UGC Advertising Campaign: How to Avoid the Backlash

Web 2.0 and the rise of social media has resulted in an era of convergence, “produsage” and “user-generated content” (UGC). Nowadays, consumers are given free rein to the production and development of brands and their meanings. And many marketers and advertisers have succeeded in employing consumers’ creative energy to develop advertising campaigns, which in turn has positive impact on brand perception and brand equity.

However, there are epic fails with UGC whose repercussions cost both money and reputation. One of them are KIA’s “Season Memes Contest”.

Kia cooperated with Cheezburger, Inc., the parent company of The Daily What and Know Your Meme,  to promote the Kia Sorento. The campaign encouraged users to create a new meme by choosing a famous meme characters and adding the images of a Kia Sorento together with their own captions for a chance to win a $100 gift certificate.

Unfortunately, among of the memes have been posted, more were downvotes than upvotes. Fans became angry because they thought Kia was ruining their favorite meme characters.

Here are some terrible memes Kia received:

When things that are fun being exploited for commercial purpose, the effort can be perceived as a violation.

This can be explained by the finding of a research conducted in 2012 by George ChristodouIides, Colin Jevons and Jennifer Bonhomme. This study indicates that there are four drivers acting as motivation for the generation of UGC: “co-creation, empowerment, community and self-concept (Van Dyck 2014, p.63). Among these, ‘co-creation’ relates to the situation where consumers are willing to collaborate with the brand or with other users to produce online content. This happens when consumers find certain interests in this kind of collaboration and dialogue, and it helps them to satisfy their desire to create their own experience with the brand. In the case of Kia, the users, however, find no interest in collaborating with others users to create the meme because they find it as a damage of their favorite meme characters. This leads to the failure of the campaign.

It is also essential  for the success of the digital participative campaign to identify the right target group. In his book “Advertising Transformed”, Van Dyck (2014) affirms that among internet users, only 1 percent truly make content, 10 percent share and give comment, while the remaining 90 percent simply consume the content passively (p.64). In a study of Dominic Yeo, she also argues that the difference in personality results in different types of user behaviors on the internet. Therefore, marketers need to understand the characteristics of their target customers to design online advertising campaign which best fit their preferences (op.cit., p.65).

Control the UGC advertising campaign is another vital thing companies need to remember. The potential anonymity provided by technology can pose the threat of online attacks such as brand terrorism, trolling or antibrand discourse (Savulescu 2014, p.318). A great example of this is McDonald’s #McDstories. While McDonald tried to encouraged people to share their happiest meals with McDonald, this campaign ended with customers across the world posting their complaints against the outlet.

McDonald campaign

Therefore, marketers always try to manage harmful content by applying several methods including:

  1. Setting the rules for content;
  2. Filtering content;
  3. Altering content (Savulescu 2014, p.325)

They also consider open platforms such as social media sites are not always a good choice for UGC campaigns, therefore they create their own sites where they feel more in control (op.cit., p.326).

However, is controlling UGC a false democratization of brand communication? If users are dispossessed of their right to truly co-create content and advertising professionals are not willing to giving up control over the communication process, then do UGC campaigns matter anymore?

As long as consumers don’t perceive these actions as authentic and sincere, they can choose not to participate.

Remember, “Empowerment”, as mentioned above, is an important criterion determining whether consumers want to join our UGC campaign or not.


Savulescu, R. (2014). Control freaks: How user-generated content is managed in advertising campaigns. the romanian perspective. Management Dynamics in the Knowledge Economy, 2(2), 311-334.

Van Dyck, F. (2014). Advertising Transformed : The New Rules for the Digital Age.


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