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Social Media Remakes Rules of Advertising

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- You've probably seen the ads. A mom and dad, camcorder in hand, surprise their kids: They are off to Disney World.

The peals of laughter and squeals of joy are real in a way paid actors might not easily mimic. The shaky, average-quality video adds to the aura of reality. For many, the "home movie" approach achieves its intent: to make watchers imagine the reaction their own kids will have.

Disney is among the giant corporations looking to average folks for advertising content.

Disney's (DIS) commercials are just one way companies are seeking out user-generated content to connect with an audience addicted to social media sharing.

Companies have long known word of mouth is among the most powerful tools in building and maintaining a brand's reputation. Social media now offers them a way to leverage an army of users to do what Madison Avenue can't do as directly. Twitter tweets, Facebook status updates and Yelp postings sing the praises -- or lament the failings -- of restaurants, products and companies. Reviews, musings and even fanboy evangelism can also take the form of online videos made with webcams, pocket camcorders and smartphones. Low-tech or bad lighting? It's all good. It can even add that dose of authenticity and realism -- think Blair Witch Project meets Mad Men.

Scott Creamer, founder and CEO of The Screamer Co., an Austin-based advertising and marketing firm, describes Disney's recent ad campaign as a "natural extension" of the popular, long-running "I'm going to Disneyland" ads.

"Disney is leading the way with user-generated advertising in their 'home video' commercials," he says. "This continues to be fueled by the social networking phenomenon and the shift in mindset that, in turn, has driven people to become actively engaged in generating their own content and sharing it with an international audience on the Web."

Creamer sees the use of user-generated content as evolving.

"There is a natural fluctuation as people figure out how to use it," he says. "For years, almost everybody has used some sort of user content. We've all done a review, or posted something on Facebook. Even if you haven't uploaded a video to YouTube, you've still watched them. Now, [companies] are trying to figure out how to utilize the people using content ... People are testing out user-generated content and asking how they can utilize it, especially with a younger audience that is adapting to technology quickly."

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