Joel Moss Levinson always knew he had a calling in life. But it took cheap video cameras, YouTube and some desperate corporations to show him what it was.
Mr. Levinson’s skill is turning out homemade corporate commercials — what advertisers call a form of “user-generated content.” Companies, frantic to connect with younger consumers, sponsor contests seeking these commercials to find new ways to advertise their products, often attracting hundreds of entries and lots of attention.
So far, Mr. Levinson, a college dropout with dozens of failed jobs on his résumé, has won 11 contests — earning more than $200,000 in money and prizes. His success has made him into the digital age version of Evelyn Ryan, the woman from Defiance, Ohio, who supported her family by winning commercial jingle contests in the 1950s and ’60s.
While Mrs. Ryan’s talent was in writing, Mr. Levinson’s is in performing. He won $100,000 from Klondike after filming himself in the Arctic singing about Klondike bars. He won four months worth of free hotel stays from Best Western for a song he performed about his water cooler. When Little Penguin wine asked customers to film their best pickup line, Mr. Levinson submitted a video of his efforts to pick up a toy penguin, and won a trip to Australia.
He has won trips to Budapest, Buenos Aires and Copenhagen from Delta Air Lines; an iPod from the American National CattleWomen; and $6,000 from the Israel Project, an advocacy group, after honors in three separate categories — English, German and Russian — and he barely speaks German or Russian.
“It’s so great to have license to be an idiot,” he said.
It is especially great when idiocy is sponsored by corporations. Companies began soliciting these commercials a few years ago after noticing YouTube’s popularity, and wagered that campaigns created by customers might resonate with customers and turn into viral hits.The initial commercials ran online only, but the fad has grown, and they now regularly run on television. Prizes have grown, too: this year, Doritos intends to run a user-generated commercial during the next Super Bowl, and offering $1 million to the winner.
Mr. Levinson’s gregariousness is an asset in the user-generated content world, as many of these contests are determined by voting. Mr. Levinson has a Facebook group entitled “Yes, Joel, I’ll vote for your newest stupid contest” and he uses Twitter, blogs, e-mail and text messages, asking acquaintances to vote. He even calls 24-hour customer service lines at night, when he thinks the representatives are bored, and asks them to vote for him.
Mr. Levinson is working on his Doritos entry for the Super Bowl but he has not forgotten his roots. He says he will enter any user-generated contest, no matter how small, and is at work on videos for Bush Brothers & Company beans, Home Depot, Contiki vacations, Krazy Glue and a telecommunications company in Kansas. But as a point of professional pride, he refuses to enter sweepstakes or any other game that depends on luck.“A sweepstakes is like a lottery, right? Everyone’s equal,” he said. “With contests, I feel like I’m able to bring whatever skills I have to the table.” - More
From the corporate side of the contest I found this interesting post up at Click-Z about how to design an effective user-generated contest:
Understand What Motivates Participation
typically fall into three categories: they want to win something, they
want to be recognized for their behavior or efforts, or they truly care
about something. "The more you can tap into those three things, the
more effective any online effort will be," Ghanem says.
Recognize People's Passions
tend to be more passionate about politics, sports, and fashions than
consumer brands and goods. "If I were to run a campaign to get
user-generated content about the war, lots of people would enter that
even if there wasn't a prize," Ghanem says. It's far more difficult to
get people excited about consumer brands, such as dishwashing
detergent. That's where prizes become an incentive for participation.
Pick the Best Format for the Demographic
is better suited for a campaign targeting Gen Y skateboarding men. When
the History Channel targets baby boomer men, a contest that uses text
makes more sense, says Ghanem. A young man is more likely to pick up a
video camera and shoot a friend skateboarding, and a middle-aged
history buff is more likely watching television, reading books, or
writing a blog..."
I found the last observation very insightful. Although I have shot a few videos, I have done so with a still camera and don't even own a camcorder. I related much more to the history buff who reads and writes blogs (I have 15 other blogs besides this one!) If I was going to spend time creating a video I'd rather use shots from favorite films and put together a movie trailer remix to make a point!