Ask the audience

Today, a growing number of businesses are incorporating user-generated content into their advertising and marketing campaigns.

It offers a refreshing way to connect with your audience, creating new, meaningful content with a sense of authenticity. It’s also a neat way to integrate social interaction into a campaign. What’s more, it can be done for a fraction of the cost involved in more traditional processes.

McDonalds attracted over 20,000 submissions for its user-generated “We All Make the Games” London 2012 ad campaign, which showed the variety of ways in which British people celebrated the Games. A slightly different example is the Coca Cola security camera ad made up entirely of CCTV footage, which ‘catches’ people committing acts of kindness.

It all sounds great – so what are the pitfalls?

Authenticity is one of them. Some advertisers will inevitably be tempted to fake user-generated content to fit their needs. Others might simply stretch the definition if the content doesn’t quite fit. Of course, all this dubious content means that audiences are much more likely to be sceptical.

Incidentally, this is exactly what happened with the Coca Cola ad. One article in the Huffington Postquestions just how Coca Cola was able to capture so many seemingly spontaneous scenes without some kind of forward planning. Coca Cola later admitted to ‘recreating’ some of its scenes to get around rights issues – which somewhat lessens its warm and fuzzy appeal.

The conclusion? User-generated content has its place, but it shouldn’t be overdone – and most importantly of all, it should be real. Nothing offends viewers like realising they’ve been fooled.