Last Updated: December 1, 2020

In 2006, the Frito-Lay Corporation and its advertising partners found a way to leverage emerging technology to upend the TV commercial business. The company created the “Crash the Super Bowl” contest to bring a unique twist to the usually crowded advertising space during the most-watched American TV event of the year.

Instead of creating a commercial in-house, Frito-Lay asked consumers to craft a Doritos commercial on their own and submit it for a chance to win a million-dollar prize. The Crash the Super Bowl website received over 1,000 submissions and well over a million hits in just a few months.

Crash the Super Bowl was such a success that Frito-Lay continues to run the contest to this day. The increase in visibility of their leading product regularly results in higher sales, while the participatory aspect of the campaign generates free press coverage, high website traffic, and plenty of sharing through online video sites.

What is user-generated marketing?

Any marketing campaign that allows consumers to create advertising content or otherwise participate in the marketing process can be considered user-generated marketing. This strategy has become increasingly easy to use and popular with the advent of Internet technologies, involving social media, recommendation sites, and content sharing tools. (See also Interactive Marketing)

Marketers implement user-generated campaigns to create a more interactive and enaging experience for consumers. When Frito-Lay gave consumers an incentive to recommend Doritos to other consumers, they also making the resulting commercials more interesting because they came from a novel source. Though the winning commercial would eventually run in paid ad space during the Super Bowl and other TV shows, all other submitted commercials were available on the Interne and sharable through social media.

Tools of User-Generated Marketing

Companies use a wide variety of tools and materials to help their customers generate useful content. These materials can be any method of allowing customers to share their thoughts, including:

  • Comment cards
  • Social networking pages
  • Customer reviews and ratings
  • Online forums and comments threads in blogs

User-generated marketing can be as complex as the Crash the Super Bowl contest or as simple as integrating a customer review section on a product website. Whatever form it takes, this strategy is designed to make customers into partners in the marketing process, rather than just targets.

Who implements user-generated marketing campaigns?

User-generated marketing is cost effective and relatively easy to maintain, making the strategy useful for both larger and smaller companies.

Crash the Super Bowl is an example of a large corporation implementing a complex and relatively expensive user-generated marketing campaign. Frito-Lay not only created a special website and social media presence for the campaign, but also provided prize money to winners while still paying for advertising space during the Super Bowl. Their purpose was not to reduce the cost of advertising, but to increase the number of people who saw the advertisement.

Small companies benefit from user-generated marketing because it helps them establish a reputation that could lead to powerful word-of-mouth effects that increase business traffic.For example, small businesses, like local restaurants and private medical practices, advertise themselves on to give their customers a place to write reviews for them. Consumers visit Yelp to find local businesses and determine if other consumers approve of those businesses. If customers generally give a business positive reviews on Yelp, it increases the likelihood that other consumers will become that business’s new customers.

Nonprofit organizations use content to raise awareness about the organization’s cause and build a community around it. If, for instance, a nonprofit group advocating for more bike paths in the city of Boston wanted to start a user-generated marketing campaign, the group could write relevant blog posts and encourage reader participation in a comments section within the blog. Readers would not only visit the blog to read the articles posted there, but also to participate in conversations with other users that they are likely to share elsewhere on the Internet (i.e. through email, social network updates, and in cross-linking with other blogs).

Developing a user-generated marketing plan

Mad Traffic at

The AV Club, the pop culture news and review offshoot of The Onion news satire periodical, has impressive website traffic mainly generated by active comments threads. The AV Club website, which supports its full-time staff with ad revenue, sees nearly 36,000 unique visits every day, and most of those users view multiple pages within the site. Each page on the AV Club (not counting some of the syndicated content from other sources) has a comments section. The discussions in the comments sections, carried out by free, registered users, range from a dozen comments to thousands of comments in length. This not only encourages visitors to spend a lot of time on the site, it also leads to link-sharing and encourages new users to register with the AV Club.

While most marketing strategies begin with a period of research to determine a target audience, a user-generated strategy gathers that information during the actual campaign.

For example, if a new bakery opens and wants to implement a user-generated marketing element to its business, the bakery could start by soliciting feedback from customers. This can take many forms, such as comment cards in the store itself or a product rating system on the bakery’s website.

To this end, the bakery could also create an interactive menu on its website that allows customers to give one-to-five star ratings to individual items, as well as the option to leave comments.

The bakery could use this information to adjust its stock and improve its recipes, but it could also call attention to the best ratings. For instance, if several customers give a five-star rating to the bakery’s chocolate cupcake, the bakery could advertise it as a “Customer Favorite” or “Voted Five Stars by You on” (See also Consumer-Generated Marketing)

User-Generated Marketing: The Key to Generation Y

Generation Y, also known as The Millennial Generation, is a demographic made up of those born between the years of 1977 and 1994. This generation is on the rise and will soon have more buying power than any other group of people by age. Gen Y is highly resistant to traditional marketing, but is very dedicated to user-generated content.

Portion of Generation Y That Uses These Platforms to Influence Purchases:

  • Customer Reviews: 80%
  • Social Networking Content: 65%
  • Research Via Search Engines: 66%

Source: ZMOT, 2011

By developing a social media presence, companies develop reputations for user-generated marketing. To add a sharing component to its plan, the bakery could include social networking widgets to the menu rating page on its website so customers can spread their enthusiasm for their favorite items. The rating tells the bakery what products customers prefer, but the social networking component lets customers raise awareness about their favorite products and encourages others to make purchases of their own.

User-generated marketing can be an ongoing process. It is easy to assess the effectiveness and refine at any stage. Once the campaign starts, there is no reason for the organization that uses it to stop gathering feedback from customers.

Careers in user-generated marketing

Customers generate a lot of the content in user-generated marketing, so it is the goal of marketing professionals to encourage customers to contribute their thoughts. The following three careers can all facilitate communication between a company and its customers through user-generated marketing systems.

Public Relations Representative

What do they do?

User-Generated Marketing Salaries

  • Public Relations Representative
    Starting: $34,000
    Median: $46,000
    Top Earners: $55,000
  • Web Designer
    Starting: $47,000
    Median: $62,000
    Highest Earners: $80,000
  • Brand Manager
    Starting: $67,000
    Median: $92,000
    Highest Earners: $119,000

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

At its core, user-generated marketing is a public relations strategy. It is a way to shape a company’s public image and open up communications between a company and its customers. A public relations representative can serve a user-generated marketing campaign on many levels. Senior representatives may spearhead an entire campaign, while junior representatives are likely to manage smaller tasks like a company’s social media presence.

Education and Skills

A public relations representative should have a bachelor’s degree in marketing, business, communications, or psychology. It is helpful to have demonstrated expertise with social media applications and a background in customer-focused work like retail or front desk reception.

Web Designer

What do they do?

User-generated marketing almost always has an online component. Web designers are professionals who write the code and manage the visual aesthetic of Internet applications like websites and content management systems. A company’s web designer will be responsible for any online, interactive components of the user-generated marketing campaign.

Education and Skills

A web designer should have a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing, business, or computer science. Designers benefit from a background in technology-focused work like systems administration or from creative work like graphic design. Web design resumes should include a portfolio of original websites to demonstrate the designer’s ability.

Brand Manager

What do they do?

A major part of user-generated marketing is improving the image of a company or product. Brand managers are chiefly concerned with the overall image of a company at every level, from the names and packaging of products, to the content of advertising materials. Especially in larger companies, a brand manager is likely to be involved in a user-generated marketing campaign to gather customer data, create content like blog posts, and develop other materials like contests and promotions.

Education and Skills

A brand manager should have a bachelor’s degree in marketing, business, design, or communications. Experience in commercial design or product development can be useful.

How can a marketing school help you succeed?

Our Recommended Schools

  1. Grand Canyon University (GCU)

    GCU's Colangelo College of Business offers leading edge degrees that address the demands of contemporary business environments.

  2. Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU)

    Explore the bond between business and consumer behavior with a degree in marketing.

Few companies rely solely on user-generated marketing. It is a strategy best implemented alongside other methods, like informational marketing and promotional advertising (See also Informational Marketing). Marketing education programs teach the principles of modern marketing techniques, and introduce students to the tools necessary to develop functional marketing strategies in the workplace.

Marketing courses cover a broad range of topics that are essential to understanding the field. This includes classes in business financing and budgeting, team-building exercises to develop strong communication and time management skills, and branding classes to discuss the importance of marketing content.

Marketing courses in technology give students hands-on experience with web design software like Adobe InDesign and common code structures like HTML. These classes also explore the user-focused world of new media like social networking and mobile applications in the business landscape.

With a foundation of core marketing concepts and business tools, students will be given the chance to approach in-depth case studies of real-world marketing campaigns to learn how today’s most successful corporations and agencies interact with consumers. Students will also have the opportunity to participate in business simulations that require them to develop their own marketing campaigns.

A marketing program is a fast, efficient way to learn the ins and outs of a challenging field. It provides aspiring marketing professionals with a useful background that can serve as a springboard to a long and successful career.