Thursday, April 29, 2010

Previewing The Crowd-Sourced Ad World

At this week's Media Magazine Outfront Conference, keynoter and Current TV Chairman Al Gore teased the audience with an offshoot of Current TV he called "Crowd-sourced TV." Without revealing much detail about the upcoming project, Gore suggested that the new service would leverage user-generated content in ways we haven't seen before to work with marketers, perhaps in crafting and distributing their messages. "What if we let them create content and the advertising," Gore said.

In fact they already are democratizing video ad production. Gore showed clips from a recent user-generated video campaign for Frito-Lay SunChips. Current TV and Frito Lay challenged viewers to create their own ad that highlighted a new biodegradable chip bag. They used the long-running Current TV VCAM program (Viewer-Created Ad Message) which offers viewers a marketing "assignment" they can execute with media assets from the company and submit for judging. In this case Gore himself chose the winner, a stop-action video called "Little Steps." 25-year-old Brooklynite Heather Kramer made the clever piece, which shows a Sun Chips bag making its own way from a trash can to a backyard compost heap. The spot will air on Current TV and live on the network and Sun Chips' sites. They also singled out three other spots, each of which will get $5,000 for their spot.

While Gore was playing it pretty coy at the Outfronts, we imagine his Crowdsourced TV concept will be something more along the lines of VCAM and the idea that even advertising now can be collaborative with the audiences it is designed to persuade.

Which can invite into the marketer's thinking a weird new ad aesthetic.

As you can see from the winning video below, it has the charm of a well-crafted film school project. The narrator is expressive but just flat enough not to feel professional. Like user-generated blog posts involving branded consumer goods there is a fine line here between pitching a product and earnestness. It helps of course that in Sun Chips case it is promoting a message of sustainability that a consumer can get behind. But it is curious to look over some of the other top entries and see how the forced amateurishness of professional advertising is somehow colliding with the enhanced professionalism of amateur work. Some professional spots are made to look child-like, and now the homegrown videos are appropriating that mock-amateurishness in order to give the ad a polished and familiar "official" look. Yeah, the logic gets a little thorny here in Crowdsource-land.

Some of these entrants are so well-made they lose the authenticity that user-generated media is supposed to carry.

Or perhaps that isn't even the point, either. Is crowdsourced advertising about getting real voices and real visions into marketing? If so then retaining authenticity becomes part of the art even as professional and amateur tool sets become indistinguishable.
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