Jingle and ad slogan contests have been around for the better part of the last century, but with the rise of consumer-generated media (CGM), never have more regular Joes created more advertising (as well as every other conceivable type of content) than they are right now.
Glory aside, what's it worth to them? What's it worth to advertisers? And is the balance of power -- and money -- about to change?
Consider these recent examples:
World of Warcraft (WoW) wants users to create :30 videos related to in-game products and events. What do winners get in return? According to the site: "Who needs a prize?... Just participating and being a part of your community is a ton of fun!" Then, it acquiesces by promising to give away $700 worth of merchandise (I assume this is the retail value).
FritoLay's Doritos (with Yahoo) is running Crash the Super Bowl. Consumers can send in homemade Super Bowl spots and hope to see them actually air. The payoff? Five finalists get $10,000 and a trip to Miami for a private Super Bowl viewing party.
Create the winning ad for the NFL and you may get it aired, but you're guaranteed a trip to the party.
Chevy's doing pretty much the same thing, but only college students are invited to submit spots. No mention of a prize, other than the winner may get an airdate. But finalists pitch their ideas to GM execs during an all-expense paid trip to... Detroit!
The second prize is, what, two weeks in Philadelphia?
By the way, the average :30 spot costs about $165,000 to produce. Last year, 30 seconds of airtime during the big game averaged $2.4 million. For the winners' sake, I hope those parties at least have open bars and lots of swag.
The list goes on. In a sponsorship with Current TV, L'Oréal bagged a :30 spot from a user named "spicytuna" for a bargain $1,000. That's just slightly worse that what the winner of the Mentos Geyser Video Contest will get, as the candy company's also throwing in 320 rolls of Mentos (approximate retail value: $1,242.80).
Country Music Television wants its viewers to create commercials for broadcast, and Nikon selected 16 consumers to shoot pictures with a D80 camera. Some will be used in a print campaign. On the lower end, a job site called Heyudo promises the creator of the best video ad (uploaded to YouTube) 20 percent of one month's revenue "or $100, whichever is greater."
Here's my all-time favorite: a quite dubious site called MyFreeImplants says it needs a new banner ad, so it's hosting a contest. Some lucky lady will win $1,000 toward a (presumably not-so-free) boob job.
Social Sites Start Paying
Ignoring for a moment how high agency billable hours for conceiving and creating all the aforementioned campaigns might be, there's a small but growing trend toward monetizing user-generated content. Revver appends ads to the user-submitted videos on its site and splits the take down the middle with the content creators. There's even a cut for an affiliate, if one's in the mix.
According to InformationWeek, the Diet Coke and Mentos Experiment videos that inspired the contest mentioned above has garnered over 5 million viewings on Revver, earning creators Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe about $28,000. Newly launched Eefoof (tagline: Make It. Post It. Profit.) and stalwart AtomFilms also compensate their contributors.
AdWords aside, blog networks were really the first on the trend. Weblogs Inc., Federated Media Publishing, and Pajamas Media all sell advertising to support independent content creators. Ohmynews pays contributors if their submissions rise to the top of the site in popularity, and newly launched citizen journalism project Citizenbay will pay its most popular contributors. When AOL's Jason Calacanis brazenly offered to pay leading contributors from community sites such as digg, reddit, and other social bookmarking properties to defect to his newly revamped Netscape, it may have sparked controversy, but it wasn't anywhere near so new an idea as he would have liked it to appear.
As major media companies continue to slap social sites with lawsuits for copyright infringement (this week's episode: Universal vs. Grouper and Bolt), their subsidiaries seemingly have no qualms about appropriating from the Web. Viacom's VH1 airs "Web Junk 20," a compilation of the 20 most popular online videos of the week.
NBC Universal's Bravo has a show called "Outrageous and Contagious: Viral Videos," while E and USA Network have or are developing similar offerings. My guess is they're not sending anyone royalty checks, though they are selling ad time against these shows.
What's In It For Me?
Sure, the majority of citizen content creators are in it for the glory, a little recognition, a chance to be heard, or even to publish. And yes, winning a contest to create a Super Bowl ad would certainly spruce up an ambitious college student's résumé.
But isn't there something just a little miserly and crass about major brands like L'Oréal and Chevrolet turning the tables on Web 2.0 and customer control? Certainly their agencies can't be happy when the account goes up for review and their rival's willing to work for a one-year supply of breath mints.
Will it be long before diamonds in the rough emerge from corners of the Web other than the blogosphere and demand to be paid what they're truly worth?
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Rebecca was previously VP, U.S. operations of Econsultancy, an independent source of advice and insight on digital marketing and e-commerce. Earlier, she held executive marketing and communications positions at strategic e-services companies, including Siegel & Gale, and has worked in the same capacity for global entertainment and media companies, including Universal Television & Networks Group (formerly USA Networks International) and Bertelsmann's RTL Television. As a journalist, she's written on media for numerous publications, including "The New York Times" and "The Wall Street Journal." Rebecca spent five years as Variety's Berlin-based German/Eastern European bureau chief. Rebecca also taught at New York University's Center for Publishing, where she also served on the Electronic Publishing Advisory Group. Rebecca, author of "The Truth About Search Engine Optimization," was ClickZ's editor-in-chief for over seven years.
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