Don’t try this at home (on advertising & amateurs)

Cocreation Last post, I noted a problem with cocreation: that it makes marketing about the corporation, not about the consumer.

There is a second problem: advertising made by the consumer is often bad advertising. 

Exhibit A: The Doritos ads that debuted at the Superbowl

Exhibit B: the new Pepto Bismal ads.

These latter are really horrible, like the worst, most embarrassing outtakes from American Idol.  (And this is no doubt the point.  Advertising wants to occupy any new niche created by contemporary culture, especially when it can be played comically.) The PB ads direct us to a website where we may operate the Pepto-Bismal Dance machine…and this is so bad as to invite the suspicion of deep cynicism or new media incompetence.

Not all ads made by consumers are awful.  The Converse spots were interesting.  The Tahoe ads were, I thought, wonderful, because they found a way to let new voices and messages into the ad world. 

It looks like we are forgetting 2 things:

1) marketing is about the consumer, not the corporation

2) advertising is exceedingly hard to do well.  There’s a reason why we have professionals.

Bad advertising is never OK.  Even when it comes from "the people."  The only thing that consumers dislike more than being excluded from the production of popular culture is bad popular culture.  (They will forgive you the first.  They will NEVER forgive you the second.)  Even very gifted creatives and planners have a hard time making great advertising.  What makes us think that rank amateurs have anything to offer? 

Andrew Keen was wrong on every particular, except perhaps this one: Amateurs are sometimes pretty hopeless.  Don’t get me wrong.  I accept what Keen does not:

    Consumer-created content is out there.

    It will change our culture.

    It will change our advertising. 

    Culture and commerce will cohabit here too.

But it’s not clear to me we want to make a direct, unmediated connection.  I don’t think we want consumers making ads directly.  Not when we have trained professionals standing by.


Keen, Andrew.  2007.  The Cult of the Amateur.  New York: Doubleday. 

McCracken, Grant. 2006.  Chevy Cocreation.  This blogs sits at the intersection of anthropology and economics.  April 25, 2006.  here.

McCracken, Grant.  2007.  Cocreation and the real objectives of marketing.  This blog sits at the intersection of anthropology and economics.  September 21, 2007. here.

Post script:

Clearly these are early days and we are still working on the model(s) that will bring cultural producers and consumers together in more egalitarian, participative, cooperative relationships.  Rob Walker proposes one such models, suggesting that we call this process not cocreation, but copromotion. 

Walker, Rob.  2007. Amateur Hour, Web Style. Issue 119.  October.  p. 87.  here.

9 thoughts on “Don’t try this at home (on advertising & amateurs)

  1. Tom Guarriello

    I think most of the consumer-created ads are a front by corporations to make it appear that they have begun having an engaged “conversation” with people.

    They have not.

    The point is to connect with people about things that are important to them and to the company; how they live and how the things/services/experiences the company sells fit into those lives.

    Having “regular people” make ads may look hip, but, to me, it’s a scam.

  2. Graham Hill


    I agree with Tom.

    Most corporations are interested in themselves and their products, rather than customers and their outcomes. So most marketing is still by the corporation for the corporation, even when it appears to be by customers for other customers.

    Of course, most marketing of established products is by customers for customers through word of mouth recommendation. But professional marketers are generally not party to these conversations.

    The challenge seems to be in integrating inside-out corporate communications with outside-outside customer conversations. Having great products that everyone likes to talk about helps, but sadly that is generally outside the remit of the CMO.

    Graham Hill
    Independent Marketing Consultant
    Interim Marketing Manager

  3. Edward Cotton

    I think the consumer-generated ad fad is coming to a close. Agencies want to re-assert their creative prowess, especially in the light of such visible consumer creativity on sites like You Tube.

    Of course, they are better and that can be partly explained by having better tools and bigger budgets.

    As Graham and Tom highlight above, what happens next?

    Are companies moving on from having consumers engaged in their marketing or can they embrace the idea and engage them in non ad areas?

    Getting consumers to make ads is an easy way of appearing to be closer, the other stuff is much harder. One interesting example is Dell- they have made a move in this direction with Ideastorm.

  4. MEL

    I will offer an analogy from my own experience: improvisational comedy.

    Most audiences will forgive “bad” comedy when it is improvised. They realize that the actors are making it up on the spot, so the expectation is lowered. That’s why when something brilliant, or just plain funny, actually happens, the audience is delighted. Try putting improv on a TV screen? The audience is bored. The bad bits just seem bad. (Yes, there is “Who’s Line Is It Anyway.” They tape twice as much as they show. It’s all in the editing, kids.)

    Likewise, our expectations for “amateur” and “professional” ads vary.

  5. Fabrizio

    Cocreation is really a hot topic and many companies are willing to engage customers in some sort of activity or other related to the brand or the product. In Italy, the launch of FIAT cinquecento new edition was based on all sort of efforts to have customers co-create the product outfit, the communication, etc. Results are positive: the product was modified in some aspects to better please the customer, and most of the web campaign was based on direct contribution of the customer. Probably the most difficult part of the marketing effort to coproduce is advertising, since it is the most “company owned” communication tool. Advertising is hardly ever democratic, it is the company stating in the most autoritative way what its brand and products stand for and calling customers to simply adopt or reject the cultural model proposed. The experiences of open source advertising I have monitored recently are the less successful examples of customer engagement and cocreation…But, hey, do folksonomies really need advertising, after all?

  6. kathy

    A little off topic, but where did you get the picture and how do you see its connection to co-creation?

  7. kathy

    A little off topic, but where did you get the picture and how do you see its connection to co-creation?

  8. kathy

    A little off topic, but where did you get the picture and how do you see its connection to co-creation?

  9. Mary Walker

    Hi Grant – playing catch-up on my blog reading.

    Per the issues of co-creation and companies making it “all about them”: FWIW, here’s some related info from the world of online media fandom:

    In recent years, some of the media companies (or their intermediaries) have provided opportunities for fans to submit their fan work for “official” corporate use — ie “send us your best story and we may select it to use as a script, lucky you!” etc.

    The response from many fans/consumers is negative. The typical comment is 1) that this is just a way for companies to get stories on the cheap and not have to pay real salaries to professional script writers, and 2) it’s insulting when companies patronize fans by talking about “contests” where your fanwork is “accepted” as “good enough” for pro use. The goal of most fan work is *not* to meet pro standards (such as they are), to get published, etc, and to make that assumption is to show ignorance of the community. (Note that this is different from some of the current UGC, where some people *are* actively flacking themselves and their work in order to get famous for 15 minutes, get a TV deal out of it, etc).

    There’s also annoyance among fans that companies are barging into fan-centric communities/activities and trying to take over/coopt. As you say, it’s about the consumer (not about the company). Some fans get frustrated that some media companies don’t understand that just because fans love a particular movie or TV show, it doesn’t mean those fans give a hoot about MegaCorp Media. MegaCorp Media, in many fans’ minds, is a necessary evil and should behave as inobtrusively as possible towards its consumers.

    I figure there may be some lessons here for corporations in other industries who are approaching their customers for UGC….

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