Once members upload their content, cash prizes are awarded to creators with the highest-rated ads. Additional prizes are awarded by the brands themselves and by Zooppa's staff.
The contest and open submission model are intended to be an equalizer. Those trying to break into the world of advertising can parlay a successful submission into a door-opening calling card.
"More important than the cash is the recognition and legitimacy that it gives," Merritt says. "We know a lot of members have had job offers. That's a big benefit."
For companies, widening their net into the pool of creative talent has distinct benefits. These are "people on the cutting edge of digital communication," he says. "They don't break traditional rules, so much as bypass them."
"This is very different from the kind of advertising I grew up with, where we ran the same commercial for 5,000 times on TV," Merritt says. "I have three teenagers at home, and they won't put up with that. They don't even watch a TV, they watch everything on their laptops and then they immediately click off if they don't like it. Unless it is something that captures their imagination, or is made by a friend or someone they know, they stop watching."
Bringing the general public into the process creates the sort of "word of mouth effect" that even the biggest ad budget can't guarantee, Merritt says. It's a bottom-up, rather than top-down approach that allows a company to see how its brand and products are perceived, then benefit from the tell-two-friends multiplicity of a shared social media experience.
The commercials themselves vary tremendously -- in terms of message, approach and broadcast "quality." Some are no more than webcam testimonials; others, more elaborate and polished, have the imprint of professionals. Some incorporate established logos and jingles to reinforce the brand; others set those familiar trappings aside and rely more on story-telling and personal anecdote, betting on authenticity over time-tested Madison Avenue tropes.
"There is no committee, you do what you want, it goes right up and that's it," Merritt says of the appeal for advertising professionals. "It is unvarnished and refreshing. I think the YouTube generation now is used to that style of communication, where it is not artificial and polished, it is just more genuine."
--Written by Joe Mont in Boston.
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