UGC. What Is It Good For?

Not quite absolutely nothing.

I recently subscribed to B&T Magazine and found interesting the “advice column”. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to respond to the magazine in time, so I thought I’d do it here instead.

Here was their question…

One of my clients, who is marketing director at a big name brand, wants to hold a competition inviting the public to come up with an advertisement to launch a new product to the market. I think user generated campaigns hardly ever end well, and given that the brand’s demographic is 14 year old males, I’m convinced this will go down badly. How do I tell my client I think it’s a terrible idea?

And my response…

UGC is not about free content. If you ran a high involvement campaign, you might receive 1 out of 100 entries that you would find useful. In this case it would be a commercial that could pass as a legitimate idea in the boardroom. The other 99 would not. Chances are, majority of those would be legally unusable mash ups or reflect your brand in a negative light.

It takes a lot of pressure and heat to make a diamond. Yet the best diamond is the one you find accidentally and for free, usually nothing to do with a campaign of yours.

Now on a very different, yet similar, tangent, there has been a lot of talk lately around the blogosphere regarding social objects. These sharing devices provide value to consumers through social currency.

A UGC campaign should look to build social objects with consumers. Much like Scott Drummond’s afro or David Gillespie’s hat this becomes something people will talk about. Even better, this is something the consumer will actively spread onto friends and family, encouraging people to talk about it.

But what differs this from any other social object is the strong brand connection, and like Julian Cole’s necklace, the brand is a part of its creation. So while the brand is weaved into the object itself, it is also part of its story, creating a higher level of social currency.

UGC is about building social objects that have a strong connection to the brand and as a result provide value to consumers with social currency. With this social currency, consumers can build their own relationships stemmed from a relationship with the brand. Above all, UGC is not about free content.

  • davidgillespie
    Posted at August 26, 2008 10:04am, 26 August Reply

    Nice job joining the dots Zac. One point I’d clarify though, I wear the hat because I like the hat, it just happens to have an interesting story to go with it =] Similarly, Scott can’t do anything about his hair.

    Because of that, there’s an authenticity that goes with the objects and that is incredibly hard to fake. I think for brands the path forward is one of candour, and being honest about your intentions.

    To liken it to something completely separate, Billy Connolly says he doesn’t understand why comedians tell other people’s jokes and don’t attribute them. It doesn’t make the joke less funny knowing it came from someone else.

  • Julian Cole
    Posted at August 26, 2008 6:09pm, 26 August Reply

    Good to see you are getting into the old school media outlets now too! πŸ˜‰

  • Zac Martin
    Posted at August 26, 2008 6:15pm, 26 August Reply

    @ David

    You are spot on. That is the key challenge, to establish an authentic social object. Julian’s necklace has done it well, but I imagine that was helped by the fact it wasn’t a corporation behind it.

    So is the path forward looking to find ways to become a part of the social object’s story?

    This becomes even harder when we talk about UGC.

    Who ever said marketing was easy!?

  • Jye Smith
    Posted at August 26, 2008 9:13pm, 26 August Reply

    Great challenge to some common misconceptions – will be sharing this with the team.

    I think the more we challenge what’s been done and what we’re doing the better it’ll be.

    Let’s start these conversations.

  • katherineliew
    Posted at August 27, 2008 11:11pm, 27 August Reply

    I think you're definitely right – UGC is more about the journey than the destination, so to speak. However I think they were talking about the problem that occurs when your stakeholders decide to change the destination.

    You can see this with the campaign launched for GM's Chevy SUV a while back, where users could go on the website, put together some pre-recorded clips and their own text to create their own ad. The problem? Someone decided to create a whole series of ads talking about how bad for the environment SUVs are, which were published directly to the official website!

    Of course it all depends on the product, and the execution πŸ™‚ Arguably, Chevy's problems came from poor market insight. But if it's handled correctly UGC can definitely be a good way to engage with the target market and get some great insights!

    Great post, enjoy B&T πŸ™‚

  • Rick Clarke
    Posted at September 4, 2008 2:13pm, 04 September Reply

    I really think the key point here is whether or not there are people who love/hate your brand. If people hate it, it’s going to end badly. If people love it, and no one hates it, it’s going to do well. If people couldn’t give a stuff either way it’s really just a waste of time…

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