Few purchases are more personal than your next car. However, buying a car is one of the largest financial commitments most of us will ever make as well as one of the staples of the American Dream. And that’s why the industry is so ripe for good UGC advertising.

According to a report by Tubular Labs, the top five automotive channels on YouTube are not company branded; they’re run by enthusiasts and reviewers. There is an enormous space available for car companies to leverage user experiences. The best UGC not only invites customers and potential customers into the discussion, but can also serve as a way to expose users to some flashy, but completely authentic, customer reviews.

That’s why we took a look at some of the best automotive UGC campaigns in America, so we can show you not just how the best of the best are doing it, but how they (and you) could be doing it even better. In no particular order…

1. Nissan’s “#VersaVid”

One of the most clever UGC automotive campaigns in recent memory is Nissan USA’s #VersaVid, in which the Japanese automaker invited creative users over on the social video app Vine to print out a downloadable version of a Nissan Versa. Users then created short stop-motion videos of the cut-out compact car going on adventures like road trips, climbing over pet cats, and even avoiding the dangers of the toilet bowl.

It invites users to associate Nissan’s car with simple, unintimidating fun – something Nissan is eager to leverage and promote. Further, the UGC nature of the campaign encourages potential customers to think of positive, joyful, happy customers when they think of the car, because if people “just like them” love the Versa, they probably will, too!

How we’d make it better:

The bones of this campaign are strong, but we would make a few recommendations.

Go for the personal: While this type of UGC is eye-catching and click-worthy, it perhaps misses the greatest selling point of UGC: its influence. You don’t have to ask your users to cut out a whimsical paper car and drive it around. Instead, asking for something more tangible and relatable, like their personal experiences with the car, would be more effective.

Feature stories and videos of actual owners of the car recreating their actual road trips, memories, and experiences. - Highlight to share -

Use real owners: We’d feature stories and videos of actual owners of the car recreating their actual road trips, memories and experiences with their Versa. Mazda is doing an awesome job with Experiences on its MX-5 page. This way, Nissan could leverage the power of the trust and authenticity that customer reviews provide, inviting potential customers not to trust Nissan’s marketers or Vine’s talented filmmakers, but real owners of the car.

2. Ford’s “Fiesta Movement”

To celebrate and bring attention to the Ford Fiesta’s first-ever American release (it was previously only available in Europe), the Ford Motor Company revealed plans for an “entirely user-generated campaign” called the “Fiesta Movement.” Ford accepted submissions, then chose 100 social media “power influencers” to try out a Ford Fiesta for free for six months. The lucky winners had to post updates, write blogs, and create videos sharing their experience with the car.

It’s hard to go wrong with such a strongly committed UGC campaign fully backed by a large corporation, and this one was a hit. Potential customers could scan Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Vine and elsewhere to find videos and blog posts documenting everything from the wonderful boot space, to the sporty fun engine, to the conveniently placed cupholders. The internet was awash in authentic UGC from real Fiesta “owners” for nearly a year.

How we’d make it better:

We love the idea of Ford using social media influencers to promote its product, and we especially like their use of reviews-as-content, especially in such a shiny, lovely format.

Feature regular people: One suggestion we would make, however, is to include some “regular people” in those 100 winners, not just power users with millions of followers.

Reports show that people trust their fellow regular folks more than marketers, experts or even celebrity endorsers, which, at some point, even social media personalities eventually become. So don’t just give a car to Mr. or Ms. Instagram Star; try giving one to John and Jane Doe, as well!

Remember UGC is different to social: Another important thing we’d suggest is to remind people that UGC does not just mean social media. Social media is not curated or controlled; UGC is content you have gathered to feature on your own channels, to leverage in your own environments.

3. Kia’s “Read the Review”

Korean car maker Kia trusted in the power of customer reviews and crafted a whole campaign around them. The campaign shows various Kia models in a special “studio”, surrounded not by fancy lighting, but by changing walls of text depicting user reviews of the car. A voice-over tells viewers that “reviews and recommendations are worth more than anything we could say ourselves”, and it’s absolutely right. The ad then encourages users to do their own research, and read the (Reevoo!) reviews on Kia’s website.

This campaign is wonderful because it reduces UGC marketing down to its fundamental truths: customer reviews pack more weight and are more trusted than marketing-speak, and a consumer informed by other consumers is an educated one. Of course, it requires a reliable and comprehensive review service to implement, but it’s a good thing Kia has Reevoo, after all.

How we’d make it better:

Reviews are any good marketer’s best weapon, but by relying upon customers to take the extra step of searching the internet for them themselves, you reduce their effectiveness… and the likelihood they actually get seen.

Use it all: Instead, we recommend actually displaying the text of the reviews on-screen. You’ve gathered so much good content; why waste it?

No, really, use it allFurther, we’re big advocates for insane honesty. It seems counterintuitive, but featuring negative reviews can help bolster the authenticity of your UGC. You could sell a magical fairytale unicorn that gave free candy and chips to everyone and it would still have at least one negative review from someone, so when a real product only shows glowingly positive reviews, it adds an undue air of suspicion about the trustworthiness of the content. Remember: UGC can’t be controlled, only harnessed.

You've gathered so much good content; why waste it? - Highlight to share -

4. Lexus’s “#LexusInstafilm”

Japanese car manufacturer Lexus knew it wanted to use its new model’s strikingly good-looking aesthetics as the (literal) focal point of its new ad campaign, and it also knew it wanted to feature socially generated UGC to do it. If a picture is worth a thousand words, Lexus reasoned, hundreds of them stitched together into a video must be worth even more. So the brand invited 200 Instagram users to an event in southern California called #LexusInstafilm, where a quick lap of a makeshift test track was captured thousands of times by savvy filter-appliers and contrast-adjusters in the app. Lexus then combined the best photos into one stop-motion video.

#frame001 by @slowjam98

A photo posted by Follow us @lexususa (@lexusinstafilm) on

More than some other UGC social campaigns, like Apple’s commercials featuring fabulous iPhone photography, Lexus’s ad did a great job of capturing the “common user” ethos that best leverages the democratising power of UGC. Despite the film being very professionally edited and stitched together, Lexus wisely encouraged its 200 users to apply whatever filters and edits they liked to their shots. The end result is a commercial that feels like a collage of different, unique viewpoints all collaborating to create one positive impression of a product.

How we’d make it better:

The idea is a unique and creative one, and a fun way to bring more users into the discussion.

Open up the process: To that end, we would recommend expanding the 200-user invitation list to an open one (provided proof of ownership, of course), and instead invite Lexus owners from all over the world to share their pictures of the car in any location they want from pre-prescribed angles.

The collaborative visual effect would be just as, if not more, striking, and it would further leverage the power of UGC by instilling more authenticity to the proceedings. Real users, real locations and real cars, rather than 200 hand-picked favourites at one tightly controlled location. Let real owners paint their own picture to share with potential customers.

5. Infiniti’s “New Heights”

To showcase the versatility of its new crossover model, Infiniti proposed a unique contest. Its “New Heights” campaign invited users to download Infiniti’s augmented reality app, which turns any smartphone camera into a kind of real-time digital rendering software, overlaying what it sees with a digitally produced image. In Infiniti’s case, that image was of its new model, which users could generate by printing out the required visual “marker”, a two-dimensional cut-out of the car. By depicting the car completing a series of “challenges” such as climbing their office desk, or conquering a pile of fallen leaves, users were entered to win one very big prize: an all-expenses-paid trip to Budapest.

We're in the “no prizes, no bribes, no incentives” camp, because top-quality UGC can be gathered without offering a holiday in the Alps. - Highlight to share -

The strength of this campaign is two-fold. First, depicting the (albeit digital) car in everyday situations like at an office or in a kitchen capitalises on the trust customers have in their fellow “average” people. Sure, you want your potential customers to associate your luxury brand with a certain degree of exclusivity, but luxury can be made even more appealing when users get a taste of what that life might really look like. We all go for coffee in the morning, but some of us get to do it in an Infiniti, for example. Luxury advertising has been overrun with glamour shots of Swedish supermodels on Mediterranean beaches; this air of unattainability hurts the popularising effect of UGC.

Desirability is made more authentic when it comes from real people, not models, marketers, experts or celebrities. Secondly, this campaign is undeniably fun, and that counts when it comes to asking users to participate. It helps remind us of a time when cars were something we invented worlds for and salivated over as children, and links back to that shared, near universal well of happy memories.

How we’d make it better:

This is a unique and interesting campaign, but it fails to use fully the power of customer-to-customer trust.

Again, use real owners: We would suggest featuring actual owners of the car, and tying in not just how the car conquers the silly, fun challenges of the day (like climbing a kettle), but also how it truly proves its value to real customers. Juxtapose a digital rendering of it traversing the sofa with real user footage of it crossing a muddy creek or snowbound driveway. UGC is one, great thing; customer reviews are a different thing. Plus, we tend to avoid pricey giveaways.

Be confident in your offer: We’re in the “no prizes, no bribes, no incentives” camp, because top-quality UGC can be gathered without offering a holiday in the Alps.

6. BMW’s “#BMWStories”

Nearly everyone has had a car in their life that they’ve loved. BMW’s #BMWStories campaign capitalised on this by inviting BMW lovers to share their real-life stories about their favourite BMW. The brand then took these stories and made them into highly professional (and probably expensive to produce) vignettes and short films, showing the beauty and power of one man or woman’s true love for their car.

This is an excellent synergy of UGC and professional discretion. The campaign is still “by people, about people” at its core, as all good UGC is, but it still smacks of the polish and sheen users have come to expect from a luxury brand like BMW. Indeed, it worked, because the videos drew five times the engagement rate of other automotive brand channels.

Customer reviews are powerful tools for convincing folks about the quality of a new, relatively untested product. - Highlight to share -

How we’d make it better:

While the campaign does a lovely job of stirring up good old-fashioned nostalgia for a bygone era of hand-built cars, we would suggest applying the same treatment to some of BMW’s newer, lesser-loved models.

Go for newer models: Customer reviews are powerful tools for convincing folks about the quality of a new, relatively untested product. By inviting owners to share their #BMWStories about newer, current, and even less popular models, BMW could have elevated the customer review to a literal art form, and won over more new buyers in the process.

By leveraging the power of UGC – using real owners, their experiences, and their desire to tell others about them – automotive brands and their marketing departments stand poised to usher in a new era of user-generated advertising, four wheels at a time.

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6 US auto campaigns that nail UGC