In the world of advertising, the hardest thing to do is get people’s attention — a job that becomes exponentially harder as audiences diversify and traditional broadcasters compete with YouTube.com, MySpace.com and other online communities.
So, rather than compete, companies are beginning to enlist those communities through what’s becoming known as “consumer-generated advertising.” Such campaigns seek to harness the ideas and creativity of a product’s end users, many of whom — thanks to the proliferation of Web pages, blogs and streaming video — boast increasingly sophisticated design and computer skills.
Earlier this fall, a group of students from Washington University in St. Louis was one of five teams to make the finals of the “Chevy Super Bowl College Ad Challenge.” Selected from hundreds of entries, the team was flown to Detroit and spent several days refining their concepts before making a formal presentation to executives from General Motors and its ad agency, Campbell-Ewald.
The winning team will have its ad run during Super Bowl XLI, which airs Feb. 4 on CBS.
“This is a huge honor for the students,” says Frank Oros, associate professor of visual communications, who served as advisor to “Chevrolet Team 509.” “It’s also very smart public relations for General Motors. They are clearly targeting a youth audience,” with brands like Aveo, Cobalt, HHR and Equinox, “and this is a great way for them to differentiate themselves.
“The contest creates a perception of GM, and Chevy in particular, as a friendly, approachable company that understands young people,” Oros adds. “It’s really going to help them reach a prime audience.”
The Washington University team consisted of Hubert Cheung of Vancouver, Canada; Shlomo Goltz of Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Nathan Heigert of Chicago, Ill. Cheung is a senior marketing major in the John M. Olin School of Business. Goltz and Heigert are both senior visual communication majors in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Art.
The four other final teams came from Elon University in North Carolina; the Savannah College of Art and Design; San Jose State University; and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“We received submissions from across the country and greatly appreciate the creative ideas that students shared with us,” says Ed Peper, general manager of Chevrolet. “These submissions represent the ideas that were most creative and that showed the best understanding of the Chevy brand.”
In Detroit, the finalists spent a hectic weekend being filmed by CBS camera crews as they honed ideas, created storyboards and otherwise prepared to make presentations Monday morning.
“Every waking moment we were wired for sound,” Oros recalls. “The students’ grace under pressure was awesome. Through constant briefings, public relations events, automobile test drives, grueling all-night brainstorming and creative production sessions — and an anxious final presentation at GM headquarters — they performed like experienced, battle-tested professionals.”
Though the winning team has already been selected, the results will remain confidential until Feb. 2, when CBS will air its “Super Bowl’s Greatest Commercials 2007” special. The winning team will be revealed during the special and viewers will be able to see more behind the scenes footage of the competition.
In the meantime, Chevy has begun posting rough animations of some proposed ads (though not yet the finalists) on YouTube and the official site for the challenge, ChevyCollegeAd.com. Other “webisodes” feature interviews in which students discuss a range of topics, from the key elements of their proposals and the biggest challenge in creating a Super Bowl ad to whether or not Chevy has taken a risk in launching the competition.
“I think Chevy understands the concept of being adaptive and learning from their consumer base,” Goltz recently explained on the ChevyCollegeAd blog. “The risk would be to ignore the trends in culture that are empowering the individual to become better informed and have their word heard.
“I see there being a general movement in advertising towards content influenced by social networking websites such as iFilm, Newgrounds, and of course, MySpace and YouTube,” Goltz pointed out. “The Internet has broken down the barriers between consumer and producer, and allowed us normal people to be both at the same time.
“We can buy the products we like, and express that genuine feeling of value and utility to peers in a way that is more effective than the broadcast model of old.”
A series of eight webisodes about the finalists’ weekend in Detroit will air Jan. 22 through Feb. 2 on CBS.com/chevy. The campaign will culminate Feb. 4 with the premier of the winning commercial.
Last season’s Super Bowl drew an estimated audience of 90.7 million viewers in the United States. A 30-second advertising spot cost an estimated $2.4 million.