Old Navy has been around since the early 90s, but its latest ad is anything but dated. With the help of some creative TikTok comments, the brand has become a shining example of the success that can come from embracing user-generated content.
This is how Old Navy's TikTok-directed commercial came to be and the lessons it can teach us about the power of user-generated content.
The Origin of Old Navy's TikTok-Inspired Commercial
It began with Kelsey Whipple scrolling through TikTok’s For You page.
It wasn't long before Whipple, a copywriter at the Martin Agency working on the Old Navy account, came across a video uploaded by teenager Samuel Beasley of Jacksonville, Florida. In it, he joked that the catchy Silk Sonic track "Fly As Me" would make "the most fire Old Navy commercial ever:"
Even better, scores of other TikTok users had commented on Beasley's video with ideas for the then-hypothetical commercial.
Whipple and her colleagues passed the video along to the agency's executive creative director, Ashley Marshall, who knew it was chock-full of potential.
"Immediately I was like, we’ve got to make this commercial," Marshall said in an interview with Marketing Brew. "We’ve got to give these people what they’re asking for."
Four months later, comments left by TikTok users on Beasley’s videos had become Old Navy's official spring ad campaign, "Written by the Internet." From dancing dads to slow-mo jumps, a bevy of TikTok users' suggestions were incorporated and credited onscreen:
In a YouTube video of the ad uploaded by Kennedy Rae, one of its dancers, a quick glance at the comments section shows how well-received it's been.
"I see I wasn't the only [one] who noticed how well the marketing team did on this one," one commenter said. "I hate ads like everyone else, but not this one! In fact, I look forward to it," said another.
And in perhaps the most glowing review of all, one user said that "this is the only ad that I've seen in my entire life that I actually like."
How to Power Up Your Brand with User-Generated Content
Those sentiments are the type that marketers dream of, so you couldn't be blamed for wondering how to replicate Old Navy's success for your own brand.
These are the key lessons the TikTok-directed commercial has to offer.
Strike While the Iron Is Hot
Polished marketing campaigns take time, but trends don't last forever. And on platforms like TikTok where brand-new content is constantly being added, fun jokes can get stale fast.
That's why it's crucial to move as quickly as possible when leveraging user-generated content — take too long and your audience may have already gotten sick of the ideas they created.
In Old Navy's case, Samuel Beasley's TikTok video was uploaded in November 2021, and the finished commercial it inspired debuted four months later in March 2022.
A few months is a while in internet time, so try to move at least that quickly when turning user-generated content into ads.
The concept of authenticity is so much more than a buzzword — to consumers, it really does matter.
In a Stackla survey of more than 2,000 people, 86 percent of respondents said that authenticity is important when determining which brands they like and support.
That's especially true for younger generations. A study by WP Engine revealed that out of 1,253 U.S.-based Gen Zers, more than 80 percent trust a company more if their ads' images are of actual customers, and over 75 percent do so if their ads' images aren't photoshopped:
So if you decide to use user-generated content for your brand, don't spend too much time trying to mold it into something it's not. Instead, just go with the flow and remember that today's consumers crave authenticity.
User-Generated Content ≠ Free Content
The idea of free ad copy is certainly an appealing one, but if you're expecting user-generated content to deliver it, you might need to reconsider.
As Ashley Marshall explained to Marketing Brew, one of the most challenging parts of the firm's process was contacting individual TikTok commenters and getting their approval to have their comments displayed in the commercial.
The commenters were somewhat apprehensive, but they were offered payment in exchange for their creative contributions, something that Marshall says "always helps."
The lesson? Unless users have already given you permission to use their ideas in ad campaigns, you'll need to get their approval before moving forward, and that might mean that you need to pay up.
You Don't Need to Guess What Consumers Want
One of the core tenets of growth marketing is that it's smarter to follow the data than it is to follow your gut.
The same principle is what guides brands' successful implementation of user-generated content. After all, user-generated content strategies are about learning from your audience, not the other way around.
To ensure that you're getting the most out of your brand's user-generated content:
- Look for inspiration on all social platforms, not just the ones you're most familiar with.
- Practice social listening.
- Encourage customer ratings and reviews, and use them to gain new insights.
- Quickly respond to users' feedback and adapt accordingly.
- Make sure your audience knows you're grateful for their ideas, and always give credit where it's due (Old Navy named Samuel Beasley a brand ambassador with the official title of "creative firestarter").
- Gather and study as much relevant data as possible to inform your decisions going forward.
With those tactics in place, you can adopt user-generated content to create a marketing strategy that's more tuned in to consumers' wants and needs than ever before.
Whether your audience is sharing their ideas on TikTok, Twitter, Instagram, or another platform entirely, it's worth taking the time to find and study them. If the marketers behind Old Navy's campaign are any indication, you're sure to be glad you did.