The user generated advertising trend is hot. Attempts to make consumer created ads pay off is hit and miss, backfiring for some companies and mildly succeeding for others. Still, the best form of user generated advertising comes from people who really love you and your brand, not from a contest or other gimmick. So with all of the hype, does this tactic really create new customers and in the end sell more of what you have to offer? Usually not.
While the focus has been placed on the ads themselves, we're missing an opportunity to really engage users and create more loyal customers through User Controlled Advertising (UCA). I pitched this back in 2005 and the world wasn't ready for it, but now seems like the right time to put it out there again. UCA would allow publishers or advertising networks to serve up ads (created by ad professionals) to users and allow those users to decide what they want to see.
UCA choices could be based on any of the following:
- Type or category of ad ("See more ads like this")
- Brand-specific ads ("See more ads from this sponsor")
- Ability to easily scroll through ads to see what's available
- Choose not to see an ad or sponsor
Here is an example of how this would physically manifest itself in the ad enclosure:
This creates new opportunities and solves some key online advertising problems. First, if users are choosing to see your ads, they're going to be more likely to click through or buy offline. They're opting in to your message. Second, using this system there is less waste on people who don't care about you (sorry, they are out there)...why should you pay to show them an ad they'll never click? Third, if you combine this system with user preferences, personalization and reporting and you have created the most powerful, accurate, waste-free, relevant ad system on earth. These technologies are all out there, but nobody has put them together. Fourth, the system serves as a vehicle to extend the ad beyond the typical banner. It offers real estate for promotions and other personalized engagement techniques to connect with the right message and the right time.
Imagine a user comes on to your local newspaper web site (where you advertise). Based on their registration criteria the system knows they may be interested in you, so when they hit the home page there is your ad. If they like you they select to see more ads from you. The site then serves your ads at a higher weighting through the system giving you more impressions. The user wants to see your message and the chance they'll click through is increased. Conversely, if another person logs on and sees your ad and doesn't have an interest in you, they can click to an ad they do like. They get what they want to see and you don't waste impressions serving irrelevant ads.
Taking this a step further, RSS driven ads could be used as part of this new ad system. The messages in ads can be updated by the advertiser in real-time and not necessitate new creative. For example, say you have a campaign to welcome users to your site. You could create an ad format that would take their head shot and name and create a custom ad to thank them for signing up. It would be integrated into the system and allow them to share the ad with friends to get them to sign up. How much more relevant can you get?
The idea here is to give users control over the context and content, not the creative. It forms a mutually beneficial partnership and could have a major impact in the world of online advertising.