April 19, 2017

User-generated content (UGC) is the hottest new marketing and advertising trend for brands with a social media-savvy audience. There’s good reason too. UGC-based ads get 4x higher click-through rates and a 50% drop in cost-per-click than the average advertising campaign. When people do click on an ad with UGC, there’s a 29 percent higher chance that they will convert. Almost everyone finds advertising with UGC more persuasive, especially since the viewer knows that the person representing the brand is doing it for the love of the product.  


Despite all these obvious reasons to jump right in and start using UGC in your ads today, it’s crucial to consider the legal landscape of acquiring user-generated photos and videos when using them for advertising campaigns. In this article, we’ll explore the latest trends in UGC advertisements, the legal consequences of misunderstanding copyright law, and why signed legal agreements are the best way to avoid any problems.

UGC at The Super Bowl

If you need inspiration, there are many shining models to learn from and emulate. The biggest advertising event every year in America is the Super Bowl, and one company, in particular, has made huge strides with its audiences using the same UGC contest for ten years.


The Doritos Super Bowl campaign, “Crash the Super Bowl,” was one of the most popular commercial campaigns for the biggest American TV event of the year. Started in 2006, Doritos annually held a contest for amateur filmmakers to submit their own Doritos commercial, with the chances of it being aired during the Super Bowl and a $1 million prize. Second and third prize earned a sizeable $100,000, even though those commercials were not aired. The rules for entering the contest were clear, and the consent signing content ownership over to Doritos was clearly spelled out in the submission forms. This helped prevent any future legal problems from arising.


Doritos, by starting this campaign, was able to connect with fans in a more personal way, in one of the most-watched events of the year. The first contest in 2006 set the groundwork for Doritos’ UGC-centric approach since then.  


It was surprising to some when they announced in 2016 that the campaign was coming to a close. When this happened, a few writers at the Verge, came out swinging, saying the ad campaign over the last ten years was an exploitation of free labor. That’s one perspective. The other is that it was a platform for aspiring filmmakers to gain some exposure, which they could not have participated in otherwise. In reality, Doritos didn’t end the UGC-oriented advertising campaign—they re-branded it for the appropriate audience.


Doritos recognized the shift in demographics that were buying the product and adjusted the campaign accordingly. Aimed at Gen Z rather than millennials, the new ad campaign is a year-round social media experiment called “Legion of the Bold.” This contest requires participants to sign up online, unlocking opportunities to win cash and prizes through Doritos T-shirts designs or Instagram picture/video events. The amount of UGC created by Doritos fans has increased exponentially since starting the project. According to marketing director Ram Krishnan:


“Why couldn't you have creative briefs throughout the year asking consumers to create everything from a 30-second ad to a wide video, to a banner ad. Lo and behold they’ve created 600 pieces of content. So we’re going to scale that up over the next year or two.”


Some thought the end of the “Crash the Super Bowl” was Doritos finishing its attempts at gathering UGC. Instead, the company recognized the changing social media landscape and pivoted tactics, but still kept the UGC spirit at heart—advice any marketer and advertiser can make use of.

The Importance of Signed Agreements

Using user-generated photos for advertising is wildly different than sharing a fan’s picture on social media. While the latter can be used for building brand awareness, any UGC created for an advertisement is meant to generate revenue through commercial means. When money is involved, it is mission critical to get the proper documentation to avoid any legal issues. For example, any contest submission sent to Doritos for the “Crash the Super Bowl” campaign went through a legal documentation process. Even if you have the best intentions, when you use someone’s photo to earn new business, you risk them coming back at a later date for a piece of the pie.


A prime example of this is the band Vampire Weekend and its 2010 album “Contra.” On the cover of the album was a Polaroid of model Ann Kirsten Kennis, taken over 30 years ago. The band had originally bought the picture from Tod Brody, a photographer, for $5,000. Brody, however, was not entirely truthful when claiming Kennis had signed away the rights to the photo because when she saw it, she sued Vampire Weekend for $2 million. Kennis did not remember posing for the picture or signing a release.


Vampire Weekend and XL Records claimed to follow proper licensing procedures but failed to provide the documentation to prove it. Proof of consent, provided by Brody, would have prevented the multi-million dollar lawsuit from the beginning. Vampire Weekend settled with Kennis out of court, but a legal battle between the band and photographer is still taking place.


What steps should I take to use UGC in my ad campaigns?

Let’s make sure this never happens to your brand. The following steps will ensure your UGC ad campaign is covered from a legal standpoint.


Consult Legal

Before officially launching your UGC ad campaign, cover all your bases. If your company employs legal counsel ensure you consult them about the contest or UGC campaign rules and get proper approvals.



Promote your campaign through social media and on your company’s website. Let your consumers know that they could star in an advertisement or be featured on social media. Promote specific hashtags and the copy you want to include in your ad.


Gather Content

Depending on your tools, this can be a very manual process of spidering social media accounts for the perfect picture or video and asking these users for rights to the content. More advanced marketers can use a user-generated content platform to request rights to content to automate and expedite this process. As mentioned above, the importance of having a legal, binding document is imperative any time you plan to generate revenue from user generated content.


Activate Your Content

Put your newly earned UGC to work for your brand by creating authentic ads. Some marketers compile pictures and videos from multiple users, creating montage videos and commercials. You can try using the content in digital and social ads to see how authentic content resonates with your target audience. Whatever your preference, remember who you’re targeting and how they consume media. What will be the most effective way of engaging? More and more, cable television is the entertainment medium for baby-boomers, but not Millennials or Gen-Zers. Take a page from the Doritos playbook and ensure your campaign has the flexibility to re-brand if needed.


In all, we want to stress the importance of legally covering your UGC ad campaign. While you mean the best—engaging audiences and saving money— we live in a legally complicated media environment that always surprises you when you least expect it.


If you’re looking for that legal UGC platform, reach out to ShareRoot. We can help kick off your ad campaign by providing the latest UGC tools available.


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