Bad ad fad

Tomorrow’s New York Times features an amusing article on how H.J. Heinz’s foray into user-generated advertising is backfiring. The company is holding a big YouTube contest to get people to create video advertisements for its ketchup. But the entries are almost universally crappy, the contest is generating ill-will among some in the target audience, and the company is actually spending more than it would have if it had just hired an ad agency to put together a campaign.

Turns out, that’s par for the course. The companies that have jumped onto the user-generated-ad bandwagon “have found that inviting consumers to create their advertising is often more stressful, costly and time-consuming than just rolling up their sleeves and doing the work themselves. Many entries are mediocre, if not downright bad, and sifting through them requires full-time attention. And even the most well-known brands often spend millions of dollars upfront to get the word out to consumers.”

To add insult to injury, the worst ads (from the advertiser’s perspective) tend to be the ones that become most popular on YouTube. One of the most-watched Heinz ads “ends with a close-up of a mouth with crooked, yellowed teeth.” The Times reporter quotes the reaction of a viewer: “Were his teeth the result of, maybe, too much Heinz?”

8 thoughts on “Bad ad fad

  1. Seth Finkelstein

    Ah, but I’m sure the response will be: “Company, you needed to HIRE AN A-LISTER, to show you the right way to do it!”.

    The idea isn’t that the company puts up a fence and people just come by and paint it. Instead, the company gives painting-evangelist Tom Sawyer a big consulting contract, since “Painting Is Conversation”. And he goes around saying “Professional painters need to be knocked off their elitist perch! LET’S SHOW THEM *CITIZEN-PAINTERS* CAN DO IT! Working for free will ring in the new era of community fence-painting”. And then he appoints a few of the bossier power-trippers to be “supervisors”, to watch over the rest, and sends out the most deluded to talk to the media that “we’re here to do abstract art”.

    *That’s* the recipe for unpaid labor, I mean, “user-generated content”.

  2. Meelar

    “To add insult to injury, the worst ads (from the advertiser’s perspective) tend to be the ones that become most popular on YouTube.”

    I find this somewhat encouraging

  3. Nick Carr

    Meelar: Now that you mention it, so do I. In fact, it makes me realize that the money companies are spending on judging the entries is entirely wasted. All they need to do is find the ones that receive the fewest YouTube viewings – those will be the winners. Nick

  4. John Koetsier

    Of course, Heinz has a long and successful track record of involving people, creating communities, inspiring passion, and including people in their marketing and product development.

    The more interesting question, Nick, is whether this approach to advertising is working for companies that genuinely engage with users/clients as a matter of course, and not just because they read a book and got excited and tried to take BigOldFashionedMegaCorp into the heady and exciting world of web 2.0.

  5. Bertil

    Oddly enough, I haven’t seen anything about Heinz and Senator Kerry (his wife being a shareholder, etc.): that “patriotic ketchup” thing was great marketing.

    Regarding User-generated ads: they are not free-labor, obviously; like with the Tahoe, they allow viewers to make a point. Then it was: “we hate your gas-guzzling tanks”; it seems now that people said they want unsavoury ads, even for family-friendly product. The whole process does not encourage “better” as in more-efficient-by-the-book ads, but ask new questions: shouldn’t you see the sauce more, isn’t the color essential, don’t you have corporate responsibilities, what about sterilization of media through repeating the out-dated family dinner scene? I don’t think there is a price tag for that— and I don’t think Heinz should have spend so much on viewing those ads, neither on promoting a campaign that was promoting itself.

Comments are closed.