The rise of advertising pretending to be user-generated content

By Ruby Derrick | 27 March 2024
Credit: Social Cut via Unsplash.

Videos that look like they are user generated but have really been created by an agency or influencer are the next wave of ad creative.

This creative is on the rise as the volume of media inventory increases and brands look for more ways to deliver content, industry insiders say.

Influencer marketing specialists question the impact it could have on traditional creative agencies.

They say audiences could potentially see this user generated content (UGC)-style creative adopted in traditional media channels such as broadcast TV, with more of their clients requesting 'advertorial UGC' from their influencers.

We Are Social CEO Suzie Shaw says the traditional creative agency scope has been slowly eroding for many years. 

But the reality is that brands need more content than ever before because the volume of media inventory has exponentially increased, yet advertiser budgets haven't, she says.

“As a result, brands are continually looking for efficient ways to deliver a steady stream of content that promotes their products and services. Influencers have stepped up to service some of this demand because they tend to be nimble and cost-effective with how they produce content.

“They really know their audience and what they're likely to respond to.”

However, influencers don't necessarily have the strategic and creative craft skills that agency teams have, says Shaw.

“So they generally need guidance and handholding to ensure they deliver content that's on brief and on brand,” she says.

According to Ogilvy's 'The Future of Social' report for brands and organisations, global media measurement and analytics company ComScore reported that engagement increases 28% when marketing is mixed with UGC. 

Social media has broken down barriers between artists, celebrities, brands and their most dedicated fans. By leaning into passionate fandoms, often in a self-aware way, brands and organisations can deliver positive results that stretch beyond the immediate fan group and into the mainstream, stated the report. 

"Now, with generative AI firmly in the limelight, fans are equipped with a new set of tools that enable them to reinterpret favourite brands and stars, quickly producing high-quality content at zero cost," the report said.

Influencer marketing agency LookSee's managing partner Justin Golledge says the future of advertising is already here. 

Who would have thought that 'conversation cafes' in 2021 would foreshadow people's collective hunger for authentic connections and rewarding 'real-life' experiences, he says.

"Since then, our craving for the 'real' has seeped into every aspect of our lives, including the way we consume," says Golledge.

"Consider our growing interest in artisanal and handmade products over mass-produced goods. Good luck snagging a seat at the Bondi Markets without bumping into someone’s carefully crafted three-quarter, lactose-free, decaf, vanilla hipshake."

Tourism has taken a turn too, he says. Forget those crowded tourist traps; travellers are favouring authentic off-the-beaten-path experiences.

"Your selfie will surely net more likes and comments if it’s taken while immersing yourself in the local culture, rather than the all-too-familiar picture of you holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

"And is it just me, or is everyone now suddenly obsessed with true crime podcasts?"

Golledge says people are witnessing a significant shift in consumer desire for authentic, 'real-life' experiences, and traditional advertising is squarely in the crosshairs, he believes.

Even the casual scroller of social media should have noticed a rise in UGC-style ads filling the gaps between family posts, food pics and Kardashian updates on their feed, he says.

"User-generated content (UGC) is nothing new. It’s been around in various forms like images, videos, reviews and social media posts for a while now. But what’s different is the emergence of 'advertorial UGC'. Or in other words, UGC 2.0," he says.

This new, potent form of story-telling combines the authenticity of UGC with strategic marketing techniques, says Golledge, and it is proving to create highly effective ad creatives. 

According to Stackla Report, 79% of people say UGC highly impacts their purchasing decisions. Adweek found that UGC-based ads generate four times higher click-through rates and a 50% drop in cost per click compared to traditional ad creative.

To capitalise on this trend, in 2023 The Looksee Group launched Creator Hub.

The goal, says Golledge, is to infuse humanity into brands and foster trust with diverse audiences through a careful balance of #filterdrop moments alongside proven storylines, thumb-stopping hooks, and impactful CTAs.

"So, while the traditional ad creative isn’t going anywhere, it is clear consumers are gravitating towards opportunities that offer genuine connections and experiences. In a world full of filters and facades, it is evident that authenticity is the key to building genuine connections, which of course, is the philosophy of advertorial UGC," he says.

"Disagree? This is fine.Let's debate it over coffee at the next conversation cafe. I'll take a long black with an extra shot of realism – your treat, of course."

For independent digital agency REBORN founder and CEO David Easton, he can appreciate there may have been some apprehension surrounding UGC and traditional agencies.

It will no doubt mean that more and more brands experiment with the format to break the norms and see what can drive greater return for marketing spends, he says.

“However, this integration requires rethinking how UGC can be adapted to fit the formats and expectations of traditional media audiences without losing its authenticity and engagement,” says Easton.

He says UGC is somewhat like the age old strategy of leveraging personalities to elevate brand credibility. 

“While the method has come a long way since the 1929 Lux soap campaigns, I see UGC as the latest iteration in this evolving technique as there is always merit for consumers to look to 'others' for validation, education and credibility.”

It's about more than just placing products in the hands of people so they might talk about the product, says Easton.

“It's about trying to weave the creators' genuine experiences into the narrative of the campaign,” he says.

Shaw from We Are Social also sees the benefit with UGC in targeting younger demographics. 

UGC ads deliver increased authenticity and higher engagement rates, and foster a real sense of community around the brand, she says.

“They showcase real-life problems and how the product effectively solves them, making the content more relatable and trustworthy. 

“This is why they are particularly effective for targeting younger demographics, who are not influenced by overtly promotional content, blocking and avoiding ads in any way possible.”

There are challenges though that agencies must navigate carefully while using UGC in their advertising. 

“Selecting the right influencers who align with your brand's values, ethos, and aesthetics is crucial to maintaining authenticity and consistency,” says Shaw.

“Also, it's important to know how to navigate the legal aspects of influencer partnerships, such as disclosure, usage and copyright, to ensure that UGC can be used safely in an ad.”

Easton says that what’s behind the changing nature of ad creative is the fact that the arenas right now offering the best engagement, cost-efficiency and data-driven insights are undeniably social media platforms. 

“What works here is content that resonates on a personal level—something authentic, something relatable, and something in the style of the channel,” he says.

“UGC-style videos are cutting through because they speak in the language of social media users - they are the natural currency in a world where genuine connection trumps polished brand messages.”

But this is not to say the brand should be forgotten, says Easton. Great examples of ads now blend the style of UGC's authenticity with the overarching campaign strategy to connect to the brand subtly while still engaging in social media, he believe.

“A little like product placement in movies. For instance, last year, we helped launch a new beauty product for one of our clients through a UGC campaign that generated over 36 million impressions, going viral and selling out, all within a low five-figure campaign budget,” says Easton.

“This is the power of collaborating with content creators to produce a range of authentic videos that showcase the genuine reactions and usage of the product.”

UGC is popular with consumers because it feels more authentic and native to the various platforms and it's popular with brands for the same reasons, because it's less likely to be skipped, says Shaw.

“It can also be more affordable as you get talent and production, without necessarily having to pay the usual price,” she says.

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop us a line at

Sign up to the AdNews newsletter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for breaking stories and campaigns throughout the day.

comments powered by Disqus