The User-Generated Content Myth
2 min read

The User-Generated Content Myth

A whole mythology is emerging around the idea of “users” — consumers, fans, regular average folk — creating content that media companies and brands can leverage. It’s a compelling idea — but it’s a myth.

The reality is that “average people” don’t create a lot of content — at least not the commercially viable kind. Most people are too busy. Those that do “create content” — and who do it well — are those who are predisposed to being content creators. The have some relevant skills, training, raw talent, motivation, something.

“User-generated content” sites like YouTube are much less a platform for armies of average people to create mountains of content and much more a platform for real talent to be discovered.

The latest story in the UGC mythology is a “fan” of the Apple iTouch — a college student in England — who created a commercial for the iTouch, posted in on YouTube, got discovered by Apple marketing execs, and got shipped off to Apple’s ad agency to collaborate on a “professional” version of the ad.

Here’s the original version by Nick Haley, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Leeds, England.

Pretty slick, huh? Is it just me, or does something about this smack of LonelyGirl15 — just a bit too “authentic” to be believable? Nick got “discovered” by Apple execs after the video had only be viewed a couple thousand time — hardly a viral hit by YouTube standards.

Even if it is legitimate, Nick is clearly a talented guy. This is not the work of your average fan — and I have a hard time believing that Nick created the commercial and posted it to YouTube out of pure “passion” for Apple products. Might it not have cross his mind that he could get discovered?

New York Times advertising columnist Stuart Elliott happily plays along with Apple and their ad agency in establishing the new user-generated content mythology:

Consumers creating commercials “is part of this brave new world we live in,” said Lee Clow, chairman and chief creative officer at TBWA Worldwide, based in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Playa del Rey.

“It’s an exciting new format for brands to communicate with their audiences,” Mr. Clow said. “People’s relationship with a brand is becoming a dialog, not a monolog.”

To be clear, I love the idea of YouTube and other user-generated content sites as platforms for talent to be discovered — especially talent that might never have been discovered before the web made it possible for anyone to publish their work.

I can also understand why media companies and advertisers want to propagate the myth of average user generating all this cool content.

But I think describing the phenomenon in honest terms is just as compelling — if not more so — than the myth.