Experts discuss how well CGA works and contemplate its future.
How well does consumer-generated advertising work?
"Every effort is different," cautions Huba, "so in the aggregate, I think it's too early to tell. But in terms of actual buzz generated, it seems the work of citizen marketers generates more discussion precisely because it's the work of an amateur. An amateur's work is typically more authentic."
But May admits: "On a micro level, I don't know if consumer-generated ads sell more product. On a macro level, CMO turnover is at a record high, and it seems like every major agency account goes into review on a regular basis. It's fair to ask if anything is effective right now. But this is a tactic that so many experienced players wouldn't use unless it were effective on some level."
Factors like vanity and ego are notorious for driving certain media buys, and even whole advertising campaigns. They may also be present in the rush toward consumer-generated advertising. But compared with spending a couple million dollars for 30 seconds on TV that people may talk about for a few weeks before and/or after, it's a little different to reach out and motivate half a million customers who will help evangelize the product.
"If I'm a CMO and I have to decide where I want to put energy," says May, "I'd like to find people who will evangelize our product."
Says Wiener: "I think consumer-generated advertising is more effective because it doesn't look like everything else. It's a pretty startling disconnect from most slick, overproduced advertising. It's raw. It pops. It distinguishes itself from everything else that's out there. It also feels a little bit subversive: You feel that what you're seeing is not a company-generated message, as though it's from a fellow consumer, although it obviously did get vetted. "
What's the future of CGA?
"The bloom on this idea is off the rose," says May, emphatically. "They're right to call it a trend-- it is. Or, it was. It's about over. It's time for another idea, and agencies had better realize that if that new one seems to work, a dozen competitors will try it and it too will become hackneyed within a year. Good ideas spread fast nowadays, which is a double-edged sword. Those who come up with them get a lot of ink; those who copy them can turn even a great idea into a marketing ploy in no time. So I don't see a lot of life left in this particular tactic.
"Instead, we're going to see a number of different approaches to the trend toward harnessing passion for your brand," May suggests. "There's going to be more movement toward engaging consumers where they're already engaged in a conversation: chatrooms and blogs, for example. Marketers are finding that if you can enter into a conversation and be very transparent about whom you are, it's a fantastic opportunity for market research and evangelizing. Of course, this kind of thing is not nearly as scalable as Super Bowl spots, but advertisers are experimenting and getting smart about how to talk to consumers as people."
Huba adds: "Technology is being democratized today at speeds that make 1996 seem ancient. Professional-level tools have come down to Best Buy prices. The shared knowledge on the internet makes it considerably easier to become an expert on nearly any topic. With widespread bandwidth, cheap and easy storage and a huge number of tools available, I think we're just now beginning to see the beginnings of what will become a massive diffusion of citizen-created media. Organizations that embrace and nurture customer involvement will grow faster than those that don't."
Wiener agrees with the others that "this particular trend may fade into history this year, but something new will crop up to replace it. Marketers aren't done being innovative. The speed with which something moves from innovative to cliche is compressive. I don't mean to sound too cynical, but what makes this business great and also what makes it hard is that you need to keep coming up with new ideas. There are staples, of course, but those cliches are becoming decreasingly effective, particularly when you are trying to reach the younger demographics. Lots of people still watch the six o’clock news, but that's not the demographic advertisers are most interested in reaching. We want the cell phone-toting internet-oriented youth. And you have to be innovative to catch their attention."
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