15 Streams Of Fame

The whole consumer-generated content space is buzzing right now—and for good reason. Marketers are intrigued; agencies are perturbed; media sellers or publishers are concerned—and rightly so.

I am proud to have dedicated a chapter to “CGC” in my book, Life After the 30-Second Spot (Wiley/Adweek), as one of the 10 approaches transforming the marketing communications landscape. What I am not proud of, however, is the industry’s abysmal interpretation, application and utilization of consumers as co-creationist partners, contributors and all-around muses.

I’m a sucker for semantics. In this particular case, I tend to focus on the word “content” as opposed to “media” or even “advertising.”

The folks over at Chevy found out the hard way the difference between CGC (content) and CGM (media) or CGA (advertising). They also helped expose the neurosis, paranoia and acute confusion surrounding what is arguably the most exciting development in our troubled space for some time.

Consumers (like sisters) are doing for themselves, because quite frankly, we aren’t doing it for them. They’re showing us up—and by us, I refer to anyone loosely charged with communicating, connecting or conversing with consumers—by producing the kinds of “engaging” (there I said it) creations that are truly capable of informing, persuading and reminding … but moreover most likely to be tagged, mashed and shared.

Don’t blame me

Don’t shoot this messenger, but rather direct your complaints to one Steve Jobs, who essentially democratized the business of creativity when he allowed ordinary consumers to become extraordinary producers. iMovie (and all the other i’s) is really that easy and the resultant productions are really that good.

So let’s get back to the question of the day, why do they do it? What motivates the man or woman in the street to get into the biz, so to speak? Surely, if we understand it, we can better leverage it? (I’ll come back to this shortly.)

To answer this, I’ll begin with the easy explanation—the two F’s: fame ‘n’ fortune. Getting noticed; getting recognized or acknowledged; getting praised; getting talked about is reason enough to dabble in CGC. Today, every consumer is capable of getting his 15 posts or 15 streams of fame (certainly in the social media space).

Another reason is even more obvious: to get hired. I spend a lot of time trying to understand the business model (if any) around the CGC space. In a previous blog post, I questioned the act of paying consumers to create potential brand advertising and whether this was a viable, scalable and sustainable business model. I was rebuked by a student who explained—speaking on behalf of all students everywhere—that getting hired was a major motivator for younger, hungrier, ambitious and unemployed types, and the pocket money didn’t exactly hurt either.

It’s also a great opportunity for the same constituency that is under the most threat by CGC, namely advertising creatives, to jump on the bandwagon and use CGC to produce a slew of spec work in the hopes of getting hired themselves. Remember Lee & Dan and their delightful little Ode to Terrorism (sponsored by Volkswagen)?

The third motivator is a little more complex and without question harder to grasp: actualization. Yep, you’d have to head to the top of old Maslow’s hierarchy to realize that consumers are doing because they can … and the actual act of creating and thereby expressing oneself is reason enough to be forever changing the mix of content from a once-publisher-dominated arena to one that is strongly consumer flavored.

So, what should you do about it?

The first answer and perhaps the best answer is this: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Start by observing, listening and learning. Stop bastardizing everything natural, pure and uncompromised with your desire to control, sell and essentially infest with your plethora of ad dollars searching in vain for a new home.

Take a one-way trip to YouTubeLand and immerse yourself in the ultimate cathartic experience.

Second, practice what you (hope to) practice. Do it yourself before doing it yourselves. When last did you create a viral video that was not attached to “budget” (and therefore, objectives, limitations, terms, conditions, metrics, etc.)?

Thirdly, stop selling. I know that might sound a bit difficult for anyone in the business of selling, but this is a soft sell. This is a simple one-two promise: do it right and the rest will follow.

So who’s doing a great job right now? I think Adam Curry and his Merry Podcasters are having a lot of fun with early adopters like Earthlink (do a search for “Earthlink ad challenge”). But is it selling ISP subscriptions, you ask. I’m not sure I know or care. I have a feeling Adam will let us know, though.

American Express is another player with its 15-second “My Life. My Card” consumer-driven initiative, which ironically or not, layers beautifully on top of a foundation that expressly required a mainstream or traditional, video-heavy campaign to set the scene, add the context and manage expectations accordingly.

The CGC space is certainly not going away anytime soon. Consumers are only going to continue (increasingly so) expressing themselves anyway they know how. You would do well to join their conversation on their terms. You might even have fun doing it and sell some product along the way.