the process for a commercial she'll submit to Heinz. (The thing is on display along with other marble pieces at the Marble Sculpting Symposium until Aug. 5 in the town of Marble, Colorado.)
Heinz has been big on the consumer generated content thing for awhile now. Say Something Ketchuppy was among the more interesting UGC campaigns as it tinkered with the almighty logo.
This new contest is pretty conventional but instead of broadcasting the winner and spending all that money on media they're simply posting the top 15 videos on YouTube and having the public vote on the winner. Most of the submissions I viewed are pretty forgettable though this one stood out to me:
But I have to say if I was a creative I would be pretty nervous about this user generated content thing. How long can a brand be buoyed by consumer content contests? It's really starting to get old. And how many modifications of the same 'submit your...' approach can smart creative departments crank out before they feel like expendable middlemen? Daniel Pink wrote a compelling argument about about how in the conceptual economy jobs that require creative thinking will thrive while those that can be automated, a la computer programming, will be outsourced. Perhaps this should serve as a small warning to the agencies over-reliant on the UGC trend: Is it diminishing the 'conceptual' nature of our contribution and even our role in the Conceptual Age?
To me, the sweet spot could be some sort of a hybrid between 'here is our idea, love it or leave it' being one extreme and 'hey we give up, you tell us what this brand should say' on the other.
But all of this dangles the question, what about the planner's contribution? Our brand conscience? What kind of rubber stamp strategic thinking goes into 'lets' leverage consumer's ability to operate a video camera and let them make an ad'?
It certainly makes use of a salient trend but I can't help but think the people behind the cameras are becoming the next generation of professional sweepstakes entrants. In the short term it adds up: The brand is happy because it saved money on big production and media budgets. The consumers like participating and seeing genuine content created by their peers. But what does this do long term to the agency role?
Of course the reason for these big questions is that this stuff used to be totally promotional and always complemented by a more strategic brand advertising campaign. But now these contests are soliciting brand ideas that get big exposure and act as a proxy for mainline brand advertising (like Doritos' super bowl spot). I can almost hear a client asking why, in this example, does Heinz need an agency at all?
The good news is that despite this trend the marketplace for strategic thinking is getting ever more crowded and good planning is in greater demand.
Hmmm. Why pay all those expensive agency fees? I smell a contest brewing!