A long time ago we had some theories about where advertising was going. Jeff Jarvis had a notion of open source ads. Well, it's all happening.
GM launched Chevy Apprentice:
Contestants are given a variety of images to work with and are given the ability to splice together the visual elements over which they can display their own advertising copy. A contest of this sort doesn't come without risks. As we expected, people who are opposed to SUVs for a variety of reasons quickly discovered that they were also welcome to participate.
Early on we made the decision that if we were to hold this contest, in which we invite anyone to create an ad, in an open forum, that we would be summarily destroyed in the blogosphere if we censored the ads based on their viewpoint. So, we adopted a position of openness and transparency, and decided that we would welcome the debate. (As an aside, we have been truly disappointed by the number of submissions we had to filter out because of their vulgar content.) I won't bore you with the details, but the overwhelming majority of the 22,000 submissions thus far have been earnest attempts at creating positive advertisements.
Was the risk worth it? Yes. The worst case scenario is people remixed the brand in the way they already related to it. A set of already known truths, and if they weren't known, the brand manager wasn't doing their job. Besides, such remix happens with or without the participation of the vendor. At least this way they are part of the conversation.
While some people point to this campaign as an example of the failure of viral marketing and social computing, I think it points to a great success. Our definition of social computing is when technology results in power shifting from institutions (like Chevy) to communities (like customers). By losing that control over the brand experience, Chevy actually brought more people into it -- witness the debate over the campaign itself. The environmental and SUV fuel economy debate has always existed outside of the Chevy experience, but by bringing it into chevyapprentice.com, Chevy has harnessed it into a promotional benefit.
The point of this remix isn't the outcome, although I'll wager there will be some great creative, but how the process fulfills the ultimate advertising metric -- engagement. The constructive intelligence phase of the experiment, next is collective intelligence.