Whether they’re trying to tap into an undiscovered pool of talent, to be hip with the kids, or are just looking for plain ‘ole free labor — companies big and small are holding “make our commercial” contests. And while a cash prize is nice, many people enter these contests to get their work noticed, to use their entry as a calling card. But does it work?
In the past year we’ve seen UGC commercial contests from name brands including Doritos, Chevy, Dove, Kraft, and Heinz, as well as smaller, regional companies, like Grain Belt Beer and H-E-B Markets.
A staple of these contests is to put the winning entry on TV, an enticing prize for someone with their own business looking for recognition and new clients. To see if this actually happens, however, I spoke with the Heinz and Doritos contest winners.
I got two very different stories.
Andrew Dodson, owner of Piscotti Productions in Wheelersburg, Ohio, won the Heinz Top This TV Challenge this past September with his entry The Kissable Ketchup. “My wife brought home a ketchup bottle with the contest on it and said I should enter,” said Dodson. He’d shot TV commercials before, both at the local TV station and through his own company, and thought the contest offered a good opportunity to get his work seen. Indeed, he took home a cool $57,000 and his commercial aired during the Primetime Emmy Awards.
Looking to capitalize on his moment in the sun, Dodson now includes a bottle of Heinz ketchup in every new business packet he sends out. When asked if winning has brought in more business for his company, however, Dodson is very matter-of-fact. “No. It definitely got us more exposure; more local people recognize the kids and company,” he said. “But it hasn’t translated into more projects just yet. I hope it will.”
Part of the issue could be that he’s in rural Ohio, two hours outside of Cincinnati and Columbus. “A lot of small town politics play into it — some embrace it; some snub us. Perhaps you’re never a star in your home town,” he mused. While his neighbors haven’t exactly come running, the Heinz win did start dialoges with companies outside the state.
Dodson thinks part of the problem is that the contest was promoted as an everyman, amateur competition. “People may think I just got lucky doing it,” he said. “Perhaps I’ll enter another contest, but the popular vote stuff does not interest me.”
At the other end of the UGC contest spectrum is Weston Phillips, owner and creative director of Five Point Productions in Cary, N.C. His firm gained fame and acclaim by winning the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl contest with its Live the Flavor ad. Phillips pocketed $10,000 and his commercial aired during the most-recent Super Bowl.“We had just formed the company a month before the contest,” said Phillips. “We were trying to get into local advertising, and we wanted to cut our teeth on something.” Phillips and his crew found out about the contest just four days before the deadline, but conceived, shot and edited the whole piece in time. Not only did it win the contest, but it also got rated on USA Today’s Admeter.
Did the win help them? “It definitely did translate into new business,” said Phillips. “We stopped having to make sales calls.” For the most part, the work has been from local businesses, but there have been some national-level opportunities as well. They continue to do some consulting work for Doritos, and Sony Pictures flew Five Point Productions out to L.A. to create two commercials for the film Superbad.
To this day, Phillips gets calls about the Super Bowl ad, but Five Point has shifted its focus to producing a feature film. “We got into it to learn more about production work,” said Phillips. “We don’t plan on approaching major companies to do national ad work.”
So why the discrepancy between these two winners?
Neil Perry, CEO of UGC advertising firm XLNT Ads, has a couple of theories. “Heinz spent a huge amount of money, a $57,000 top prize. The problem with that type of approach is that you are out there appealing to the contest set; you’re not appealing to the talented content pool out there,” he said.
Also, some of the luster of UGC has, by now, worn off. “It was big news when Doritos did it, but like any neat new endeavor, it’s new and it’s great and it’s big only once. Each time it happens it’s less of an event,” Perry said. “The Dove campaign was another rung down the ladder. Heinz, down the ladder. The big PR potential is going away.”
The potential maybe, but not the contests. Heinz has announced its running another UGC commercial contest this fall.