Letting users sell the sizzle

Janet Babin Sep 27, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The Super Bowl’s still a whole football season away. But that hasn’t stopped businesses from thinking about the ads we’re going to be seeing. Those multimillion dollar productions carefully crafted by some slick ad agency. But this year two companies are trying something a little different. Frito Lay and Chevrolet are betting amateurs can sell corn chips and cars better than the pros can.

From North Carolina Public Radio Janet Babin reports.

JANET BABIN: Frito Lay’s contest invites outsiders to crash the Super Bowl broadcast by shooting their own video commercial. Chevrolet’s contest is only open to college students. They’ll be judged on written ideas — the company will make the ad.

Jason Glickman with online ad firm Tremor Media says both companies are betting that the entries will get played on the Internet, on sites like YouTube and MySpace. That could attract younger consumers who spend more time online than they do watching TV:

JASON GLICKMAN:“It’s a pretty powerful way to get that out there. And then virally, that’s really the only way to get users to pass it amongst themselves, when it really does feel like content rather than they’re being pushed some sort of promotion.”

The amateur commercials might have an extended shelf life online. But Debra Williamson with eMarketer says the strategy could be risky. Even though both companies will fully vet the submissions, Williamson says the contests could attract the wrong kind of attention:

DEBRA WILLIAMSON:“What’s to stop someone from creating an ad and simply posting it online themselves, without going through the submission process.”

Last spring, a do-it-yourself ad contest for the Chevy Tahoe backfired. It created thousands of online ads that criticized the SUV for contributing to global warming — probably not what the brand was going for.

In Durham, N.C., I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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