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User-generated advertising

What is common in the internet initiatives of PepsiCo, General Mills, Dell and Starbucks? All these blue-blooded brands are experimenting on a large scale by getting their consumers involved in the holy grail of advertising, marketing and even product development, writes Raj Menon.

india Updated: Jun 20, 2010 22:17 IST
Raj Menon

What is common in the internet initiatives of PepsiCo, General Mills, Dell and Starbucks? All these blue-blooded brands are experimenting on a large scale by getting their consumers involved in the holy grail of advertising, marketing and even product development. These companies are increasingly relying on crowdsourcing and the wisdom of the masses to create ideas for their brands.

PepsiCo’s Mountain Dew let crowds design its packaging, General Mills got the masses to generate creatives for its Pillsbury Crescent Rolls; Dell and Starbucks are old hands at getting feedback from consumers to better their products and getting ideas for new ones.

Fundamentally, content is now being created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies. There is a paradigm shift in how people discover, read, create and share news, information and content. This fusion of sociology and technology is transforming monologue into dialogue and is democratisating information. It is transforming people from content readers into publishers.

Even five years ago, the idea of consumer involvement in advertising was restricted to a “Fill up a slogan contest”. Now this entire process is undergoing a sea change in terms of size, scale and modus. In India, as in the West, marketers are leading the charge of harnessing the immense potential of these consumers.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Maggi, Nestle launched a user-generated activity called ‘Me & Meri Maggi’ to celebrate consumers’ bond with Maggi. Consumers could participate on a Maggi campaign website by including their stories, recipes, videos and slogans. This was supported by a massive “activation plan” across television, print and the internet, beside on-ground activities.

Another interesting campaign by ITC Foods’ Bingo Mad Angles asked consumers to create their own print and TV ads for it on a designated website. Other users could rate these ads — which included parodies on Ghajini, Batman and various other creative interpretations of the product — on creativity. Users created 309 print ads and 69 video ads in just a month.

So why are brands suddenly jumping on to this user generated content bandwagon? Primarily, because it gets users deeply involved with the brand. Users spend large amounts of time and effort thinking up ideas for the brand, which the typical mass media campaign cannot achieve. Such activities also create a huge buzz.

Marketers are now leveraging Facebook to get their consumers involved in their user generated campaigns. Currently, there is a campaign by Cadbury Dairy Milk Silk on Facebook where participants can upload their photographs — face close-ups with different expressions. Every week, three participants are chosen on the basis of most interesting expressions and showcased.

Another interesting Facebook campaign was done by Indigo Nation. Called “Whacky at work”, users had to upload crazy work pictures. They then had to get friends to vote for them. The wackiest photo could win a brand new wardrobe from Indigo Nation.

An interesting activity on Facebook has the potential to snowball into a huge campaign because of the inherent ‘virality’ of the platform. Brands love this because it makes millions of consumers their brand messengers. You are more likely to open a mail sent to you from someone you trust – and if it something cool that your friend has created, you are more likely to share it in your network.

But why do consumers work for others? The easy answer is that all these campaigns are contests. But there is a deeper reason — people not only have an opinion but, thanks to the web, also have a platform now to express it, be it factually or creatively. I believe that they do it for getting recognised and also enjoy being able to contribute intellectually.

The writer is COO, contests2win.com