Authors: Benjamin Lawrence (Cornell University), Susan Fournier (Boston University), and Frédéric Brunel (Boston University)
Publisher: Boston University School of Management, Research Paper No. 2012-29
Date Published: October 2012
For decades, marketers have used consumer feedback when creating ads — by holding contests to determine a new slogan, for example, or including customer testimonials. But in recent years, many companies have gone a step further and have used ads produced by consumers. Individuals, after all, now have the access to multimedia software, the Internet, and social media networks necessary to produce and disseminate brand videos.
Companies including Amazon, Converse, General Mills, Google, Heinz, Microsoft, NBC, Nike, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever have featured consumer-made ads in campaigns. PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay has run highly popular commercials made by its customers during six Super Bowls.
Proponents argue that these ads cut through the clutter with authentic consumer-to-consumer messages (which are also produced at a much lower cost than professional videos), and the results have been largely encouraging. During the past four years, consumer-generated ads have consistently gotten the best ratings in the Kellogg School of Management Super Bowl Advertising Review. They have also ranked number one on USA Today’s Ad Meter, and generated the most buzz for brands, according to a 2012 Nielsen study.
But there have been some high-profile backfires, exposing brands to parody campaigns or subversive attacks. A prime example: To publicize its Tahoe SUV in 2006, Chevrolet created an ad-making tool that a number of anti-SUV consumers used to post negative commercials on the Chevy website.
Little research has been done on the effectiveness of consumer-generated ads, so the authors of this paper used several experiments and surveys to explore whether they offer real advantages over traditional, company-led marketing efforts. Their findings “unanimously favored” consumer-made ads, report the authors, who say these ads are far more persuasive — and more likely to affect brand loyalty and purchasing intentions — than the standard type.
“What drives [these] advantages is the simple presence of a discernible, credible, authentic, and engaging non-corporate, consumer source,” the authors write. “The humanizing of advertising through identifiable, personalized, and relatable creators also grants consumers additional roles beyond those of simple ad critics, including…roles as supportive relationship partners and friends.”
In the first step of the study, the authors analyzed comments on YouTube about eight consumer-generated ads that were widely labeled as successful in the media. Originally produced as entries in company-sponsored contests, the ads were for different products (cars, personal care, and snack food) and employed different strategies (informational, humorous, or image-driven). Creator biographies were linked to each ad.
After performing a textual analysis of YouTube users’ comments about the commercials, the authors identified four themes driving their effectiveness: trustworthiness, identification with the ad creator, how well the ad was perceived to be executed, and whether the viewer was engaged.
In the second phase of the study, 233 people, ranging from 25 to 55 years old, completed an online survey about a new advertisement for the Amazon Kindle — chosen because of its appeal to many demographic groups. A consumer had created the advertisement in a competition run by Amazon.
Some participants in the study were told that an advertising agency had created the ad. Others were told that a consumer had created it because she loved the Kindle. Still others were told that a consumer had made the ad in response to Amazon’s offer of a US$20,000 prize for the best customer-produced commercial. The participants were also given a short profile of either the consumer or the advertising agency before viewing the ad and completing the survey.