Consumer Generated Content – Just How In Control Are Consumers?

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I was in-flight and heading to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, Florida to keynote the Online Marketing Workshop with a stack of new magazines to plow through (Wired and Fast Company) along with a hefty amount of online articles that I printed to peruse during the four-hour journey. One article really got me thinking: Let Consumers Control More Than Just Ads which was published in Advertising Age and authored by Dianne Hessan (President and CEO of Communispace).
I really enjoyed the way Hessan is pushing marketers to allow consumers further control over the strategy, design, service and execution of all products and services. It got me thinking about what Hessan describes as “today’s consumer-in-control marketing movement.”
How great would it be to reflect back a few decades on some of these marketing and advertising publications? I’ll bet that even back then the editorial content was littered with how the consumer is more and more in control, etc…
I think I’m going a little south on this “control” issue and how it relates to consumers.
Is the consumer in control simply because Doritos ran a contest for last year’s Superbowl, where the winner would be the person who created (consumer generated content) the best ad as decided by all of us?
I don’t think so.
Doritos controlled the whole situation. They created the contest. They bought the TV spots. They advertised the exact message of the contest and rules to the public. They posted the ads on their site. They managed the public voting and decision. They awarded the prize.
What, exactly, was the consumer in control of?
Did anybody ever send Doritos an unsolicited ad that was so much better than any of the fare they were pumping out that Doritos was inclined to dump their advertising agency and go with John Q. Public’s brilliant thirty-second spot?
Running a contest with a prize so huge that anyone with a camera would want to enter does not make the consumer in control. I’m not here to dump on Doritos (I love the Nacho ones and I am a passionate evangelist for them as the best chip – bar none), but consumer-in-control marketing, from my accounts, looks much more like George Masters and his self-produced iPod Mini “commercial.” He created it on his own time, out of his own volition and that he posted and shared it. Apple didn’t even know about it until it was already “out there.”
Compare that to Doritos. How many people created an ad because they really loved Doritos and this was their opportunity to creatively show it off versus the people that just wanted to win the contest and get an ad on the Superbowl – whether it was for Doritos, Dominos or Dunkin Donuts?
The fact remains that consumers and corporations are both in control. Corporations control the products, services and messages and consumers control whether or not they will buy it and spread it. The only reason we’re seeing equalization is that through these digital channels, individuals now have equal voice. They can “scream” as loud as the multi-billion dollar advertising and PR budgets. But, just because they can scream as loud and that more and more people are listening does not mean that any real control baton has passed hands.
That being said, more engaging brand experiences that encourage participation and trusting consumers as co-developers is still core to long-term success.
Maybe we do need to look more closely at co-creation instead of control at this point?
You can read the full article that inspired this rant here: Advertising Age – Let Consumers Control More Than Just Ads.


  1. consumer generated ads have been going on for a long time now. i think (and i say this with the upmost of respect given your rock star status and all) that marketers are a bit up their own backsides by looking at consumer control through the lens of ‘advertising’.
    When you consider the power of networks there is no question that the balance is shifting. It is no longer about one voice screaming loudly. If you piss one person off, and then apply the 6 degrees rule, (and then smack on top of that blogs, youtube etc.) pissing off one customer now has the “potential” to piss off thousands…..
    Sony Rootkit anyone?

  2. I think we’re saying the same thing here Leigh.
    Control is not on one side or the other. It’s a relationship. Marketers “thought” they had control because of the volume they “expressed.” Now with all of the channels you listed above, Consumers have equal volume.
    It’s funny how we’re all discussing “control” instead of really working on “co-creation” and not caring about where control lies.
    It must be human nature.

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