The dangerously fun side-effect of seeking user-generated content

Xiaomi launched a fun campaign yesterday that the brand’s mighty vocal (but not for local, as the many replies remind him) India CEO announced on Twitter.

It’s a nice idea, actually. Mi launched a ‘magazine’ (at a time when the media industry is in doldrums, ironically, with massive layoffs and pay cuts). The cover has, obviously, Manu Kumar Jain’s photo. Would the final magazine (print, or just online – that’s unclear) too have his photo? I don’t know.

But, in a smart interactive tactic, Mi has opened up the magazine cover for people to add their own photos and share it with them to be eligible to win Mi products.

It’s a smart visually interactive idea and who wouldn’t want to see themselves on a magazine cover, albeit a product brochure masquerading as a magazine? And with freebies at the other end, with the effort too being so very easy, people would participate in droves.

And they did!

Also, since that’s the topic of the season, tons of others descended on the tweet with anti-China messages, layering in Vocal-For-Local. In what is likely to be severely ironic, most of these replies would be from phones made in China đŸ™‚

Then, a few people took the anti-stand more creatively. Like this!

This is the dangerously fun side-effect I alluded to in the title. That would be ‘dangerously’ for the brand and ‘fun’ for the users.

I fully understand the intent and idea – create a snazzy looking brochure in the form of a magazine cover. And when you make it easy for people to add their own photo in the cover in place of Manu Kumar Jain, they’re more likely to share it with their friends proudly. While they share, the cover works like a trojan horse product brochure, sprinkling the new phone’s features. It’s a good idea, in principle.

The chink in the armour is that while the campaign makes it easy for people customize it with their own photos, it also becomes easy for people to swerve in other directions that may be dangerous or uncomfortable for the brand. After all, the brand’s name is prominently displayed on top!

I made 2 fake covers too, to demonstrate this point.

Now, is there any way to avoid this side-effect? Not really. The brand better takes it in its stride. Even if a damaging cover goes viral, much to its annoyance.

One possible way to manage this better is not to put the brand name so prominently and make the focus more about the user and less about the brand. That would dilute the trojan horse effect, I do get it, but there are ways to make the cover less brochure’ish and more imaginatively communicate the product features. And use a magazine name that is not the product name as-is, but something makes the user (who is participating) feel special.

You could also argue – can’t people do such mischief on their own, without this campaign? Of course, they can. But most people wouldn’t bother, unless they have a specific motivation, or perhaps egged by some political party that is trying to propagate the vocal-for-local messaging and incentivizes people to go after obviously-Chinese sounding companies that are successful in India.

This campaign not only makes it incredibly easy for people to indulge in the mischief, but it also makes them think on those mischievous lines by showing the possibility of the cover page customization. That showing the possibility is obviously the campaign’s intent… which comes with the potential of an unintended side-effect.

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