Letting your users do your bidding
When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. User-submitted content (user-generated content, to some) has its value, but is not the stuff that brands are made of.
NPR's business news show Marketplace, reports on Frito-Lay's and Chevrolet's plans on involving amateurs - like you and me - in the making of their Super Bowl commercials. Now this in itself isn't that remarkable; its been done before. But these companies hope to virally spread this ad campaign via YouTube, MySpace etc. Ostensibly this buys the commercials an extended shelf life online, which can be very expensive to achieve in traditional media.
But I think this is a recipe for disaster: you're driving the Chevy down a cliff with a bag of chips. A brand is built from an accumulation of experiences with a product or service. Advertising and design have great impact on the brand's image. Merely the user experience isn't enough: advertisers have long sought to appeal to you at an emotional or psychological level. When done right, this increases the brand's perceived value in the user's mind. This is why you covet your favorite brand over the dozens like it in the same aisle at the grocery store.
If you forgo editorial control over the brand's image, you risk losing the brand's equity - the value built up over time. For instance, what prevents someone from creating a parody of the product and posting it to YouTube as if to ride the competition wave. After all, you don't need to be Frito-Lay's official nominee in order to get eyeballs on YouTube. Chevy seems to have learned from its folly from last year's contest, which created numerous ads that criticized its SUVs for being gas guzzlers and contributing to global warming. This year they're asking for written ideas only and their professional branding guys will make the ads. Not being able to see and vote on others' submissions, well, is not really user-submitted content. Aww, does that break your product's buzzword compliance?
Why not just take the boring route of making good, entertaining ads that sell your message and then post them online with a liberal license on copying and reusing?
Tags: user submitted content, user generated content, advertising, social software