Biting the hand that feeds: A critical view of participatory marketing

21 Jul

No pay No work from

One day, this participatory marketing trend – a bright shiny object for big businesses – will go away.

It will go away because people don’t really like to be paid nothing to come up with ideas. No matter how much they love the brand.

Ad agencies don’t like working for free, so why should the general public?

Participatory marketing, aka crowd-sourcing, aka consumer-generated content, has been going on for ages, but really went into orbit when Social Media took off. A big business has a contest where everyone, including you,  is invited to write the ads/name the products/script the commercials …for free. Sometime there’s a single winner who will get paid (as in the case of Doritos yearly consumer-generated content contests) but often placing in the public vote is your only reward.

Two questions then.

  1. Are the winning ads any good?
  2. Does it matter if they aren’t?

To the first question, the answer is generally no. When the content is good and a winner is declared, more often than not it’s an advertising creative person who submitted the entry. That’s how Doritos went. The said they “trusted their consumer” to write great ads for their brand. But the winner turned out to be a copywriter at an ad agency pulling night shifts on his iMac. Sure, he ate the chips too.

To the second, the answer is yes. It does matter. Ads aren’t simply clever headlines over stock images. They are compelling and persuasive sales pitches.

It takes a lot of experience and skill to sell. Don’t agree? Try an evening of telemarketing and let me know how it goes.

When big businesses thumbs their noses at the skill of good advertising, in favour of the trite, the convenient, and yes, the free, they diss marketing, sales and advertising all in one swoop.

I can’t think of any other industry that suffers this level of professional disrespect. Can you?

(Image courtesy of


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