Dear CMO:

Like blogging for business, “Consumer Generated Media”, or CGM for fans of the TLA (three letter acronym), has become the haute buzzword of the day. CGM will kill the agency model as we know it today. Agency senior management publicly decries the spread of CGM, calling it all varieties of nasty words. Pundits are thrilled to see that Coke is embracing CGM – being fuel for a Mentos-ignited IED is apparently good for business, after all! Thank goodness they came around!

Look, as all blogs are op ed pieces anyway, let me throw out an opinion. My credibility on this subject stems only from the fact that as a “client-side” marketing VP who has controlled some very large budgets, I’ve been in a position to say “yes” or “no” to a lot of very creative and occasionally very flaky stuff. So let’s pretend that you’ve just presented me with a really hip idea that leverages CGM. Here goes.

CGM as a creative medium is garbage roughly 99% of the time. The good news is that this isn’t the point. This is like saying that the chemical reaction of Coke and Mentos doesn’t produce as much power as BioDiesel, so why bother trying to run my car with it. You’re missing the point.

When consumers interact with your brand it’s about building a community, not developing creative. Nothing has been delegated. No control has been lost. You’ve just let a few thousand people come under the tent flap and play with your ideas.

Who cares if they make fun of stuff you think is important? Who cares if they take your stuff and do unorthodox things with it? If a consumer who is smacked with several thousand advertising impressions a day still chooses to spend a few hours of their limited time creating a video about your brand — regardless of its subjective taste — that’s pretty interesting. Engagement like this is far deeper than anything a banner, a blog, or a Super Bowl spot can do, regardless of how clever your agency thinks it is.

Every time I’ve thrown a “creative assignment” to the masses of the unwashed and un-credentialed “marketers-for-a-day”, two things have happened: first, they’ve produced a lot of unusable creative; second, they all had lots of fun pulling it together, comparing ideas, and awarding the best, worst, ugliest, and funniest of their results. And that’s the lesson to be gained here, in my opinion.

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Key Takeaways:

> If you can find a way to deeply engage people — users, non-users, influencers, fence-sitters, and others — so that they actually spend their free time thinking about your brand, don’t tell them to stop. You don’t want people with creativity and free time getting angry with you. It’s like arguing with a guy holding a megaphone. You always lose.

> It’s not easy building self-sustaining communities of interested people, so if they come knocking at your door, understand that it’s about them and not you. You still control your brand. They are just having fun with it.

> And if that one-in-a-million thing happens where you gain a true insight from all the ‘stuff’ that shows up, count your blessings.

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CGM is a community building tool. It’s not your new creative strategy. Tell your Creative Chief to stop huffing and puffing into the paper bag. Relax.

What “they” do “out there” is something different from what “you” do “in here.”

Our time is up for today, so let’s schedule more time next week. Until then…


Copyright (c) 2006 Stephen Denny