Romney Learns About The Pitfalls Of User-Generated Content

from the setting-america-straight dept

In late August, the Romney presidential campaign unveiled a create-your-own-ad contest that gave Mitt Romney supporters the opportunity to create a television ad that the campaign would air in New Hampshire. Well, the winner was announced last week. Unfortunately for the Romney campaign, Bruce Reed, a Democratic strategist turned blogger, submitted his own entry, a hilarious video making fun of Romney. At one point Reed's video had more page views than all the official finalists put together. As a result, the contest wound up mostly giving Romney's critics an opportunity to make fun of him.

It's a problem that often crops up when people try to mix the top-down structure of a campaign or a company with the bottom-up ethos of user-generated content. Often, the users don't generate the kind of content you were expecting. Romney's experience demonstrates a couple of important points about the challenges of harnessing user-generated content that we can glean from the open source world. One lesson is that it's a bad idea to pin all your hopes on one big product release. Open source projects have found that it makes more sense to release stuff as it's ready, rather than trying to commit to finishing particular features by a particular date. By the same token, instead of promising to spend tens of thousands of dollars airing a single winning ad, Romney could have made it a weekly contest, with a small cash prize to each week's winner. That probably would have generated just as many entries, created more enthusiasm, and made it a less juicy target for the pranksters of the world. If someone made a really good ad, they could still run it on TV if they wanted to, but they wouldn't be forced spend a lot of money airing an ad that wasn't very good. It would also allow them to have a sense of humor about critical ads instead of trying to block them all from the site.

A more fundamental point, which also comes from the open source world, is that good user generated content is almost always the product of an enthusiastic and cohesive online community. Every significant open source project has a tight-knit community of developers, and Wikipedia is run by several hundred volunteer editors. User-generated commercials are no different. The more people there are creating videos, commenting and voting on other peoples' videos, and policing potential vandalism, the more likely the contest will turn out to be a success. Of course, a community of enthusiastic supporters has uses far beyond producing free TV ads. That's why it's silly to do user-generating content as a one-time, high-profile event. Not only is such an effort less likely to succeed on its own terms, but it also misses the opportunity to harness the interest the contest generates into building longer-term relationships. If people participate in a contest and then never come back to the site, that's a huge missed opportunity. Of course, none of this is unique to candidates; the same principles apply to companies: user generated commercials can work brilliantly for companies, but they're best seen as an integral part of a continuing relationship with your most enthusiastic online customers, not as a one-off publicity stunt.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2007 @ 11:38am

    The link to the GM article has a space in the URL, which breaks the link. Try this instead:
    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20060403/1840222.shtml

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Mike (profile), Oct 2nd, 2007 @ 11:49am

    Re:

    The link to the GM article has a space in the URL, which breaks the link

    Oops! Fixed. Thanks for pointing that out.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2007 @ 12:01pm

    what about....

    the idea that even bad publicity is good publicity

    Romney is a shoe in for the sympathy vote hehe

     

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  4.  
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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Oct 2nd, 2007 @ 1:00pm

    Romney

    Living in Michigan I hear great things about what his father did for our state. I also hear about great things he has done for Massachusetts. I would very readily consider voting for him as president.
    He did something lately though that lost a lot of respect from me. They aired a new commercial of his on Fox 2 news one morning a couple weeks ago. In the ad he was saying that he would set his party straight, and get them to stop acting like democrats. That too many of them were starting to act like Democrats.
    That upset me.
    That was first ad I had seen by him bashing Democrats.
    Thought he might be able to rise above the general politician in that respect.
    It seems like more often than not, they have nothing good to say about themselves, so they put more negative ads about opponents on.
    Both parties are completely guilty of this.
    And it is very old.
    Was hoping Romney wouldn't stoop to it round these parts, but he did. Sad panda.

     

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  5.  
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    Dru, Oct 2nd, 2007 @ 1:26pm

    Sorry, that guys "ad" is an immature attack on the mans family. Surely someone could have actually done something that attacked the man as a candidate and not his family record. Very lame.

     

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  6.  
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    Sean, Oct 2nd, 2007 @ 3:12pm

    Blogger Ad

    I thought the blogger ad was okay, but kinda lame.

     

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  7.  
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    Family Record, Oct 2nd, 2007 @ 3:13pm

    His "family" is the Nazi party

     

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  8.  
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    Jprice, Oct 2nd, 2007 @ 6:48pm

    Video

    If you guys think that the main effect of the contest was to expose Romney to sarcasm or criticism, you need to get out into the "actual world" once in a while.

    The main effect was to get some really quite well done videos that the campaign can use in ad buys in Des Moines and Concord. Far more return on investment than the risk taken.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    nonuser, Oct 2nd, 2007 @ 8:25pm

    Re: Romney

    Romney is good at making speeches, especially to express outrage on behalf of his fellow voters, even when he bears some responsibility for the problem. The way he handled the Larry Craig incident was a good example - Craig was his Senate campaign chief and presumably was a top campaign aide and confidant, but you never would've known it the way Romney threw him under the bus on TV. He did the same thing as governor of Mass. when a woman was killed while driving through a tunnel because of shoddy construction work performed by Big Dig contractors. He expressed the outrage of the citizenry very well, but I don't recall him admitting that perhaps his administration should have been on the ball checking and double checking the inspections that turned out to have been botched.

    The "straight talk" about Republicans needing to stop spending like Democrats is a recycling of what we heard in the Congressional elections last fall. Several Republican candidates who were on the bubble used variations of that line, but I can't remember whom. Some of the party leadership made similar remarks after the results were in.

    When Romney was governor (I live in Mass.) I thought he was doing a good job, but as far as all the great things he did for us, well... it's hard to think of any. Personally I was hoping he would take on the unions but he probably saw that that would come back to bite him when he ran for President. We see this type of career calculation in the front runner on the Democratic side as well.

     

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  10.  
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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Oct 3rd, 2007 @ 5:44am

    Re #9

    Hence my comment made above:
    Both parties are completely guilty of this.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    Carr, Oct 7th, 2007 @ 1:09pm

    Re: Re: Romney

    When Romney was governor (I live in Mass.) I thought he was doing a good job, but as far as all the great things he did for us, well... it's hard to think of any. Personally I was hoping he would take on the unions but he probably saw that that would come back to bite him when he ran for President. We see this type of career calculation in the front runner on the Democratic side as well.

    Take on the unions? In Mass? Give me a break. Of course he had designs on the Presidency, but he's a politician, not a kamikaze. In Mass., the House and Senate are 90% Democrat - what could he possibly do?

    Romney's major achievement was busting Billy Bulger and getting his crooked ass out of UMass. That was the best thing he did and, in doing so, exposed Mass politics to the rest of the country. When homosexual marriage became law here, many people understood who was responsible for it - and they knew it wasn't Romney.

     

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