User-generated content (UGC) has quickly grown into a powerful marketing tool. A recent study by Crowdtap and Ispos found that Millennials trust UGC 50 percent more than other media. UGC is also 20 percent more influential when it comes to purchasing. And the UGC phenomenon is not quite as new as some may think.
Companies like Threadless and GoPro seemed to have UGC practically baked into their business models, and Doritos has been running its "Crash the Super Bowl" contest, the largest online video contest in the world, since 2006. Many credit 2005 as the year UGC went mainstream. YouTube was born, Facebook opened to a broader audience, and Yahoo bought Flickr. Today, it takes a unique idea to truly get noticed in this crowded space. It's not enough to simply push out a run-of-the-mill hashtag contest.
Burberry's 2009 campaign, "Art of the Trench," started a major trend in the fashion and beauty industry. Now countless brands are aggregating photos of their customers wearing their products. Amidst the many copycat UGC campaigns out there, this year there were a number of campaigns that stood out for their unique and innovative qualities. Here are the 10 most outstanding UGC campaigns of 2014.
"Love" by Honey Maid
When Honey Maid debuted its "This is Wholesome" ad campaign, celebrating families of all kinds, including same-sex couples, the brand was soon buried in comments on social media. Many of the comments were negative, but Honey Maid didn't simply ignore these hateful voices. The brand released a follow-up spot in which two artists use the negative comments to create something beautiful and positive. While many brands are beginning to pay attention to issues like gay rights (now that it makes good business sense), Honey Maid set itself apart with this inspired response.
"#Not on App Store" by notonappstore
These days, we've all heard that there is an app for everything. With "#NotOnAppStore," creators Ciao Andrede, Rafael Ochoa, and Linn Wexell decided to remind people of the many things in life that cannot be experienced via a digital app. The concept is simple, take a photo with the "Not available on the app store" sticker, tag it, and it can be featured on notonappstore.com. This photography collection uses the benefits of technology to celebrate the physical world, with the added bonus of a gently reminding us of the limitations of tech behemoth, Apple.
"White Cup Contest" by Starbucks
In just three weeks, Starbucks received nearly 4,000 entries to its "White Cup Contest." The winner's design was made into a limited edition reusable cup, and the brand's announcement featured Brita Lynn Thompson's story, as well as more of her artwork. The coffee brand's recent #HowWeMet campaign confirms Starbucks' prominent place in the UGC space. In this case, the hashtag doesn't focus merely on the product, but rather on Starbucks as a destination and historic meeting place.
"GT Ride" by KIA
The epic video spot says it all for KIA's new "GT Ride" game (this one is available on the app store). Users can create their own race track with the movements of their phone, and then challenge their friends to race on it. The racing app allows users to essentially create their own personalized gaming experience and share it with others -- a thoughtful twist on what can be considered UGC.
"#RFGoNaked Day" by Rodan + Fields
Rodan + Fields, the creators of Proactiv, wisely took the selfie craze and turned it into an opportunity for promotion, as well as a charitable donation. The company challenged women to post makeup-free selfies, and for every post, R+F pledged to donate $1 to buildOn to help build a school for needy children. In the end, the one-day campaign saw more than 5,000 people free of makeup and in total raised more than $30,000 for buildOn.
"#LuckyToBe" by Lucky Charms
For the second year, Lucky Charms launched its "#LuckyToBe" campaign just in time for Pride. While the ad doesn't directly mention the LGBT community, it received praise for its positive, inclusive message and timely launch. "We are honoring everything that makes each of us special and adds color to our world -- just like the marshmallow charms in our cereal,"said Michael Lenahan, associate marketing manager for Lucky Charms. "We are celebrating everyone who is proud to live life on their own terms and love every second of it."
"SoTheresThat" by HelloGiggles and Ford
This November, HelloGiggles partnered with Ford to encourage Twitter users to respond to silly questions about drivers and driving. The best and funniest answers were turned into illustrated designs and published by HelloGiggles. It's a simple concept, and without being a heavy push for either brand, it celebrates two things that are golden in the UGC space: art and humor.
"#NotABadLoveStory" by Justin Timberlake
Justin Timberlake drew on his star power this year to encourage fans to remind the world that love is not a bad thing. He put out an open call to submit multimedia stories of real-life love with the hashtag #NotABadLoveStory. The best footage was compiled in a fan-driven music video for JT's "Not a Bad Thing," celebrating love in its many forms. The special part of this campaign was that it used more than one medium. Photos alone would not have been nearly as powerful, but this music video incorporates videos, drawings, text, and even handwritten journals to create up a heartwarming collage.
"Texting While in Traffic" by Brian Singer
Everyone knows that texting and driving is dangerous, yet it is still a huge problem in cities across the country. Brian Singer, a San Francisco designer, decided to take action in a very public way by posting photos of offenders online and on billboards all over the city. "Texting While in Traffic (TWIT)" essentially photo shames people who text and drive. While it started solely with Singer's photos, users can now submit their own photos of offenders caught on camera to support the effort. "I've been blown away by the number of people texting while in traffic, on the freeway," Singer said. "For every nose picker, there's 20 texters. Unofficial estimation by me."
"Catstarter" by Meow Mix
In an effort reminiscent of "My Starbucks Idea," Meow Mix launched its own cat-themed idea incubator this year. "Catstarter" cleverly references the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter, but instead of actually financially backing projects, users simply vote for the projects they like, and Meox Mix will produce them. Plus, users can submit their own ideas for cat-themed inventions. "Hot Keys," a keyboard-esque cat bed warmed by your laptop, will be the first invention to move into the production stage.
Chloe Della Costa is a contributing writer for iMedia Connection.
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"Tablet PC" image via Shutterstock.