Opinion: Perspective - User-generated content can be best advertising

By Claire Beale, claire.beale@haymarket.com, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 13 June 2008 12:00AM

If I knew my backside was about to be posted on YouTube (and subsequently viewed by two million people), I'd wear my best pants.

Did Lauren Bernat know her boyfriend was filming her Wii Fit hula-hoop gyrations? Was it a set-up, really just an ad for the interactive game posing as a genuine bit of user-generated content?

If you haven't followed the story, here's the lowdown. The film purports to be a home movie, a bloke filming his girlfriend's sexy swirlings as she plays on the Wii. But because the boyfriend, Giovanny Gutierrez, happens to work in advertising and because the film's called "Why every guy should buy their girlfriend a Wii Fit" and because it actually does a pretty good job of selling the Wii Fit concept, it's been accused of being an ad in disguise.

By the look of her nasty pants, I'd say Bernat hadn't a clue she was being filmed and that it was all just a cheeky bit of opportunism by Gutierrez, who took the film as a joke and then exposed her unsuspecting arse to the world. Certainly Nintendo has quickly denied that it had anything to do with the film.

Interestingly, as a piece of brand communication, it's more engaging than the bland product demonstration advertising that was the Wii's mainstay. Gutierrez's film is product demonstration-plus. And if the film is a genuine bit of user-generated content, it's a perfect example of the point Russell Davies makes on page 15. Davies says we're now living in a world "where brand owners are increasingly left out of the conversation about their own brands. We thought we were going to host the party, but we've ended up trying to gatecrash theirs."

Engaging, though, doesn't come naturally to most companies. How Nintendo (or any other brand involved in this sort of ambush) reacts to the film will now say an awful lot about the company and its respect for its consumers, which is a pretty important statement. Remember the fiasco of Coca-Cola's response to the Diet Coke/Mentos experiments on YouTube?

So far, Nintendo's been rather curt - just a straight denial. But they could have a lot of fun with this idea if they engage. How about a competition to find the funniest film of Wii players? Gatecrashers can sometimes end up being the most fun party guests.

We live in contradictory times. Pressure to curb advertising of fatty foods or alcohol or gas-guzzling cars has thrown responsible advertising into the spotlight.

Which leaves advertising with a potential problem. In order to underline the fact that self-regulation of advertising works effectively, and that advertising can act positively on social issues such as obesity and binge-drinking, obviously the industry needs to leverage its powers of persuasion to encourage consumers to behave more responsibly.

That's something the Advertising Association has been working on furiously, and it seems to have secured a working partnership with government on the issue of obesity. After months of careful advances and overt lobbying, the public health minister, Dawn Primarolo, has now indicated a willingness to work with the ad industry on any further advances on food advertising curbs.

But "responsible advertising" will be a badge hard won by adland. The advertising industry has always been associated with encouraging greater consumption. Of course. Yet encouraging greater consumption is becoming deeply unfashionable and sits uncomfortably with the ad industry's attempts to adopt a more accountable image.

It's a conundrum Sir Martin Sorrell addressed at the AA's summer party this week. Sorrell urged the industry towards a change of mindset, placing more emphasis on encouraging people to think about conserving natural resources and to be less profligate. And if Sorrell has recognised the imperative, you can bet there's good business sense - rather than simply philanthropy - in there.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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