At Cannes: Madison Avenue wants you!

At Cannes: Madison Avenue wants you! 

CANNES, France — Kristin Dehnert took several weeks off last fall from her work scouting locations for commercials to create four videos for Doritos' make-your-own-ad contest.

Why she put her day job on hold: The winning videos would air during the Super Bowl, advertising's big event. It is, says Dehnert, "the Mack Daddy of all stages."


The payoff: Her quirky "Checkout Girl" beat more than 1,000 entries to be one of two shown in the Feb. 4 broadcast. "It's a Cinderella story," says Dehnert, 38.

In an ad created by an amateur, a friendly cashier discusses her customer's wide-ranging choice of Doritos products.
Commercial created by Kristin Dehnert
In an ad created by an amateur, a friendly cashier discusses her customer's wide-ranging choice of Doritos products.

Californian Lindsay Miller created an ad for Dove Cream Oil that ran during the 2007 Oscars.
Lindsay Miller
Californian Lindsay Miller created an ad for Dove Cream Oil that ran during the 2007 Oscars.


Frito-Lay got a fairytale ending, too. Visitors to its Crash the Super Bowl website, which is still up, have viewed the Doritos-touting entries close to 4 million times. News coverage of the contest added millions of dollars' worth of free publicity.

Such success and the continuing huge popularity of video-sharing sites such as YouTube have a crush of marketers crowding onto the "consumer-generated advertising" bandwagon.

Most of the ad sharing is online, though Unilever also aired a contest winner in the Academy Awards. Among the most recent marketers to solicit consumer video: Heinz, L'Oréal, travel site and even the National Sunflower Association.

In theory, consumer-generated advertising seems a no-brainer. Just ask people to upload favorable videos about a brand, offer a modest reward and watch the funny/clever/touching entries roll in. Then others view them and spread the word.

In other words: Get your customers to market for you.

The strategy is dirt cheap compared with producing professional commercials and buying TV ad blocks.

More than that, it offers the new holy grail of advertising: consumer "engagement." That's marketing-speak for enticing people to get involved with a brand and build buzz with others.

David Ciesinski, who manages the ketchup business for H.J. Heinz, says the quest for engagement drove Heinz's make-your-own-ketchup-ad contest in which the winner will get $57,000.

The contestants "buy the (ketchup) bottles, take the time to shoot the ad … and then send it to 10 friends," he says. "We're getting exactly what we want."

Cheap is not free

What many marketers have found, however, is that getting what you want may not be as easy or as cheap as it sounds — even if you don't go all-out like Frito-Lay and buy Super Bowl time, which sold for up to $2.6 million per 30-second slot, to show off your winners.

Frito-Lay's first surprise was an onslaught of entries. It expected a few hundred; it got more than 1,000. It also had to field a stream of questions from contestants and potential entrants.

"The (Crash the Super Bowl) team spent weeks without sleep to get this together," says spokesman Jared Dougherty.

Do-it-yourself ads can raise legal issues. Frito-Lay assigned a lawyer to the contest.

Then there's the cold reality of user-generated video: A lot of the submissions stink.

"You have to wade through a lot of crap before you get to the gems," says Greg Stern, CEO of ad agency Butler Shine Stern & Partners, which helped Converse get consumer ads in 2004.

Perhaps the biggest risk, however, is off-brand or even hostile entries. Heinz got one in which a guy brushes his teeth with ketchup. When Chevrolet last year launched a do-it-yourself promotion for its Tahoe SUV, environmentalists created "ads" that bashed it as a gas-guzzler and global-warming hazard.

Chevy says marketers have to accept a mixed bag.

"It's not going to be all rosy content," says spokesman Terry Rhadigan. "Ours was a little easier target since there were those who weren't in favor of a full-size SUV.

"But someone can always find a reason to rip on the brands of America."

10 things to make homemade ads work

Despite the risks, consumer-generated advertising is among the hot topics this week at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival — the industry's biggest annual trade and awards show. Among winners in the competition this week: Frito-Lay, with a Gold Lion for the Doritos promotion, and Unilever, with a Bronze for its Academy Awards contest.

The effectiveness of consumer-generated ads and their impact on the industry also will be discussed here today by a panel of experts sponsored by USA TODAY.

Here, according to the collective wisdom of more than a dozen marketing gurus, are 10 keys to making consumer ad promotions work:

1: Do your homework.

Some brands have a head start in consumer interest; others will have to plan and work harder.

Before Heinz launched its contest, it did an online "litmus test," Ciesinski says. "The first thing we did is Google and YouTube searches … to see if there were people out there using ketchup in home videos. The answer was a resounding yes."

Among them: a teen doing magic tricks with ketchup. "We saw that our consumers were already engaging with our brand without us even asking them to. That gave us a fair amount of confidence."

2: Get a good lawyer.

Amateur ads pose legal risks, such as copyright and trademark infringement claims, false advertising charges, defamation claims and privacy issues, says Brian Heidelberger, a partner at law firm Winston & Strawn. "There are lots of ways that you can protect yourself," he says, including proper disclaimers, rules agreements and privacy policies.

3: Offer carrots.

Getting a large pool of videos takes incentives.

Unilever appealed to filmmaker ego for its Dove Cream Oil contest this year by promising to air the winner on the Oscars. "You can't ask consumers to play unless you have something of value to offer them," says Babs Rangaiah, Unilever's director of media and entertainment.

It doesn't have to be so grand, however. The National Sunflower Association's contest at attracted 55 sunflower seed-touting videos with T-shirts and a top prize of $10,000.

4: Let your audience play, too.

Getting the videos is great, but the real payoff is in getting a crowd to view them and tell others.

"The scarcity is people's attention and their willingness to pass it on," says Max Kalehoff, vice president of marketing at Nielsen BuzzMetrics, which tracks consumer-generated content on the Web.

Among ways to involve viewers and increase buzz: Let them rate the videos and pick winners; let them post comments; include a "send to a friend" button for easy sharing; and add "post this video" capability for bloggers to add it to their sites.

5: Be easy to find.

A key way is to buy contest-related terms from search companies so the link will appear every time the term is typed in a query.

Heinz bought about 400 key words, Ciesinski says. Thus, Google searches for "Heinz," "ketchup contest" or just plain "ketchup" are among those that bring up a sponsored link to the contest site.

It also helps to tout the promotion on sites where videophiles hang out. The sunflower group posted video about the contest that linked to its home page on sites such as YouTube and Google Video.

6: Woo would-be Scorseses.

Be sure folks with video or ad skills get the word. Converse and Doritos pitched their contests at film schools. "You seed it with people who are more interested and experienced with the medium," says Stern, who worked with Converse. "Then it will travel beyond that."

7: Keep it simple.

The technology must be fun, not frustrating.

Unilever made that a priority for its site. "We went out of our way to make sure the tools were as simple as possible," says media director Rangaiah. "A bad consumer experience is the last thing you want for the brand."

Nike had only one rule when it asked consumers last summer for video of soccer players passing the ball: The ball must enter from the left of the frame and exit to the right.

Passion for soccer — and video — brought an avalanche that Nike spliced into a 2½-hour video posted online called Chain. Says Stefan Olander, Nike global director of digital media: "To get 40,000 submissions, we've tapped into something."

8: Make it a conversation.

A blog, dedicated e-mail or call center lets consumers get timely answers to questions about the DIY ad promotion.

"Once you open yourself up for comment and contribution, you have to maintain that (communication) after the fact. You have to have a willingness to listen," says BuzzMetrics' Kalehoff. "You have to respond to e-mails — and an auto-reply doesn't count."

9: Lay down the law.

Most people will abide by guidelines for the ads, if they are clear.

A MasterCard promotion that had consumers fill in the blanks for their own "Priceless" commercials was an easy target for off-color content. Yet, "Of the 100,000 submissions, less than 200 were deemed inappropriate," Cheryl Guerin, promotions vice president, said at a recent consumer-generated ad conference from the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

10: Then let go.

Once the trigger is pulled, marketers have to take what they get. In the best case, along with a bevy of brand-building ads will be some that pan the product — and some that are just weird.

"Consumers having a voice is here to stay," says Frito-Lay marketing vice president Ann Mukherjee. "Marketers need to be genuine in terms of truly letting them be a participant, listening to them and letting them have the control or voice they wish to have."

Even if they make you wonder. Doritos got a bevy of bizarre entries, including one involving a bare-chested guy dunked in a bathtub of chips and chowing down.

Contributing: Theresa Howard

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