User Generated Ads grow up: Consumers (not) in control?

User Generated Ads Grow Up: Controlling Consumer Content?
Written by Donna Bogatin, Contributor

Can consumers be controlled? Is tapping users to create advertising a fad, or a strategy?

The questions are open for debate, and they were debated, this morning in NYC at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s User-Generated Content & Social Networking Forum, with the participation of:

Cheryl Guerin, VP Promotions & Interactives, MasterCard, International Tom Lynch, VP Marketing Strategy, Central Region, Avenue A | Razorfish

“What’s your priceless pick?” Mastercard asks consumers at Priceless.com, leveraging its long standing “priceless“ brand development theme strategy:

This is your chance to tell the world what's "Priceless" to you. Your Priceless Pick can be just about anything--an experience, a place, your favorite charity, a restaurant, a song--anything! You can even submit your own photos, video clips, and audio files, it's easy. Just, remember, the best priceless picks are the ones that other people can experience for themselves.

For Guerin, the “fill out the blanks model” of the Mastercard consumer-focused initiative represents a good formula for providing users a voice, but a controlled by the brand one.

If consumers want to “submit a pick,” a “priceless” one, they are taken to a well-structured online form. Mastercard then vets the submissions and only showcases those that serve to support the overall branding and marketing objectives of Mastercard.

Guerin underscored that Mastercard’s Priceless.com initiative is viewed as a component of the company’s overall integrated campaign strategy and is therefore supported by traditional (big) media spend and ROI analysis.

The consumer-focused Website had its “coming out” at the Academy Awards to generate awareness and trendy buzz. Mastercard evaluates Website traffic and user engagement at the site to gauge success, as well as the volume of user “picks” submissions.

Guerin proudly noted that with 100,000 submissions, consumers are actively engaging with the brand in a positive way, “only 200 entries were inappropriate.”

Not all user-generated advertising and marketing campaigns can be so finely structured, however.

What happens if something goes wrong? Lynch believes that if brands do not engage consumers in “relevant and meaningful” ways, they will be “called out” by passionate user groups.

There is a “dynamic shift” in the power equation between brands and their audience, according to Lynch.

Because groups can mobilize faster and build momentum, marketers can not hope to just “talk over them,” Lynch said, “there is nothing we can do to “make them go away.”

The genie is out of the bottle, and “the only control we have is to engage a dialogue.”

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