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Social Media Remakes Rules of Advertising

"From a marketing perspective, using user-generated content is absolutely brilliant and usually a lot less expensive for a company," he says. "User-generated content owes part of its popularity to society's increasing agility at working with video and audio tools at home to mimic what television studios do for hefty fees."

The strategies go beyond just finding or soliciting video content.

Creamer cites a Super Bowl ad campaign by Doritos (owned by Pepsi (PEP)) as a shrewd approach for achieving "a much larger campaign that engages consumers." Online, people submitted ideas, offered content and voted for which of the finished pieces would make it to broadcast. Then, even more mileage was had by keeping the discussion alive on the Doritos website with debates over which commercials did, or didn't, work and why.

"It was interesting that even the prep to that, the build to that, was consumer engagement," Creamer says. "The spot is just the end result. It really de-emphasized the commercial itself, because the process leading up to it was all user generated. The commercials themselves are just this leveraging fulcrum in the middle and a catalyst for discussions."

Not just content with seeking out content, companies are starting to play a larger role in shaping it.

Zooppa -- the name is Italian for soup -- began in Europe five years ago, based in Venice, Italy. It expanded into Brazil and now the U.S. with a North American headquarters in Seattle. For big-name clients such as Samsung (for its Galaxy Tab), Microsoft (MSFT), Amazon (AMZN), AT&T (T), Jones Soda (JSDA), Google (GOOG), Wired magazine and Sun Microsystems (JAVA), the company serves as a middleman for user-generated content, bringing companies and consumers together for mutual benefit.

Wil Merritt, an 18-year veteran of Time Warner (TWX) and former publisher of Time magazine's European edition, is Zooppa's North American CEO. He said his reaction after being introduced to the company's business model was to declare it "the future of advertising."

"I came from big media and traditional advertising," he says. "This all struck me as something that shows where things are going."

Zooppa bills itself as "the global social network for creative talent" and the world's largest source of user-generated advertising. It partners with companies to give its members opportunities to create great ads for leading brands. Companies develop a creative brief describing their brand's attributes, the target audience and the objectives of the campaign. Participants are invited to create ads in various formats -- producing a video, designing an animated sequence, creating a print ad, even writing scripts or concepts for potential ads.

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