The power of user-generated content (UGC) in marketing is nothing new, but the lightbulb went on for many brands in 2020 when Nathan Apodaca’s truck broke down on the way to work.  

He grabbed a longboard and recorded a 23-second TikTok video of himself skateboarding to work while listening to Dreams from Fleetwood Mac and drinking from a bottle of Ocean Spray.  

The video went viral, spawned a Dreams Challenge hashtag, sent Dreams to the Billboard charts for the first time since 1977, and caused supermarkets to sell out of Ocean Spray.  The brand thanked Nathan Apodaca with a new truck filled with their products.

The moment of course sparked a lot of interest from marketing teams trying to chase the same lightning in a bottle for their brands.  

It also illustrated part a longer-term shift in focus from influencer content to user-generated content.  In a Digiday poll, 59% of people reported that UGC was the most authentic form of content (only 10% said that influencer content was authentic).  They said that UGC was 8.7x more impactful in making purchasing decisions than influencer content.

And yet, there’s a fine line between pushing for user-generated content and asking people to do work for brands for free.  

Lately I’ve seen “UGC creep,” where brands ask for traditional marketing assets to be created as UGC seemingly as a way to get out of paying for them.  Calling something UGC has become shorthand for asking not to have to pay for it.  I think there’s a backlash risk.  UGC or not, I think marketers need to make sure that the value exchange is there in some way to reward people for their work.

As Danielle Wiley, founder of Sway Group, put it: “Creators deserve to be compensated (and compensated fairly) for the work they do on behalf of brands.”

Daniel also reminded marketers of one of the risks of UGC: “Creators can post whatever they like and tag the brand, and there is no recourse if messaging is off or inappropriate.”

Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years:

“If marketing kept a diary, this would be it.”
– Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs

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