The Carrot Blog

Why user generated content is (mostly) bad and how we can make it better

How much longer do consumers have to put up with brands begging them to submit a photo, video, drawing, poem for a chance to win something. The ugly reality is that brands and agencies still use this tired strategy even after seeing the lackluster results time and time again.

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'This time it will be different!', says the desperate digital marketer, scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas. 'Can't you see the earned media potential?!' he implores.

Here's the bottom line: If your brand is doing cool stuff and is focused on making good products & content, then people will create user-generated content (UGC) for you, without being prompted. It's about being a part of peoples' lives.

There are two main issues with UGC contests: they reek of desperation and the content that is generated is typically pretty weak.

Please don't forget that consumers aren't stupid (they are your husbands, wives and friends), and they know when they're being played by a brand. They can discern between creating UGC because they admire your brand and creating UGC because you're dangling free product in front their face.

Before everyone gets all hot and bothered, I'm not saying 'death to UGC contests'. I just think we should be more thoughtful when it comes to how we execute them. Here's a few helpful tips:

  1. Leave it to professionals — Recently, branded content darling, Red Bull, had a photo contest called Illume Image Quest. Rather than your typical shtty-resolution Instagram pics, they called on (gasp*) actual photographers to submit their best action sports photos of the year. The result was nothing short of breathtaking.

  2. User INSPIRED content — Oreo mastered this during their #CremeThis vs. #CookieThis Super Bowl Instagram campaign. They had users submit photos that they wanted turned into either creme sculpture or cookie sculpture and a crew of artists and sculptors did the rest. Brands hire agencies because we have the talent to make cool and beautiful stuff — not so the consumer can do it for us. In this Oreo example, it's a win-win situation — consumers get to have their voice heard, and the brand gets some quality, shareable content created for them.

  3. Give users the right tools to create content — Sometimes it's better to give consumers constraints that make it easier for them to participate in a UGC contest. Recently, Wilson Baseball launched a contest called called #WilsonStitch. For the launch of their new gloves, Wilson released 4 images (one image per day) and on the 4th day, users had to 'stitch' the 4 images to form the full picture of a new A2K or A2000 glove. With absolutely no spend, this campaign saw 900 submissions and grew Wilson Baseball's Instagram following. Another good way to give your consumers the right 'tools' to create content is to have influencers lead the way and show people how it's done. Warner's Bras recently used this strategy in their #GetComfortable campaign, that leveraged Vine celebrities like Meagan Cignoli and Jessica Cook to kick off the process and show people how it's done.

  4. Make it REALLY hard or REALLY easy — Yes, this is the most contradictory statement ever, but hear me out. You can either raise the bar so high that you're only bound to get people that care enough to participate or make it so simple that a monkey could do it. The downside to the difficult route is obviously scale. You'll get fewer entries, but there's really no guarantee that you'll get higher quality. The only guarantee is that you'll get really dedicated people making stuff on your behalf. Obviously with this, make sure to handsomely reward your participants, or prepare for terrible results. A great example of this is the perennial Doritos Crash the Super Bowl contest.

The second option is the dead simple approach. Leading up to the third season premiere of 'My Big Redneck Vacation', CMT created 'My Big Redneck Recliner'. They left it up to the fans to name it, and came away with some amazing entries — some more appropriate than others. The reason this UGC campaign saw success is because it was dead simple to enter, and they actually created something worth talking about — a fully functional motorized recliner, complete with air horn & beer cooler. Who wouldn't want to name a chair as badass as that?

The truth is, I don't blame marketers for their UGC contests. I think their hearts are in the right place. Earned media is what separates good brands from great ones. But remember this: you can incentivize people to play, but you can't incentivize them to care.