June 2, 2007
Vedrashko and GSD&M Weigh in on The Rude Ketchup

Former Convergence Culture Consortium Media Analyst and MIT Comparative Media Studies graduate Ilya Vedrashko had an interesting piece on his Advertising Lab site recently, focusing on a recent New York Times article about Heinz' advertising campaign asking viewers to create their own versions of a Heinz commercial.

Journalist Louise Story writes, "In one of them, a teenage boy rubs ketchup over his face like acne cream, then puts pickles on his eyes. One contestant chugs ketchup straight from the bottle, while another brushes his teeth, washes his hair and shaves his face with Heinz's product. Often the ketchup looks more like blood than a condiment."

Later in the story, she points out that looking at running such a campaign to let fans do the work instead is a misunderstanding of the process, since truly going through all the user-generated content can be quite time-consuming and sometimes harder than "just rolling up their sleeves and doing the work themselves." She writes, "Some people, meanwhile, have been using the contests as an opportunity to scrawl digital graffiti on the sponsor and its brand. Rejected Heinz submissions have been showing up on YouTube anyway, and visitors to Heinz's page on the site have written that the ketchup maker is clearly looking for 'cheap labor' and that Heinz is 'lazy; to ask consumers to do its marketing work."

Advertising professionals, of course, use this as a chance to brag about their credentials and the magic behind what it is they do, that no ordinary human being could have the creative powers that trained advertising executives do. Or something to that effect.

Ilya writes, "It's more about brands trying to open up to participatory culture and letting fans into the institutionalized part of the meaning-making world, but the YouTube tool is often way too blunt for the purpose."

Rad Tollett at GSD&M's Idea City Blog weighed in on the issue as well, writing, "I agree, co-creation is about brands trying to open up to participatory culture, but I wonder if going to the effort of have people participate in traditional media is the right approach. Participatory culture is much more organic, and trying to capture that culture and package it into a television spot is where good intentions yield insignificant results."

Of course, the person who caught my idea was Dan Burke, the college student in Ohio who brushed his teeth and shaved with ketchup in an effort to win money to fund his desire to train to be a wrestler.