Consumers are not creative directors

The topic of "consumer-created content" came up again this week, this time on a live project. No surprize, as consumer "enagement", conversations and interaction are all the rage at the moment.

The problem with this concept is that most consumers don't want to create content for most brands. And if we're not careful, we end up treating consumers like creative directors. As part of research on the project, I came across a post I wrote back in 2009, which feels even more relevant today. So, I thought it was worth dusting it down and re-publishing it.

Here we go….

‘Consumer-created content’ is a red-hot topic at the moment. I've posted on it here. According to many experts we must give up control of brands and invite consumers into the driving seat. Consumers will come up with great ideas of their own, and this in turn will generate interest in the brand online. We have to stop talking at consumers, and start ‘a conversation’.

Picture 10 For example, UK food brand Oxo invited consumers to upload their own homemade adverts to a YouTube channel called "The Oxo Factor” (named after talent show The X Factor). The five best ads are being aired on maninstrean TV. Oxo’s marketing manager told Marketing “The Oxo Factor signals a fundamental shift in marketing. Consumers’ expectations have changed. They expect to be able to talk back”. The campaign aims to “catapult Oxo into the 21st century". [This is a brand of stock-cubes remember. Sounds scarily like Hugo, the marketing director in my book ‘Where’s the Sausage?’]

Well, like most new toys on sale in marketing store, it feels like this one is being over-hyped. Oxo’s YouTube channel has attracted only 19,000 views. And the ads themselves are pretty cringe-worthy to say the least.

The way forward is perhaps not consumer-created content, but rather ‘consumer-amplified content’. Brands need to retain their role as producers of compelling and relevant marketing. But they also have exciting opportunities to harness the power of online media to amplify the effectiveness of this marketing.

A good example of this is T-Mobile’s Life is for Sharing campaign. The brand’s YouTube channel, featuring videos of mass dancing and singing, has scored 23 million 95 million views. I posted earlier on Dance and Singalong. Here are some thoughts on how to get the best bang for your buck in this exciting new area.

Creative magic should be led by the brand
The amount of creative resource that meant into the T-Mobile Dance campaign is mind-blowing. There’s a great YouTube video on this work here. 400 professional dancers spent 8 weeks rehearsing. Cameras were placed in carefully planned locations in the train station. The musical tracks were chosen to fit the brand spirit. A YouTube channel was designed well before the event. And PR contacts were made with TV news channels in advance of the event, so it could be tailored to their needs, thus maximizing coverage.

2012 Update: its also important that brands create a stream of content like this, not just a one-off. T-Mobile went on to do their Royal Wedding spoof (25 million YouTube views) and Welcome Back at Heathrow airport (11 million views).
Picture 9
Consumers amplify great content

Great content can spread like wild-fire, with the flames fanned by millions of online consumers. However, the key word here is ‘great’. Most of what normal folk post on YouTube is utter crap that never gets seen. There is so much of the stuff that the law of averages means 1 in a million will be great, such as Charlie Bit my Finger, that I posted on here. Its now the most viewed video of all time on YouTube.

However, brands will rarely get enough consumer-created content to end up with something good. The Oxo Factor is a good example of this. Most of the consumer ads are mediocre. Brands need to lead, and then let consumers amplify. T-Mobile created a template with Dance, and then invited consumers to do their own versions, and this worked much better.

Be true to your brand
The final point is of course to be true to your brand. The T-Mobile Dance campaign flowed from and reinforces the brand idea of Life’s for Sharing. Mobile communication is all about spontaneous sharing, and this is what the event captured beautifully. Innocent is a highly creative and fun brand, so asking kids to design a smoothie pack feels right. In contrast, Oxo is a humble stock cube, used to flavour foods, and asking consumers to make their own ads feels forced and a bit ‘jumping-on-the-latest-bandwaggon-y’.

In conclusion, create great content that is loyal to your brand idea and feels true to its spirit. And then mobilise the growing number of online consumers to amplify this content.