A few years ago, I was speaking at an event for a very large CPG in the US and one of the other speakers was Phil Dusenberry who had retired from BBDO. If you don’t know who Phil is, you should. Sadly, he passed away in 2007 after spending close to 45 years in the business, all of them with the same agency (I believe). Michael Jackson and Pepsi? Phil did that. He also co-wrote the movie The Natural. Needless to say, I was in awe and it was an honour to meet him and share the stage with him.
The client had just wrapped up a very successful user-generated campaign that saw hundreds of consumers submit commercials for one of their brands. They were pretty proud of their success and when it came time for Q&A, one of the participants asked Phil what he thought of the trend of user-generated campaigns. Phil’s response:
“I think it’s bullshit.”
So do I. Here’s why:
1. It’s not advertising. It’s PR.
I’m proud of the fact that I make a living in applied creativity. I enjoy wrestling with the academic side of branding before generating something interesting around a tight set of rules and caveats that a client collaborates on and eventually approves. While we bitch about the process, we’re better for it and so are our communications. THAT’S advertising. Someone developing a commercial on their own with no insight, no research, no brief, and no budget is art. And paying to put it on TV is just one big PR stunt.
2. It’s not strategic.
After placing so much importance on the strategic process with ethnography, qualitative and quantitative focus groups, insight generation, brief development and an approval process that makes the Iditarod seem like a Sunday morning toboggan run, I’m amazed that clients will throw the entire process out the window so a teenage boy can kick his friend in the balls while using the product. How can you question every second of a campaign that you’ve paid professionals to develop for one brand and then completely abandon your intellectual principles for another? Strategy is half the battle. Good advertising fights for it. User-generated campaigns abandon it.
3. It’s not organic.
I know what the geeks are saying. “It’s a new world, man. The consumer has all the power and they own brands. We have to empower them to….” Sorry. I usually nod off at that point only to wake up when I hear the 25th use of the word “engagement”. This is BS, too. Do consumers have a stronger voice? Yup. And they deserve it. If people want to create ads and post them to Youtube, I’m all for it. Get out of the way and let them express themselves. Hell, we should even fight for their right to do it and be proud when they do. I just don’t think we should take their creations and spend our media money airing them. It makes the whole process less organic and less genuine.
4. They’re not real consumers.
If you want real user generated ads, give a kid a camcorder and let him cut it on iMovie. What we actually get are commercials with the production value of Waterworld. This year’s Doritos winner was done by J.R. Burningham and Tess Ortbals, 2 film school grads who own a production company, Mythmakers Entertainment. Let me repeat. They own a production company. They are professionals. The campaign was not user-generated. It was crowd sourced. What’s stopping Victors and Spoils from competing in next year’s contest?