Busted: Another "Consumer-Generated Ad" Myth

Exhale, Madison Avenue. Uninitiated content-generating user masses are yet to create a winning Super Bowl spot.

In its predictable "Do-It-Yourself Super Ads" piece, NY Times writes about the effectiveness of home-brewed Super Bowl spots:

"Be afraid, Madison Avenue. Be very afraid. That seems to be the message in the aftermath of the crowded, frenetic advertising bowl that took place inside Super Bowl XLIV on Sunday. Among those commercials consistently deemed most effective, memorable and talked-about, many were created or suggested by consumers — or produced internally by the sponsors — rather than the work of agency professionals."

Exhibit A: Doritos' "House Rules". Exhibit B: Doritos' "Underdog". According to the paper, both spots did well in a variety of surveys and polls. The obligatory soundbite illustrates the teaching moment: "Consumers seem to know best what other consumers will like to watch in the "unique" ad environment of the Super Bowl."

And they probably do. Only the paper fails to mention that Joshua Svoboda, the 24-year-old guy who reportedly created "Underdog" for $200 and ended up with $600K in prize money works as a creative director. A guy who works with him at 5 Point Productions had won another Doritos' contest in 2007.  Which is not to say that the dudes didn't do a great job but, you know, the story would've been that much stronger if it were the other Joshua Svoboda, an electrical engineer.

And the guy who did "House Rules"? He is a "writer, director, producer & editor" in Hollywood.

The two Herbert brothers who won Doritos' "Crash the Super Bowl" contest the year before had been "building their Transit Films business".

The five finalists in 2007 were a short-film director, a musician, the same Herbert brothers, the same 5 Point Productions, and an aspiring filmmaker Billy Federighi who also had won a similar contest by Converse that ran the previous year and who was subsequently contracted by Leo Burnett.  (In 2008, the contest ran in a different format with Doritos looking for a music performer.)

The winner of Heinz's 2008 "UGC" contest - a director, producer, photographer and editor.  Amazon's 2009 contest winner - a pro photographer (awesome work, too). This list goes on.

There are a lot of things agencies should be worrying about -- like, what happens if clients start budgeting $200 for spot production after reading the Times.  Or that there's a lot of great talent outside of the usual ad hubs hungry for a piece of the pie. Or that they aren't hiring these guys as freelancers or contractors. But the whole "random consumers are taking over Mad Ave" myth isn't one of them.

Flashback: in a 2007 story on the same subject, a different Times reporter wrote: "Ad agencies and brand marketers are still doing much of the legwork. Heinz and Doritos spent months planning their user-generated contests, hiring lawyers to vet them and designing advertisements to promote them. Then they assigned employees to wade through entries."