Ask and you shall receive. That’s the lesson that many brands have come to appreciate over the past few years when it comes to engaging with their customers. In particular, user-generated content (UGC) as a means of spreading a brand message is growing in popularity. Brands are waking up to the fact that the public loves creating product-related content and that this inclination can be readily turned to their advantage.

Few consumer products are as suited to this type of marketing as cars. For most, a car is not just a means of transportation, it is a statement of self – and a self which users are only too willing to express. This is a unique opportunity to encourage UGC.

For brands, one of the main benefits of embracing user-generated content (UGC) is the opportunity it gives them to save money; campaigns can gain a massive reach with a comparatively small financial investment. That being said, some car manufacturers are pumping huge amounts of cash into their efforts in the hope of knocking their less ambitious rivals off balance.

A car is not just a means of transportation, it is a statement of self. - Highlight to share -

Here we take a look at the two ends of the spectrum; the Nissan Versa Note and the Ford Fiesta.

In 2013 Nissan took a creative and frugal approach to encouraging UGC with their ‘Your Door to More’ campaign implemented to mark the launch of the new Versa Note. In a curious blend of technology and crafts, customers across North America were challenged to create a stop-motion animation using a printed miniature of the car that could be assembled into a perfect hand-sized replica. The aim of the campaign was to encourage users to explore and present the car’s ‘fun side’ by featuring this miniature motor in a wide range of diminutive adventures. Specifically, Nissan wanted people to focus on the hatchback’s defining feature, the hatch, as a gateway to fun and excitement. Vine and Instagram were the social media platforms of choice for submissions, as Nissan hedged their bets on which would prove the most successful arena for the competition under the hashtag #VersaVid. The best submissions were given the chance to have their video featured in a television commercial, as well as a prize of $1,000 in Amazon vouchers.

Thousands of submissions were received. Vine and its short, snappy, looping video format proved the most popular amongst the amateur animators. Admittedly, the ‘hatchback’ focus that was encouraged, failed to excite users, most of whom featured the hatch only incidentally within their offering. A lesson to marketers on the importance of not being too restrictive in their briefing to users perhaps?

The Ford Fiesta

In contrast in 2014 American car giant Ford took the notion of UGC as an advertising / marketing tool much further when it put the launch of its 2014 Fiesta model squarely in the hands of online influencers. Following on from very successful, though less ambitious UGC campaigns, Ford decided to throw all of its proverbial eggs into one basket by giving 100 social influencers a free Fiesta for 8 months (as well as fuel, tax, and insurance), in exchange for content demonstrating its usage within their life. Launched during New York Social Media Week, the ‘Fiesta Movement: A Social Remix’ campaign featured a wide array of content (under the hashtag #FiestaMovement) created exclusively by these social influencers taking whatever form they pleased, with distribution and promotion of the material handled by Ford and their partners.

As was the case with Nissan’s ‘Your Door to More’ campaign the material created by Ford users was presented within the more traditional advertising space, allowing the brand to help close what has at times been a rather uncomfortable gap between the ‘new’ world of online advertising and more time-tested methods of print and television. Ford’s decision to hand the creation of content for its new Fiesta model entirely into the hands of its users, marked the most comprehensive effort yet on the part of a car manufacturer to engage social influencers in this way.

But more than this, the Ford campaign turned users into a powerhouse of PR, taking a leap of faith and handing over the reins of a product launch in the hope of a favourable outcome. Their efforts highlighted the as yet untapped potential of UGC, and set the bar high for future campaigns hoping to utilise the power of the crowd.

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How to create powerful advertising by harnessing UGC