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Using consumers to tell your story for you (or “Hey diddle-diddle to the people in the middle”) October 23, 2008

Posted by David Gillespie in social media, storytelling, web 2.0.
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So last week I identified the three ways stories are getting told in advertising. Today I want to talk about the second one: A narrative with the brand at the centre of the story but with the story being generated by consumers, leaving the direction of it loosely defined, usually through a particular campaign moving in a very particular direction. Also known as: User Generated Content.

I said this last week in the office and came under fire for it, but I’m going to wheel it out again because I think it’s true: user-generated content in its current context is a crock.

An absolute crock.

Marketers: you don’t want a UGC campaign. Agencies: stop telling them they want them, they don’t, not if they really understood the trade-offs. And in fact if you really understood them too, you wouldn’t recommend them either.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote the following:

As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.

The methods are simple: give people a platform, incentivise their involvement, and then let them get on with it. The problem here is the principles of user-generated content stem from people behaving in their natural state, creating work because they want to and not manufacturing it for a purpose other than self-expression and social currency. Brands see the natural enthusiasm people exhibit in their daily lives and and hope to co-opt it into their own work, which is like U2 showing up at an indie rock gig, deciding they like a song and then wheeling it out at Wembley Arena the following night.

In the above scenario, U2 wins by bringing the indie band on stage with them, playing the song together. U2 gets kudos for being hip and championing the next generation, the new band gets exposed to a new audience, everyone wins. Everyone wins. That is a principle of user-generated content, of social media. Mutual gain and that being a good thing is a principle – method is acquiring content for a campaign; that is neither cutting-edge nor insightful and increasingly out of touch.

I could go on, but instead just read this great synopsis of a terribly poor effort on BMW’s part, which sums it up perfectly. Brands need consumers more than consumers need brands. Without them their stories mean nothing, and without meaningful stories, there’ll be nothing to tell anyone else about anything at all.

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Comments»

1. Calling Social Media Out « Creative Is Not A Department - November 13, 2008

[...] particularly YOU out on it. I’m nailing it to the wall for the crock that it is. UGC was the first to cop it, social media is [...]

2. Make your problem somebody else’s « Creative Is Not A Department - November 18, 2008

[...] User-generated content was the first ham-fisted attempt to do something creative in this space, but it is only going to get better as organisations get more comfortable with the conversation going on about them. There is no silver bullet when trying to harness the enthusiasm of your tribe and align it with an organisation’s goals, this quote from Henry Jenkins though will steer any effort in the right direction: The key is to produce something that both pulls people together and gives them something to do…I don’t have to control the conversation to benefit from their interest – Henry Jenkins – MIT [...]

3. You’re invisible now « Creative Is Not A Department - August 17, 2009

[...] anymore”. I didn’t get it at the time, but I do now. My only concern is having canned UGC, social media, and now “digital” itself, I’m going to need to invent some new [...]


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