Ad Agencies Really Hate User-Generated Advertising

May 26th, 2007 | By | Category: Citizen Media, Digital Video Downloads, Internet TV, Strange, Video

The New York Times has published an article that looks at costs of running contests for user-generated advertising, suggesting that it’s actually more costly than traditional advertising, and that most amateur ads are terrible.

“That‚Äôs kind of a popular misnomer that, somehow, it‚Äôs cheaper to do this,” said David Ciesinski, vice president for Heinz Ketchup. “On the contrary, it‚Äôs at least as expensive, if not more.”

Heinz has hired an outside promotions firm to watch all the videos and forward questionable ones to Heinz employees in its Pittsburgh headquarters. So far, they have rejected more than 370 submissions (at least 320 remain posted on YouTube). The gross-out factor is not among their screening criteria — rather, most of the failed entries were longer than the 30-second time limit, entirely irrelevant to the contest or included songs protected by copyright. Some of the videos displayed brands other than Heinz (a big no-no) or were rejected because “they wouldn’t be appropriate to show mom,” Mr. Ciesinski said.

Advertising executives who have seen some of the entries say that Heinz may be hard pressed to find any that it is proud to run on television in September.

They Are Just So Bad!

“These are just so bad,” said Linda Kaplan Thaler, chief executive of the Kaplan Thaler Group, an advertising agency in New York that is not involved with Heinz‚Äôs contest.

One of the most viewed Heinz videos ‚Äî seen, at last count, more than 12,800 times ‚Äî ends with a close-up of a mouth with crooked, yellowed teeth. When Ms. Kaplan Thaler saw it, she wondered, “Were his teeth the result of, maybe, too much Heinz?”

Scott Goodson, chief executive of StrawberryFrog, an advertising agency based in New York, said the shortcomings of contest entries ‚Äî not just those for Heinz ‚Äî refuted predictions that user-generated content might siphon work away from agencies. “This Heinz campaign, much like the same ones done by Doritos, Converse and Dodge, only goes to show how hard it is to do great advertising,” he said.

Heinz’s Contest Announcement:

Here’s an example of the type of ads people have created:

No Responses to “Ad Agencies Really Hate User-Generated Advertising”

  1. Deborah Jael says:

    I’d like to make a point if I may. The chief executives listed above that are commenting on how bad these spots are and how hard it is to do great advertising want to keep their jobs. The point is, the ” user created contents of these ads ” do not have a million dollar budget at their disposal. Nor do they have the license to use other companies copyrighted material. I thought for a lack of budget, studio, crew, and loss of all rights to their content, I would have to disagree with the suit and ties. Imagine what some of these people could do WITH a budget.

  2. info says:


    I agree with you to a large extent, but I also think that there’s some truth to what the ad agency people are saying.

    It is hard and expensive to do what they do, and that does justify their cost…but there’s also a lot of down and dirty, cheap and even ugly advertising that is just as effective as what they come up with.

    I also think that big companies haven’t figured out how to use user-generated advertising, and maybe they won’t figure this out. If they try to apply their traditional methods to dealing with user-generated content, it will probably be expensive and not very cool.

  3. deltadj2006 says:

    i have been reading alot about this since the ny times did the story. and there making all the videos look bad,i myself was interviewed im in the contest, and i think i have a great entry my best is entry #85 i have (5) entered # 85 video its a jingle i wrote for heinz.and i sang and filmed the entry, i worked hard on it, i can see why theres so much negitive about this contest i myself watched all the videos and found only 5 really worth entering. so i totally agree , i think alot of people entered this contest trying to be cute and gross they watched to much american idol rejects, and i think they thought there reject video would be on national tv. thanks American Idol, deltadj2006 hope i didint affend no one here :O)

  4. Joe says:

    The ad agency says the amateur commercials are bad? What a big surprise. Of course they are going to dismiss and downplay the threat to them.

    Deborah–was going to post a comment, but it was almost word for word what you said, so I won’t repeat. The only addition I would make is that these commercials have to be stand-alone. A lot of the memorable professional commercials use a running theme (ie: the Cavemen for GEICO).

    DeltaDJ—I like your jingle. Catchy.

    In the first group of videos, there were a lot of bad ones. (who wants to see a commercial about eating ants with ketchup from the ground). But on average, I think they are getting a bit better as we get into it. We are about the halfway mark, and have nearly 500 entries. Lets extrapolate and say there will be about 1000 total “approved” entries for the contest. Probably 700 could easily be tagged as not even worth considering, with about 300 going into the serious evaluation. Of those 300, the top 5% will make it to the top 15 finals. I think there are enough decent ones out there to use.

    As for the cost of the contest, I agree it is non-trivial. But a few points to keep in mind. Some of the advertising that Heinz is using for the contest is also doubling as name recognition. You could easily allocation half of the cost of those commercials to normal advertising. (Yes, I know..also ads on the bottles and the cost of running the contest). For those that submit videos, Heinz will be burned into their minds and will likely be a loyal consumer of Heinz from this point on, regardless of the result of their entry. (I know I will be a Heinz consumer). In addition, there may be some ideas and good concepts on the entries, that were filmed poorly and won’t win. Since Heinz owns all the entries, once submitted, they are free to use the idea and have it filmed by an ad agency.

    Good Luck to all that submit.

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