UGC Plants Seeds of Change

LOS ANGELES New Line Cinema’s evp, interactive marketing and Vitrue’s vp, market development mixed it up on the strategy and liability of user-generated content, the wisdom of viral “seeding” and agency proficiency with digital at the Social Media Consumer-Brand Mashup at Adweek‘s Creative Conference: Mashup 2007.

When asked if agencies were ready for digital marketing, New Line’s Gordon Paddison flatly said no. Paddison said that as the business model for digital marketing efforts continues to evolve toward deriving revenue and becomes more expensive to integrate, execute and measure, it will become increasingly difficult to sell marketing programs to clients and corporate executives without better metrics.

As an example, Paddison said that despite the millions of participants who uploaded photos of themselves to “appear” in New Line’s “Crash the Trailer” program for Wedding Crashers, no one could “quantify that engagement level. No one knew or could determine the metrics for that level of brand affinity and personal engagement with the brand. So you can’t go to the CEO and say x equals y. That poses a problem on a consistent basis.”

Vitrue’s Gloria Griessman said that in representing brands that have been cautious or skeptical about digital marketing, she is seeing a transition in the agency world to better metrics and quantifying of results, but agreed with the need for progress on the client side. “People are struggling with what they are supposed to do or should be trying to get out of digital marketing,” she said.

Paddison described the success of several New Line movie-marketing efforts, including a user-generated response to the release of The Notebook, in which a large number of mostly women made mashups involving the soundtrack and video elements. Paddison’s Snakes on the Plane program anticipated 50,000 to 60,000 “personalized” phone calls from Samuel L. Jackson, but garnered 4.5 million, topping his budget. A new push for the Will Farrell comedy Semi-Pro will go a step further, Paddison said, with hundreds of actual phone calls from Farrell coming from a trailer and broadcast campaign in which the star repeats a 1-800 number.

Paddison revealed a new media technique for the upcoming Golden Compass. Building upon an earlier phase of the campaign, in which a Myers-Briggs-like personality test online let users create downloadable “spirit daemon” avatars, Paddison said that a new technology would allow the studio to interact with the downloaded daemon and push alerts on the movie Web site and blog updates. “So we have social, embedded media they’ve adopted, and we’ve updated that with news-alert functionality for a push mechanism,” Paddison explained.

Griessman described how Atlanta-based Vitrue handled a consumer-generated jingle contest for Procter & Gamble’s Pringle, which offered front-row tickets to American Idol, and a tourism campaign for the Baltimore Area Conventions and Visitors Association, where participants could intermix pre-existing footage and their videos to upload their impressions of Baltimore.

The two panelists differed slightly on some digital marketing techniques, with Paddison strongly opposed to “seeding” programs for viral videos. “You end up hemorrhaging cash trying to develop advocates that you have zero control of.” Griessman agreed that companies should not pay for manipulation of content, but should consider a program for viral distribution.

Paddison was also firmly opposed to furtive advocacy in chat rooms and on blogs. “If we turn [the Internet] into a garbage heap, then that’s what we deserve,” he said.

Both panelists agreed that legal liability of user-generated content is one of the principal prohibitions to its use.

Adweek creative reporter Kamau High hosted the panel.