Amateur advertisers get a chance

Amateur advertisers get a chance

By Laura Petrecca, USA TODAYTue Mar 28, 6:35 AM ET

Companies are turning to Average Joes and Janes to create the kind of cutting-edge advertising that will keep audiences interested in – and interacting with – their brands.

Converse, Sony Electronics and MasterCard are among those soliciting fresh advertising ideas and finished commercials directly from consumers, not just the hot ad boutiques of Madison Avenue.

The best of this do-it-yourself advertising will run on TV, the Web and other mediums.

Advertisers who say traditional TV and print ads have increasingly lost their sway, now see engaging the consumer as the holy grail of selling products.

They're no longer satisfied with just reaching the masses or goosing the recall of aspects of their products, says Bob Liodice, president of the Association of National Advertisers. It's about a more intimate bond with a potential buyer, he says.

While customer input harkens to the early days of jingle-writing contests, today's level of interaction is unprecedented. "The consumer is picking and choosing the things they want to invite into their lives," Liodice says.

Computer-savvy consumers, many already crafting personalized webpages, blogs and streaming videos, have the ability to make near professional-level commercials.

"More and more people are picking up their cameras and becoming creative," says Anne Zehren, president of sales and marketing at Al Gore's youth-oriented channel Current TV.

Current TV teamed with Sony Electronics in a major make-your-own-ad endeavor, recruiting viewers to submit videos for products ranging from the Sony Walkman to the Handycam.

The videos can be uploaded on current.tv. After ads are cleared of profanity or violence, they are posted on the site. The best spots, as judged by Sony, Current TV and a viewer poll, will air on the network. Their creators earn $1,000 each.

Current TV, which targets 18- to 34-year-olds, will launch similar ad programs with Toyota and L'Oreal in the next few weeks.

The rise of do-it-yourself advertising not only offers ordinary folks a chance at marketing glory, it gives aspiring film and TV professionals a way to flex their creative muscles.

For the Current TV promotion, 19-year-old Tyson Ibele submitted a mock Sony ad that he created while employed as an animator at MAKE, a small Minneapolis visual effects firm. That commercial uses 3-D graphics to show Sony products morphing into new forms, a la Transformer robots.

Ibele, whose long-term goal is to be a character animator at a studio such as Pixar, says the contest gave him the chance "to get buzz out for myself and this company."

Ibele is now finishing up an ad for a similar contest for Mozilla's Firefox Web browser. Firefox's contest has received about 100 submissions so far.

While consumer-created advertising is on the rise, Madison Avenue producers shouldn't fear for their jobs – at least, not yet. These ads are still a small slice in the overall onslaught of marketing messages. And, many marketers have enlisted their ad agencies to coordinate – and sometimes oversee – the consumer-generated ad contests.

Other using DIY include:

•Converse. An early adopter of consumer-generated ads, Nike-owned Converse has received more than 1,500 commercial entries since it launched its program two years ago.

So far, about 50 entries have made it onto TV channels, such as MTV, while more than 80 are viewable on a Converse Gallery on the Web.

Consumers whose ads air on TV are paid $10,000, while those whose ads are selected for the Web earn $1,000. The company, which created the campaign with ad agency Butler Shine Stern & Partners, touches up the color and sound on the ads it receives, but other than that, they run as is, says Erick Soderstrom, Converse's senior director of global marketing.

•Ban. The Kao-owned deodorant brand recruited teen girls to upload a photo, along with a corresponding expression, about something they would like to ban. For instance, one person submitted a picture of an exit sign along with the phrase "ban the easy way out."

Ban received more than 4,600 submissions through its website, narrowed that pool to 50, and asked the girls to go online and vote for their favorite nine.

The winning entries became a print ad that ran in last week's US Weekly magazine. "This campaign is about giving the girls control," says Steve Thibodeau, managing partner at Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, the advertising agency that created the campaign.

•MasterCard. The company asked consumers to play the role of advertising copywriter in the next evolution of its "Priceless" campaign, which names a product or service, along with its corresponding price.

This time around, MasterCard shows two different vague storylines – including one in which a man is sitting at a desk in a field with a typewriter – and asks consumers to complete the ad by filling in blanks that appear on the screen.

Consumers are directed to Priceless.com to fill in the missing phrases.

The winning submission will run as a TV spot in the third quarter of this year.

Since its March 5 launch, MasterCard has received more than 32,000 entries. In the first 10 days of the contest, its website had 14 times the typical traffic, says Amy Fuller, MasterCard's head of marketing for the Americas.

"Consumer fragmentation of media has been a grueling reality for the last several years," Fuller says. "Increasingly, as a marketer, you must find ways to connect more strongly and be more engaging than your competitors."

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