Is User-Generated Advertising Safe?

By now, all brands should know control over their image isn’t entirely in their hands. Through blogs, discussion boards, social networks, and other forms of CGM (define), consumers can easily make their opinions heard and contribute to shaping how clients’ products and services are perceived.

As my colleague and editor Rebecca Lieb points out in a recent column, “engaging in participation and dialogue is the way to earn” consumers’ respect. Hence the increasing popularity of campaigns in which marketers solicit ad materials from customers.

But sharing in this way begets the need to shield clients from negative feedback. It’s become ad agencies’ and media strategists’ responsibility to shelter them. How can this be effectively done? Is there any “safe” place for brands on the Web?

Some believe there is, and that it’s located in a user-created advertising platform that makes it easier than ever for companies to engage consumers. Launched this April, ViTrue Inc. offers a suite of products that includes consumer-generated advertising tools and a video-sharing community. The idea behind the Atlanta-based company isn’t just to make it easier for marketers to call consumers to action but also to protect their brands using what little control they have left online: their brand sites.

With the company’s Branded Video Community, which ViTrue customizes to the look and feel of each brand site, consumers can submit videos showcasing a brand or its products. Few business-to-consumer (B2C) companies wouldn’t stand to benefit from experimenting with the platform. NFL football fans can be encouraged to share their enthusiasm for their team. Southwestern fast-food restaurant customers can demonstrate their love of the menu. ViTrue has even created a Video Community for “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” that will allow readers to upload videos relating to the pregnancy and childbirth issues brought up in the book.

Just imagine the potential entries.

The brand loyalty consumers display in this fashion can be astounding, and it certainly isn’t limited to producing videos about burritos and babies. ViTrue recently created a contest for Friendster called “Get Political!” in which consumers could participate in the recent elections by uploading videos expressing their unique political points of view.

That’s all well and good for the sliver of Internet users who have the time and inclination to shoot and upload their own videos. What of everyone else wishing to demonstrate brand admiration? For them, ViTrue offers AdMixer, a tool that lets users create mash-ups of ads using brand-approved assets, such as video, audio, and images. The appeal to marketers lies in interaction with the tool. The longer a user plays with it, the more exposure there is to the brand.

If the words “Chevy Tahoe” comes to mind, your protective radar serves you well. ViTrue’s tool isn’t unlike what the automaker used in its “Create a Tahoe Commercial” contest, and we all know where that led. But according to ViTrue founder and CEO Reggie Bradford, his tool makes this approach to marketing about as safe as it can possibly be.

AdMixer features a review-and-approve module as part of the software licensing platform. When a new video comes into the cue, the brand or its agency can review it for appropriate content before giving it the green light to go live. The company goes one step further by only allowing the use of copy-protected content in such campaigns, which then only appears on the advertiser’s brand site and ViTrue’s video-sharing site Sharkle.

Currently, the demographic for user-generated advertising of this nature tends to skew young and male. But with more safeguards in place, a wider variety of brands are demonstrating a willingness to give it a try, thus expanding the market of potential users.

Are your clients and their customers among them?

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