There was a campaign a couple of years back for Holiday Inn Express in which ordinary people do jobs for which they are supremely unqualified—brain surgery, nuclear reactor maintenance etc.—and perform perfectly, thanks solely to a good night’s sleep.
In the real world, of course, this doesn’t happen—just ask Michael Brown, late head of FEMA. But we tend to forgive the hyperbole because, well, it’s advertising.
Advertising conceived, written, filmed and edited by professionals.
All of which makes the current rage to hand over the responsibility for the creation of advertising to the people being advertised to, very weird indeed.
Some seriously big-time advertisers are doing it, like Mastercard and Chevy. The thinking, I guess, is: everyone (that is, everyone under 30) is comfortable with the technology of content creation, so let them have at it. Let consumers “define the brands on their own terms” as the planners would say.
I would say: not so fast.
First of all, there’s a big difference between creating content and creating ads. People make mixes and movies and FaceBook shrines because it’s all about them, and it’s fun. Who’s going to spend quality time, on their own dime, creating something that, if it came from anybody else, they’d try to avoid?
People who are trying to become ad professionals, that’s who.
Or people looking to game the process with snarky sendups. Just ask Chevrolet, whose DIY Tahoe campaign resulted in a deluge of “Tahoe Sucks” ad parodies posted for public viewing.
Then there’s the peculiar spectacle of ad agencies charging clients hefty creative fees for the idea that consumers should supply the creative. That is, if I may say so, totally meta. Agencies are having a hard enough time justifying their existence. Acting like ten percenters for unpaid consumer creative honchos doesn’t help.
Finally, there’s the uncomfortably undemocratic fact that most consumer-generated ads suck. Most consumer-generated content in general sucks, but when it’s the movie of your life, or your girlfriend’s, who cares? When it’s a spot for Maalox, and it’s on TV, it’s a different story.
In the early 90s, as interactive technology emerged, industry executives imagined a future where consumers decided the crucial plot turns and outcomes of their favorite shows.
That didn’t happen, and you know why? Because we didn’t want to write our own shows. We wanted to leave it to the pros.
One of two alternate realities about creating effective advertising is true:
1. This is a professional discipline requiring real skills worth paying for.
2. Anyone can do it, and should.
I have to believe it’s No.1. Running “Fill in the blank” ads encourages clients to believe it’s No.2.