May 23rd 2014

Is user generated content in advertising the ultimate in brand advocacy?

by Martin O'Toole

This week in the US, Coke launched what's being hailed as 'the world's first TV ad made completely with user generated content'. The ad was produced by W+K and was made up of short videos filmed on the fly by real customers/brand advocates, whereby Coke asked the question: "What does it feel like when you take a sip of Coke?" And thus, the 'AHH Effect' ad was born...

Whilst the slight advertising cynic in me wonders whether there are a few rather contrived elements to the content, one has to temper that with the notion that hardcore Coke fans really would do all sorts of crazy shit for the chance to be in a TV ad with such a hugely potential reach. As you'll see, the ad is fast, fun and pretty real. But is this the first time user generated content has been used in advertising?

In fact, the Coke ad took me back to last Christmas (2013) and Sainsbury's 'Christmas in a Day' ad, which was produced by Scott Free Films and Ridley Scott Associates, whom you may likely recall produced the utterly awesome 'Life in a Day'. The series of short ads for Sainsbury's was also made up of user generated video content.

Regardless of who did it first, what I love about both pieces (Coke and Sainsbury's) is the use of real people, simply being alive and honest - no script, no plot and no director - just ad-lib fun in front of the camera - all on behalf of a brand - all aiding the brands to tell a real and true story about themselves by way of persona association (with real humans), without the need for contrived scripts, storyboards - and of course - interruptive marketing messages. The consumers who took part in these productions are, without doubt, true brand advocates (especially in the case of Coke).

So is user generated content in advertising the ultimate in brand advocacy?

Brand Storytelling

Part of the mission now for brands is to bring brand advocacy to life. This is an important part of brand storytelling. Though I can't decide whether the phrase 'brand storytelling' has had its day already. As with every digital marketing buzzword nowadays, someone creates a phrase in a blog, then everyone (me included!) takes the ball and runs with it - and oh wow, 'brand storytelling' is without doubt, one of those phrases. But what is it and is the concept in any way innovative in today's marketing? Whilst I fully accept that brand storytelling means very different things to different people; to me, it's as simple as defining the story of your brand. But this is multi-layered and thus requires layer upon layer of content (specific to your defined personas) which, together, builds a clear, consistent and engaging story about your brand. You might argue "isn't that just integrated marketing?". In essence, yes it is. Though for me, brand storytelling is an integration of tactics designed to gain permission to market to customers, rather than to advertise at them. I suppose that's the whole point in brand storytelling - engage with your customers by truly understanding what it is they actually want to see and hear from your brand.

The Inbound Marketing Funnel

Every inbound or content marketing model - regardless of how detailed - is made up similar stages. Whilst I'm aware that I've used Hubspot's diagram in a previous blog, it really is the most simple in order to demonstrate my thinking. In fact, if it were turned on its side, it would work better as a sales funnel - whereby brands can guide their prospects through different stages - beginning with attracting them - then ultimately they pop out of the end as delighted customers.


Content Marketing Methodology

Content (or inbound) marketing begins with the simple premise that in order to engage with today's consumers, brands must have (quality) content - both on and off their sites. The offsite content opportunity provides what Google refers to as 'the Zero Moment of Truth' - the point at which a consumer reaches for their mobile or desktop device in order to thoroughly research a product or service they're interested in. The process ends at what Google refers to as 'the Second Moment of Truth' - the customers' brand experience. The brand experience is the point of opportunity when it comes to user generated content. And in the case of Coke, it's all about user generated video content. And whilst written reviews and photo posts etc. are undoubtedly powerful in terms of brand advocacy, it could easily be argued that video is in fact the most powerful. Why? Simple! It's all-encompassing. It allows viewers to see, hear and feel the content on a far deeper emotional level. Some video content can be compelling for its instructive nature its emotional nature. As humans, we naturally engage with content on an emotional level, and if that content is real life - made up of real people - then it is bound to engage us further than content which is more overtly contrived in nature. So all we need do then is give our brand advocates a platform or mechanic to share this content. But technology only goes so far...

You Need a Creative Wrapper

So you have a selection of happy customers and a way to get to them via the miracle of technology, in order to ask them if they'd mind sharing their brand experience via video. But is that enough? Well, yes and no. In reality, you may need to do a little brand storytelling of your own in order to get them on board. This could be done in the simplest form by wrapping the whole piece up in a creative campaign. Enter 'The AHH Effect'.


An integrated campaign (brand story) designed to wrap the whole concept up. In essence, a huge content campaign all around how drinking Coke makes you feel. Pretty snazzy huh? And LOADS of fun. AHH.COM is a purpose-built content hub - stuffed with games, music and user generated content (including the content from the TV ad). It's a really smart combination of emotional links back to the brand - all wrapped up neatly in 'The AHH Effect' creative campaign. It's a smart blend of brand and digital. No wonder the fans jumped at the chance to make videos as part of it. So what are you waiting for? Go grab a fistful of happy customers; give them a creative platform on which to shout about your brand, a loose brief as to what you need them to do - then craft what comes back into an engaging and (hopefully) hugely influential part of your next content campaign. I'd write more, but I've become addicted to the 'MPC AHH' Hip-Hop Jam creator...

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