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Ads That Sell Themselves

Jun 27, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Cable network Current is hoping to cash in on the current popularity of user-generated content by making it easy for marketers to create user-generated advertising.
Satellite radio service XM is the latest advertiser to sign on for Current’s VCAM program; that stands for Viewer Created Ad Message.
Current president of global advertising Liz Janneman said user-generated ads strike a chord with the channel’s viewers, who prefer VCAM ads to those created by ad agencies by a 9-to-1 margin.
“It’s in their voice, it’s more authentic, they relate to it more and it’s more believable to them,” she said.
About half the ads on Current now are viewer-created ads for brands including Mountain Dew, EA Video Games, L’Oreal, Pop Secret, Sony Ericsson, T-Mobile and Toyota.
Ms. Janneman said advertisers pay extra when they buy the VCAM program, which the channel administers for the sponsor by soliciting contributions, posting ad specs and providing materials that ensure the finished ad will have all its music and other rights cleared for takeoff.
“It’s really hard for advertisers to do this on their own,” Ms. Janneman said. “It’s an absolute point of differentiation because we have the engine that really simplifies the process.”
Having viewers make ads requires an advertiser to let go of its brand—a scary prospect. Chevrolet experimented with letting visitors to its Web site create ads for its Tahoe, and it wound up with a lot of anti-SUV, pro-environment messages.
That hasn’t happened with Current.
“There hasn’t been one single submission that has painted the marketers in a negative light,” Ms. Janneman said. “The reason for that is we take great care in working with the advertiser in setting up sort of a creative brand brief on what the mission is. … We give them pretty clear directions to be creative, to entertain, to keep it simple, to keep the audience in mind, to make it authentic.”
Current also makes it worthwhile for the ad creator to toe the company line. All submitted ads appear on the VCAM section of the Current Web site, but ads selected by the advertiser go on Current’s cable channel and earn their creator a cool $1,000, with the potential to earn as much as $50,000 if used in other media.
“What we find with our consumers is they’re not really looking to make fun of the brand. They’re looking to get noticed,” Ms. Janneman said. “They’re looking for this as a sort of an opportunity for them to be exposed. They’re taking the process pretty seriously.”
Since joining XM about a year ago, Sean Connolly, VP of brand management and media, has seen many postings on fan pages from people who thought they could made great ads for the satellite radio service.
“We’re really excited about the idea of giving our fans an opportunity to tell us how they would promote and advertise XM to others,” Mr. Connolly said. “We know there’s a little bit of risk. You’re not quite sure what people are going to submit, but we believe that our fans and most people out there have a very positive attitude toward our content and our service, and we’re hoping to see that reflected.”
On June 18, Current began running 60-second ads soliciting viewers’ XM ads. The first user-generated ad was posted June 21, using the same animation and graphics as the regular XM campaign.
“The person did a great job in hitting on one of the key message points for us, which is XM is a great place to discover new music because of the depth and breadth. It’s pretty much on brief,” Mr. Connolly said.
XM will continue to accept submissions until July 30. Visitors to Current’s Web site can see the ads and vote on them, but the final call belongs to the advertiser.
Even without the VCAM program, Current would be a logical place for XM to advertise, Mr. Connolly said. “Current has a lot of terrific music content, and in fact they’re involved with some of the great music events that we’re also deeply involved with, like Bonnaroo,” he said, referring to the arts and music festival held annually in Manchester, Tenn.
Neither Mr. Connolly nor Ms. Janneman would reveal how much XM was spending on the campaign.
Since most of its programming is user-generated content of varying lengths, Current has advertisers sponsor programming pods; then, at the end of the pod, their ad runs alone.
Current actually gets some user-generated advertising from its advertisers.
“Once they experience the process with us, they see the results and the creativity and the authenticity from the consumer point of view, [and] they’re actually very pleased. It’s many of our clients that are actually promoting us and talking about us in the trade press and getting other marketers interested and engaged in working with us as well,” Ms. Janneman said.
This article is part of TVWeek.com’s Media Planner newsletter, a weekly source of breaking news, trend articles, profiles and data about media planning edited by Senior Editor Jon Lafayette.

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