Has UGC surpassed content from agencies?

With Twitter, YouTube and Flickr among the many user-generated content sites informing marketing, our experts debate whether agency-created content could fall by the wayside

Steve Caputo
Creative director, R/GA
Twelve years of professional writing and marketing experience

Pitting user-generated content and agency-created content against each other suggests a separation of two worlds that are, in fact, more connected than ever.

If an agency decides to harness user-gen­erated content to solve a client’s marketing problem, it still falls upon the agency to create the filters, inform the ground rules, stimulate the conversation and — implicitly or explicitly — set the direction to transform the content into marketing material. If users were to solve a marketing problem free of influence from client or agency — through a highly trafficked fan site, for example — wouldn’t they become a de facto partner agency?

On the flip side, the idea of agency-created content, made in a world with no input from what users are generating and discussing with regards to the brand, seems dated at best, foolhardy at worst. Has that level of detachment from the user experience paid off for any agencies you know lately?

As client marketers partner with agencies and consumers alike to achieve their goals in an economic climate where listening to ideas trumps talking over them, the ideal agency relationship is one formed between all three parties.

The smart agencies will learn to look for good ideas, wherever they may be found, and build a platform that spurs further discussion with all stakeholders, deeper learning and better business.

And, as the marketing world evolves, if some agencies would rather stake their creative claims from on high, dismissing the relevance of what users could contribute to the process, then perhaps they deserve to be surpassed — and replaced.

Suzanne Darmory Dunleavy
Head of copy, ACD, JWT RMG Connect
Fourteen years of advertising and mar­keting experience

Incredible meal? Upload your photo. Your favorite team won? Upgrade your status. Working late? Update your update.

Thanks to affordable technology, accessible Wi-Fi and countless social networking Web sites, anyone with a laptop and an iPhone can be a creative director. Need proof? Of the 180 million Facebook users, more than 18 million update their status at least once a day. All of the advertising agencies in the world couldn’t generate that much content in a week, let alone in a single day.

The world’s current obsession with self-publishing has turned everyone into a potential creator of user-generated content, defined as anything posted to the Internet by a non-media professional. These non-professionals aren’t just creating content: They are creating the content that is creating our campaigns.

Just take a look at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “It’s time we Met” and Visa’s “Go” campaigns, which both feature user-submitted Flickr photos. And there was Doritos’ use of not one, but two user-generated commercials for their Super Bowl TV spots. Both Geico and Heinz Ketchup bought and branded fans’ homemade You­Tube clips. And, let’s not forget about Skit­tles reskinning Twitter with the latest Skittles Tweets, and DiGiorno seeding influencers to contribute their own “Tweetups.”

Public content seems to be a thoroughly effective and economical way to spark con­sumer interactivity while engaging users in an authentic voice: their own. In the future, it won’t be called user-generated content or agency-created content – it will probably just be called “content.”


Caputo argues that an agency will still have to work to refine user-generated content but to ignore it is dated, while Dunleavy argues UGC effectively engages consumers’ creativity. There’s no monopoly on good ideas, and it is up to marketers to decide what it be­lieves will best engage its target audience.

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