How to get 45,000 pieces of branded content in 2 weeks.

When you hear the term ‘user-generated content’ it probably conjures up images of poorly produced web-cam videos, or iPhone pictures of the family pet. But these days, almost everyone you know is producing content on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. From Instagram, to blog posts, to Snapchats, to tweets, to Facebook posts, to Vine videos – in 2015 we communicate in content. And with so many different apps and websites out there giving people a way to express themselves through content, it’s no wonder that brands are starting to take notice.

If you haven’t heard of it, there is a fantastic TV show called The Americans. It’s a cold-war period drama that centres around two KGB agents, posing as a married couple, living (secretly) in the USA. In line with the secrecy theme of the show, TV network, FX, collaborated with the app/website, Whisper, to help launch the show’s third season. The result was over 45,000 pieces of user-generated, branded content.

The way Whisper works is by allowing users to share a secret (or ask a question) anonymously. Using keywords from the secret, Whisper will automatically suggest images that may relate, and then superimpose the secret over the image the user selects. The resulting content is then shared publically.

In the partnership with FX, when Whisper detected predetermined keywords that related to the show’s themes – e.g. family, espionage, neighbours etc. – it would serve up branded screen shots from the show. The campaign ran for 16 days in early January this year, and resulted in over 45,000 users selecting images from The Americans as their Whisper backgrounds.


This isn’t the first time Whisper has run such a campaign. In March last year Whisper ran a similar campaign for the show Deadbeat, for the online-streaming site Hulu. And in August last year, Paramount Pictures used Whisper to promote it’s upcoming movie Men, Women, Children – even going as far as to include the Whisper logo and a hashtag on the end of the trailer.


The key to the success of The Americans campaign was that FX weren’t asking users to generate content especially for the show, they simply tapped in to an existing habit; users were going to be creating the content anyway, they simply gave them the option to use a range of relevant, high-res imagery for the low-low cost of also including a logo.

Finding new ways to get consumers to engage with a brand can be tricky, and a lot of ‘user-generated content’ concepts usually end up collecting dust in the ‘too hard basket’. But with the rise content-centric apps, and the proliferation of smartphones, perhaps what we need to be thinking is how we can get users to brand the content they are already making instead.

Author: Edward Bell (Senior Creative)