It's been 2 1/2 years since I wrote a post titled "With 'Community' Content, Sometimes You Get What You Pay For," discussing a not-so-successful promotion by ketchup maker Heinz in which it invited folks to create YouTube ads for its product, with $57,000 going to the creator of the winning ad.
Since then, such contests have become more common and companies have gotten more savvy at sponsoring them. For the second year in a row, msnbc.com users voted a Super Bowl ad produced by an amateur as their favorite. The ad, a Doritos spot called "House Rules," created by Joelle De Jesus of Hollywood, Calif., was selected by snack maker Frito-Lay from among 4,000 submissions. "House Rules," which scored well in other polls including one on Hulu.com, won De Jesus $25,000.
De Jesus was not the top winner in the contest, though. A spot called "Underdog" scored higher in USA Today's Ad-Meter survey, earning $600,000 for 24-year-old North Carolina creator Joshua Svoboda. The success of these ads during the Super Bowl demonstrates "consumer-generated content really can work," says Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, in a New York Times article.
Using amateur content rather than professionally produced spots won't necessarily save companies money. Just as I wrote in my earlier post about Heinz, there are significant costs associated with running a contest, including awarding prize money and creating and maintaining a Web site to let folks vote for their favorites. Doritos spokesman Chris Kuechenmeister tells msnbc the contest costs are roughly the same as the company would expect to pay for a more traditional ad.
But Frito-Lay parent Pepsi did save itself some money and, more important, earned plenty of publicity with its decision not to air any ads during the Super Bowl, instead opting to run an online campaign called Pepsi Refresh Project, which pledges to donate $1 million in February and $20 million through the end of the year to social causes chosen and voted upon by fans. (Yet another voting site, modeled on Dell's successful IdeaStorm.) Although $20 million is a big number, it's considerably less than the $33 million Pepsi spent on Super Bowl advertising last year. According to TNS Media Intelligence, PepsiCo spent a stunning $142.8 million on 10 Super Bowl spots from 1999 to 2008.
Pepsi is promoting its Refresh Project through Twitter, Facebook and an iPhone application, among other social channels. The Facebook page "Pepsi - Refresh Everything" already has 505,311 fans. Nielsen Co. reported that PepsiCo got 21.6 percent of the online chatter about Super Bowl advertisers over the past two months, pretty good for a company not actually advertising during the event at all. And while the chatter generated by the "Which Super Bowl Ads Did You Like Best" polls will have subsided by the end of the week, Pepsi may get a deeper, long-term impact with the Refresh Project. Said Bonin Bough, PepsiCo's global director of digital and social media:
[Online communities] allow us to build deeper relationships and deeper dialogue with our customers. With digital media, consumers are using it in totally different ways than advertisers ever expected them to.
Though not taking a plunge as deep as Pepsi, plenty of other companies drank from the social media well for the Super Bowl. The San Francisco Chronicle reports Budweiser asked voters on its Facebook page to vote for which commercials to air during the game, while Monster.com's Facebook page used video of a fiddling beaver that also starred in its Super Bowl ad.