What Can Doritos’ Crash the Super Bowl Teach Brands About User-Generated Content?

10 lessons for brands from Crash the Super Bowl on har­ness­ing the pow­er of user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent.

Lisa Lacy By Lisa Lacy. Join the discussion » 0 comments

For years, Dori­tos has stuck with a Super Bowl cam­paign strat­e­gy of ask­ing con­sumers to sub­mit videos to poten­tial­ly air dur­ing the big game. It’s a strat­e­gy that doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly result in the most mem­o­rable or high­est qual­i­ty ads, but nets decent pre-game pub­lic­i­ty, as well as mil­lions of YouTube views. Experts agree it’s also a tac­tic that asks a lot of con­sumers, so it’s not like­ly one that will work for most brands. At the same time, how­ev­er, user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent offers advan­tages like authen­tic­i­ty, dis­cov­ery, and illu­mi­nat­ing how con­sumers per­ceive the brand. One more acces­si­ble alter­na­tive to con­sid­er is influ­encer part­ner­ships, which allow brands to har­ness con­sumer-gen­er­at­ed con­tent from pas­sion­ate users in a much more explic­it val­ue exchange.

Ear­li­er this month, Dori­tos announced the final­ists in yet anoth­er round of its Crash the Super Bowl con­test, offer­ing Super Bowl air­time, a $1 mil­lion grand prize and a “dream job” at Uni­ver­sal Pic­tures to the win­ner.

The brand report­ed­ly received near­ly 4,900 sub­mis­sions from 29 coun­tries this year. As in pri­or years, fans are invit­ed to vote for their favorites on the Dori­tos web­site until Jan­u­ary 28. Two of the videos will air dur­ing Super Bowl XLIX one select­ed by fans and the oth­er by the brand itself.

The con­test dates back to 2006. In a pre­pared state­ment, Ram Krish­nan, senior vice pres­i­dent and chief mar­ket­ing offi­cer of Frito-Lay North Amer­i­ca, nods to the contest’s longevi­ty, say­ing, “Dori­tos fans are among the most tal­ent­ed and cre­ative indi­vid­u­als out there — they’ve blown us away each year for near­ly a decade.”

It’s cer­tain­ly become some­thing of an annu­al event and, if noth­ing else, has gen­er­at­ed mil­lions of views.

The 2014 win­ner, Time Machine, for exam­ple, net­ted about 2.5 mil­lion views.

And, anoth­er 2014 final­ist, Fin­ger Clean­er, has 4.2 mil­lion.

So with near­ly a decade of Super Bowl crash­ing under its belt, what lessons does Crash the Super Bowl offer oth­er brands? Par­tic­u­lar­ly when it comes to har­ness­ing user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent?

Own Your Territory

Basi­cal­ly, the rea­son I feel it is still ongo­ing is that they are the only peo­ple doing it and I think it’s as own­able a ter­ri­to­ry as hap­pi­ness for Coke and mak­ing peo­ple cry with ani­mals for Bud­weis­er,” said Jess Green­wood, vice pres­i­dent of con­tent and part­ner­ships at adver­tis­ing agency R/GA.

Dori­tos launched Crash the Super Bowl when user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent was a big buzz­word and “every oth­er brand leapt on it,” Green­wood said. But, since then, “Dori­tos dou­bled down and is lit­er­al­ly the last man stand­ing.”

That’s not to say the con­test hasn’t mor­phed over time. The brand now offers prize mon­ey and has opened up sub­mis­sions to an inter­na­tion­al audi­ence, which Green­wood said is an inter­est­ing tac­tic giv­en increased inter­est in the Super Bowl over­seas.

Dori­tos does a great job of per­pet­u­at­ing the hype cycle at the “one moment when every­one and [their] grand­moth­er gives a damn about what’s hap­pen­ing in the ad indus­try,” Green­wood said. “There’s def­i­nite­ly a cor­re­la­tion between the moment itself and the way they’ve cho­sen to cre­ate enthu­si­asm, which is very smart.”

While the prize mon­ey cer­tain­ly doesn’t hurt, Apu Gup­ta, CEO of visu­al mar­ket­ing plat­form Curalate, points to the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be seen on one of the world’s biggest stages as anoth­er moti­vat­ing fac­tor for fan par­tic­i­pa­tion.

To me, it’s the same rea­son that even against all odds, peo­ple con­tin­ue to play the lot­tery,” he said. “But the pay­off in this case is recog­ni­tion.”

Make Your Content Memorable, Relevant

Dori­tos’ Crash the Super Bowl effort isn’t flaw­less.

While the con­test cer­tain­ly gen­er­ates head­lines each year, Green­wood said, “I do also feel this is one of those adver­tis­ing mech­a­nisms in which the mech­a­nism is way more inter­est­ing than the con­tent it is pro­duc­ing.”

In oth­er words, she said it has not result­ed in many notable com­mer­cials over the years while oth­er brands have instead invest­ed in work with agen­cies to pro­duce cul­tur­al­ly rel­e­vant and more mem­o­rable spots like Coke’s Amer­i­ca is Beau­ti­ful ad last year, which has 12.2 mil­lion views to date.

I think what Dori­tos is try­ing to do is keep the mech­a­nism alive as long as pos­si­ble, but it does have the unfor­tu­nate effect that the con­tent is not stand­ing up against oth­er Super Bowl ad con­tent,” Green­wood said. “I won­der how much longer it will run. But I won­dered that in 2008.”

Give Your Fans A ‘Social High Five’

But that’s not to say user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent isn’t a pow­er­ful brand asset.

Per Gup­ta, out­side of the Dori­tos exam­ple because it requires so much work on behalf of par­tic­i­pants, con­sumer-gen­er­at­ed con­tent “has a lev­el of authen­tic­i­ty that brand-gen­er­at­ed con­tent does not.”

In gen­er­al, user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent allows brands to rec­og­nize fans at scale like a “social high five,” Gup­ta said. “When you tweet out some­thing and some brand likes your pho­to or likes your tweet, it’s, ‘Ohmy­gosh.’ There’s a lit­tle part of you that feels incred­i­bly val­i­dat­ed.”

User-Generated Content Builds Brand Awareness

Con­sumers trust their peers more than brands, which means user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent can be more iden­ti­fi­able and inspi­ra­tional to con­sumers, Gup­ta said. “Essen­tial­ly, user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent aids in dis­cov­ery,” Gup­ta added.

He point­ed to a gallery on the web­site of retail­er Urban Out­fit­ters with curat­ed images includ­ing the hash­tag #UOonY­ou.

Every day, peo­ple vis­it Urban Out­fit­ter’s web­site and find them­selves direct­ed to this page to check out real peo­ple cel­e­brat­ing their love for Urban Out­fit­ters. These pho­tos are beau­ti­ful and lend them­selves to brows­ing and explor­ing. These images are inspi­ra­tional – they pro­vide peo­ple ideas of how real prod­ucts look in the real world. It’s street style, cap­tured,” Gup­ta said. “And since these images are linked to prod­ucts, it’s incred­i­bly easy to go from inspi­ra­tion to pur­chase. This entire expe­ri­ence is pred­i­cat­ed upon brows­ing and dis­cov­ery – there’s no prod­uct search here – and con­sumers love it.”

Train Your Customers With User-Generated Content

Brands can use con­sumer-gen­er­at­ed con­tent to more or less train their cus­tomers to pro­duce the kind of con­tent they want.

Urban Out­fit­ters gets to select which pho­tos get fea­tured [on its social chan­nels] and if, over time, a par­tic­u­lar aes­thet­ic style [is more pre­dom­i­nant, con­sumers learn that] if they want to get fea­tured, [they need to emu­late it],” he said.

Gup­ta said the sit­u­a­tion with Dori­tos is sim­i­lar. The Crash the Super Bowl videos share themes like quirk­i­ness and youth­ful­ness as if “some­one curat­ed the videos and said, ‘This is what we stand for.’”

Tell People What’s In It For Them

In addi­tion, Gup­ta said the user-gen­er­at­ed con­sumer land­scape has become much more con­sumer direct over time in which brands encour­age fans to get involved and that is in part due to tools like GoPro, which come at an acces­si­ble price point and allow con­sumers to cre­ate high-qual­i­ty videos.

When you put a ton of tools in the hands of tons of peo­ple and put that against the back­drop of recog­ni­tion in a mas­sive way and [offer] prize mon­ey, too, it real­ly does cre­ate the right incen­tive to try out,” Gup­ta said.

Green­wood said this pure-play user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent strat­e­gy from Dori­tos relies on a large time invest­ment from con­sumers, it’s hard for many brands to jus­ti­fy that because con­sumers are busy.

Peo­ple have a lot of oth­er stuff to do oth­er than make con­tent for brands. This is why Dori­tos now pays a lot of mon­ey to the win­ning entry, where they did­n’t have to in the begin­ning,” Green­wood said. “If you, as a brand, are expect­ing qual­i­ty con­tent, the val­ue exchange has to be very explic­it. Oth­er­wise, what’s in it for them?”

Partner With Influencers

The def­i­n­i­tion of a “user” has changed over time, said Green­wood.

In 2005, when every­one was ter­ri­bly excit­ed by the idea that nor­mal peo­ple were cre­at­ing videos and upload­ing them to the Inter­net, a ‘user’ was any­one with a cam­era who was pre­pared to have a go. Now, con­tent is the most abun­dant resource on the Inter­net, and stand­ing out is dif­fi­cult. It’s there­fore unre­al­is­tic to think that all mar­keters could get the aver­age Joe to cre­ate stuff for them, for free, and expect it to per­form well,” Green­wood said. “Instead, we look to influ­encers: peo­ple with a proven lev­el of exper­tise and their own built-in audi­ences, which makes their con­tent effec­tive.”

One option for brands is to part­ner with influ­encers who are already cre­at­ing con­tent around their pas­sion points, which allows brands to reap some of the ben­e­fits of user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent with­out requir­ing either a huge time com­mit­ment from con­sumers, or a $1 mil­lion grand prize.

Motivate Your Customers

Gup­ta said brands should also make sure con­sumers know they are look­ing for con­tent from users that they are will­ing to fea­ture.

A lot of brands have a lot of touch­points and they need to use those touch­points to make it clear to con­sumers – to essen­tial­ly ask for con­tent,” Gup­ta said. “We’re increas­ing­ly start­ing to see on a receipt or pack­ag­ing, a hash­tag [or mes­sag­ing about tak­ing a self­ie] and [brands] may be sur­prised, but a sim­ple ask actu­al­ly builds a lot of aware­ness and moti­vates [con­sumers] to par­tic­i­pate.”

In addi­tion, Gup­ta said brands can use user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent in much broad­er ways, includ­ing deter­min­ing how con­sumers per­ceive them.

If you’re Dori­tos, how much you dis­like or like the video can help you start to bet­ter under­stand how con­sumers per­ceive you,” Gup­ta said. “Think about red Solo cups. A red Solo cup is used in a lot of dif­fer­ent ways, but if you look it up for user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent, it is almost invari­ably asso­ci­at­ed with par­ties, for flip cup and beer pong and fra­ter­ni­ty stuff. Whether you want your brand to stand for that is beside the point. But you can learn a lot about how peo­ple per­ceive you based upon how they use your prod­uct in pho­tos [and videos].”

Follow The Trends

Videos of peo­ple get­ting injured or with slap­stick com­e­dy cer­tain­ly make rounds on YouTube, but Green­wood said a gen­er­al les­son for brands is in look­ing at what the cul­ture cur­ren­cy of the Inter­net is at any giv­en time.

A huge trend last year was cre­at­ing big, emo­tion­al films and video pieces that make you cry, which is direct­ly cor­re­lat­ed to the way con­tent is shared on the Inter­net,” she said. “Dori­tos has owned slapstick…every oth­er brand should look at what that cul­tur­al cur­ren­cy is as far as its own brand is con­cerned and how to trans­late that.”

And while time will tell which of this year’s spots will come out on top, Green­wood notes, “Five of the final­ists have adorable mop­pety chil­dren in them, which is a huge change from pre­vi­ous years where the com­e­dy’s been of a more bro-like nature.”

In addi­tion, she said it will be inter­est­ing if the win­ning ad this year is less slap­stick.

Will it be real­ly emo­tion­al? Will it have a sur­prise twist end­ing? These are the things we see every day as trends on the Inter­net that we can iden­ti­fy very clear­ly. It might be com­plete­ly off-brand, but it’s pos­si­ble that users could cre­ate con­tent that address­es the tropes very clear­ly and it turns out to be the best of the lot,” Green­wood said. “And peo­ple vote on the win­ners – it’s up to us – so it will be real­ly inter­est­ing to see if it will sneak through or if it will be a vend­ing machine land­ing on some­one again. If the con­tent evolves, it could get fas­ci­nat­ing.”

Make User-Generated Campaigns Evergreen

Final­ly, Gup­ta also cau­tions to make sure user-gen­er­at­ed cam­paigns are ever­green.

A lot of Dori­tos are con­sumed dur­ing the Super Bowl, but also through­out the year,” Gup­ta said. “So fea­ture and solic­it user-gen­er­at­ed con­tent through­out the year. It’s about cel­e­brat­ing con­sumers, not just one time of year.”

What lessons do you see in Dori­tos’ annu­al Super Bowl effort?

Lisa Lacy

Written by Lisa Lacy

Lisa is a senior features writer for Inked. She also previously covered digital marketing for Incisive Media. Her background includes editorial positions at Dow Jones, the Financial Times, the Huffington Post, AOL, Amazon, Hearst, Martha Stewart Living and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

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