User generated content - Amateur dramatic effects
Haley’s ad explored the features of the new iPod, navigating menus through its touch screen concept. The politics student, from Warwick, told the New York Times he was inspired to create the ad by the song, ‘Music Is My Hot Hot Sex’, by up and coming Brazilian band CSS. Haley tied the song’s, ‘My music is where I’d like you to touch’ lyric to previews of the product downloaded from the Apple website.
That the final broadcast commercial is virtually unchanged from the original 30-second spot created by the young Apple enthusiast represents the biggest endorsement yet as to the potential of consumer-generated content.
Giving further weight to consumers’ own creations is Current, a digital TV station giving airtime to user-generated content and with scope too, for broadcasting user-generated adverts – à la Haley.
Along with in-house professionally produced shows, Current sets a number of ‘assignments’ on its website, from short programme ideas, ‘Pods’, to advertising briefs called VCAMs - Viewer Created Ad Campaigns. It is then up to the station’s own viewers to try their hand at meeting the brief, creating their own film and uploading it to the station’s website, much akin to how Haley uploaded his spot online.
Graham Appleby, director of commercial partnerships at Sky, explains that just because Current encourages consumer-generated content, a viewer’s creation doesn’t forego a commissioning process. Instead, it still has to be judged, as any potential programme would, on whether it would attract television viewers. Current calls this the ‘green light’ process.
“You can’t just upload anything to the Current website like you can on YouTube,” says Appleby. “It’s not a free for all. We have our own editors who, in the first instance, judge what goes online. Then, it’s down to the users of our website to vote on which users’ films should be broadcast on the station.” From here, Current’s professionals step in to ‘touch up’ the films as required to meet small screen standard.
Current isn’t massively dissimilar to what websites like YouTube, seen as the bastion of homemade content and a site which Apple clearly keeps a close eye on, already offer online. The ‘quality control’ tack of Current though, above the web’s usual free for all nature, will tempt more brands to take notice of user-generated content, according to Appleby.
He talks of Current welcoming blue-chip companies to set advertising briefs for viewers as an example of user content’s commercial scope. In the US, where the channel launched in 2005, the likes of Sony, Toyota and L’Oreal have commissioned advertising briefs, which users have then satisfied enough to eventually be broadcast on the channel.
“What the clients who’ve set advertising briefs to consumers in America have found,” says Appleby, “is that they might not get a great mass-marketing idea back, but they will get insights straight from their own customers about how their brand is perceived. That kind of honest interaction with your own consumers is priceless.”
Appleby says the search is on to find clients willing to get involved in this country, following Current’s arrival on these shores in March.
What the companies who’ve supported Current in America surely represent though, is that it will take brands big enough to be so confident in their own identity and message as to surrender themselves to the mercy of the ‘amateur’.
As yet, adverts created by Current users have only appeared on the station itself. Does the fact that a brand hasn’t yet had the faith to broadcast any of these advertisements on other networks reflect a lack of conviction in the user-generated message? Is it a case of amateur creation equals amateur end product?
“I don’t see it as a lack of belief in user-generated content,” Appleby reasons. “The likelihood as to why the VCAMs haven’t crossed over into the mainstream,” he proffers, “is because going on to the national networks is expensive. The gulf in cost between advertising on Current and ITV is huge.”
Appleby suggests that a brand’s carefully controlled sense of its own identity in its professionally created campaigns, and its other ongoing advertising commitments, explain why the VCAMs haven’t yet been aimed at wider television audiences.
Whatever the commercial potential of Current, Appleby talks excitedly about how the station’s moulding of broadcast and online represents a step into the next generation of television. He points to research that shows three quarters of the channel’s viewers have their computers live next to them as they watch, as a nod to the future.
“In terms of the wider impact then, it shows how digital is developing and moulding the platforms together. Soon, it will be common for TV and the internet to come through the same machine, even mobile, but for now, the people watching our programmes are, at the same time, discussing them online.
“What Current represents is a move forward into the future of cross-format digital media. It is TV and online combined, using the involvement of viewers as the glue to marry the two media together.”
To the casual channel-hopper stumbling across Current, user-generated content still sticks out like a sore thumb. Despite the polish of the Current professionals, the homemade videos still look exactly that next to the station’s self-produced shows created by professionals.
Still, a homemade approach didn’t stop Apple approaching amateur Nick Haley to help produce a worldwide campaign, did it?