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Consumer Empowerment, for Hire

Diana Arterian
Consumer Empowerment, for Hire Diana Arterian

Corporations are constantly looking for fresh new ways to attract consumers' attention. Within the last few years, marketers have finally realized that the best way to get consumers interested is to get them directly involved with the product. This trend is spawning everything from blogs to product reviews, to the latest in marketing efficiency: enlisting the assistance of the target audience in company branding efforts.

Adcandy is one of the many websites that is calling on creative-minded consumers to produce advertising ideas for companies-- referred to as user-generated advertising (UGA). Adcandy basically acts as a middleman between the inspired consumer and the company that the person has created an advertisement for, creating and moderating the campaign framework and providing prizes for designated winners.

Surprisingly, it has taken marketers until quite recently to launch major campaigns that are enabled by the concept that Adcandy helped make popular -- those that draw consumers' attention and have them provide a service for their company -- an exchange that seems to leave consumers satisfied. Many prominent companies have come realize the advantages of involving the imaginative and eager population of consumers who support their products and services.

An early adopter of this marketing model was the Nike-owned Converse Corporation. In 2004, the company reached out to their consumers, asking them to create short films inspired by Converse products. As a reward, Converse promised that some entrants would be given 30-second spots on MTV and other cable networks, and that one lucky participant would receive $10,000. Converse put out the hook, and the consumers bit-- it received well over 1,000 commercial entrants since the launch of this campaign. That's over 1,000 potential customers who now have a vested interest in the company and its marketing plan.

Since the success of Converse's revolutionary campaign, others have jumped on the bandwagon. Current TV, a television network created just last August, produces only user-generated content, and is available via the Times Warner Cable Company across the United States. Current TV users are able to create and upload short videos -- usually three minutes long -- on any topic they want; the videos can then be voted on via their website by other users, and either becomes available on the site or is aired on the TV network. "User-generated content is sort of the word of the day," says Current TV's president of sales and marketing, Anne Zehren. "And I think smart marketers will start harnessing that."

The most interesting part of Current TV is that they have gone so far as to ensure that even most of the ads they televise on the cable net are user-generated. Current TV has made deals with companies such as L'Oréal, American Express, General Mills and Sony, connecting imaginative consumers with these companies. As Current TV is a relatively small network, it also allows its advertisers to test the waters of UGA without too much risk.
With companies with objectives like those of Adcandy and Current TV, businesses are literally placing the power in the hands of the consumer. Yes, the provided advertisement is filtered -- the final decision of what airs is still chosen by the company -- but the brunt of the work in creating the advertisement is executed by the consumer.

This sounds like a no-brainer as far as most companies are concerned. Yet, some questions and concerns remain. For instance, at what point is the reward of recognition going to fall short as adequate compensation for a user to do the legwork for a company's marketing department? Consumers who develop creative content as part of online marketing campaigns are currently offered prizes or some sort of recognition-- if they receive any compensation at all. How long will it be before consumers realize that they are doing the work of the company's salaried employees, and are getting only a fraction of the benefits? Carrie McLaren of Stay Free magazine, a publication focused on the issues of mass media, says, "It's safe to say that $50 for a winning idea would be comparable to sweatshop labor in the advertising world." Yet somehow creators of UGAs are usually satisfied with a chance to win money or prizes, or the attention of being publicized on their favorite site as a winner.

One company that is addressing this issue head on is Revver. The company's credo, as found on the site, states: "Revver connects creators, viewers and advertisers in a sponsorship marketplace for online video… [and] provides all the tools you need to distribute your original work online and earn money."

The basic premise of Revver is that users create their own short video, (less than 100MB) which is then posted for free on the Revver website. At the bottom of the video, an advertisement banner is attached, as picked by the creator, and is thus ad-supported. The more popular the video, the more clicks on the advertisement and (here is the main selling point) the more money the creator stands to make.

Revver obviously also benefits from the videos, as they have made agreements with the companies that provide the bans to pay not only the creator for drawing in the number of clicks, but also Revver for acting as a location for their advertisements-- with a generous 50/50 split between themselves and the creators. Revver has also gone so far as to ensure that advertisements are clickable regardless of the mode of access to the video-- be it via another website, podcast or email. The more distribution the creator provides, the more money they earn.

The availability of services such as what Revver provides, as well as the opportunities and benefits that go along with it, shows the direction in which a lot of marketers are headed: distinct advertising -- created cheaply and creatively by involved and enthusiastic consumers -- that attracts the attention of like-minded consumers. The time has come for marketers to capitalize on the existing desire that web-savvy consumers have to help define the images of the products they buy themselves, rather than letting someone else do it for them.

Diana Arterian is an iMedia intern in her final year at University in Southern California.


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