They are now reaching out to you, the consumer, for their advertising ideas. They want to tell your story to the world, with their brand wrapped up somewhere in the storyline. They are coming on prominently on television and the internet to invite your appearance in their brand's communication space. Brands being about the consumer, directly, seems to be getting popular, with many prominent brands inviting consumers to tell 'their' story of the brand in their lives, their way.
Hero MotoCorp is inviting videos from people in India singing its new signature anthem created by AR Rahman, "Hum mein hai hero", which it is featuring in its television ads. It expects this to be a long campaign with many ads, showing different people across India singing its tune.
Tide Plus, from Procter & Gamble, is inviting people to tell their Tide Plus stories that will feature in the brand's TV advertising, for a lifetime's (50 years) free supply of the product. So far, it has featured the Romeo and the Pandey Ji ads.
How to engage them in your brands
Vaseline Body Lotion from Hindustan Unilever is inviting consumers to tell their Vaseline stories - remember the 9 am-to-5 pm governess and the nurse ads? Knorr Soupy Noodles, also from Hindustan Unilever, after featuring actor Kajol Devgan in its TV commercial with the signature song "Kha ke peeyo, pee ke khao", has introduced an animated fork and spoon duo inviting people to sing this song in different Indian languages and submit the recordings to feature in its advertising. "Khao, peeyo, gaao. TV pe aao", the TV ad says.
Airtel has extended its "Har friend zaroori hota hai" TV advertising to an online drive to first get people to identify different friend 'types' and then submit such friend videos. It has 20 online films featuring these consumer submissions by now, selected from among thousands of such submissions. The brand says it may consider extending such videos to its TV advertising, going forward.
Dabur Amla hair oil is using its brand ambassador, Rani Mukherjee, to invite women with great hair to feature in its advertising, with herself. In its announced Dabur Asli Aamla Star Ki Khoj, the brand will go across 13 towns to hunt for the lady with the most beautiful hair in each town, all of whom will then feature in its advertising. The Lucknow winner has already been announced.
Colgate Dental Cream has a TV campaign on air, which invites people to come up with their dental concerns for it to address, with the closing question in the ads: "Toh aapka sawal kya hai?"
Why are brands so keen to feature consumers and their stories in their advertising?
Santosh Desai, brand communications expert and CEO, FutureBrands, observed: "Collaboration in the brand's message by including the voice of the people is part of a much larger movement. The idea of a consumer's sense of ownership of and comfort with the brand - connecting with it and talking about it - is going to be a long term trend. Everyone has a new-found microphone - suddenly there is a customer voice. Getting the consumer to co-create a brand's message is almost a necessity for consumer engagement today. This surge in 'user generated communication' (UGC) has been initiated by the consumer's engagement with the digital world."
Agnello Dias, co-founder, Taproot India, Airtel's advertising agency, pointed out: "Word-of-mouth has always been more credible than any kind of sponsored communication. Over the years, it has proved to be acceptable by consumers way above any other form of communication. Till now, it was not possible for a brand to harness such word-of-mouth and reach it to people. Today, thanks to the digital space, it is possible. While UGC is the brand's conversation with those consumers who are having a dialogue with it, this dialogue, when used in advertising, is being consumed as word-of-mouth by other consumers who are not having a dialogue with the brand. That's how the brand gets a much larger audience."
But why should people watching such consumer-generated ad messages accept them as genuine?
Anil Nair, CEO, Law & Kenneth, the advertising agency for Hero MotoCorp, said, "The consumer is getting very aware. By over-crowding him with every kind of advertising, we've made him ad-averse. As a result, he's smart enough to spot finessing, exaggerations and will say, 'Fake, tampered with'. In user generated messages, the imperfections need to show through. Don't try to be cute. In some of our Hero ads, the lip sync to the anthem's words is not perfect because people did not know all the words. We retained that."
"In the larger context," added Bharat Bambawale, director, global brand, Bharti Airtel, "we are now in the era of participative communication with consumers. There's a sea change in the way brands and consumers interact - the very nature of transaction has changed. Brands are no longer behind iron fences." He said that in this milieu, the brand has to get into worthwhile conversations with its consumers.
For all those thinking that some of the consumer-generated ads showing currently on TV look too 'finished', even 'contrived', there's this fact: mostly, a brand resorting to consumer generated advertising would go for an initial one or two ads that have been 'created' by itself, based on the UGC idea.
"These are stimulus ads. How else would you tell people that there is this opportunity to create an idea and how they could go about it? With our Hero anthem too, we first ran two stimulus ads starting December 31. On January 26, we started with the genuine user generated ads and have run four already," said Anil Dua, senior VP, (marketing and sales), Hero MotoCorp.
Added Nair: "India is at a nascent stage on user generated brand conversations. So an example, a benchmark, has to be created before people start participating meaningfully. Our server crashed when the first such ad went up. When they started seeing real people, the numbers coming in quadrupled."
All agree that consumer-participative brand communication is the way forward. "Brand custodians have to let the brand go, to let consumers take some part of it. The future of brand management is to get the consumer to be at the centre of the whole process," Nair concluded.