However long it takes before casting pros and aspiring stars can flood back into audition rooms, a new vanguard of brand marketers is now using remote casting platforms to create user-generated content (UGC). Even before the pandemic, marketers had been making a concerted push toward authenticity, driven by real voices and experiences. But now that remote work is the norm and UGC is one of the main tools for keeping brand content production afloat, the trend has become a sea change.
But fielding remote submissions and casting external talent can be a tricky beast. Many in the industry have found that doing so efficiently, and at the necessary scale, requires a centralized database that enables casting professionals to review numerous prospective performers and producers within an extremely brief time period. And this ability is only becoming more crucial as UGC rises to the forefront of digital marketing.
“We’re seeing brands casting for more UGC content on Backstage than ever before. The industry is now finding that UGC isn’t just some stopgap solution to be used until a crisis passes,” said Josh Ellstein, CEO at Backstage. “It’s a fast and effective way of getting a message across, while enabling a more diverse talent pool, and it’s here to stay.”
UGC is hitting new heights of adoption
It’s no great shock that emerging platforms like TikTok have taken the nation by storm over the past few months, or that well-established social hubs like Instagram and Twitter have seen huge user surges during a time of quarantine. Indeed, social media has gained steam as society has sheltered indoors and other outlets for entertainment have shuttered.
It is the ever-growing prominence of UGC that has enabled marketers to meet the moment without missing a beat. Among all forms of film and video content, UGC has the unique distinction of enabling a wholly remote approach: Both casting and production can be carried out without the in-person involvement of a single in-house professional.
“The talent is shooting the content, which until now was fairly weird,” said Chris King, creative director at growth marketing agency Bamboo. “But what’s really started to work during this time when we’re all stuck at home is that people see real people using [brands’] products … It’s honest, and people can relate to a lot of it.”
Of course, that valuable dynamic also creates a major challenge for casting professionals: Finding the double threat of on-camera talent and expert lenser is difficult, and only a truly nationwide search — one that goes far beyond the traditional bi-coastal hunt that most casting teams are used to — is likely to surface enough quality submissions to ensure that brands and agencies find their match.
So, how does remote casting work with UGC?
In one recent campaign, Bamboo worked with influencers to create and distribute a series of videos on Facebook. But those UGC videos didn’t materialize out of thin air: Bamboo had to field and review a slew of video submissions — all in an extremely brief window — just to arrive at the 10 or so that were worth using.
For this task, Bamboo turned to Backstage’s casting platform, which provided an efficient way to view an array of assets and audition materials, all within a single centralized database. Bamboo formulated an overall description of the types of testimonials the campaign was looking for, and listed the project on the platform. Then the submissions — not just bios and photos, but full video auditions — rolled in. On the whole, the remote-casting and submissions system represented the basic toolkit that the present times, and likely the future, would require.
All told, Bamboo requested about 50 casting submissions — submissions the company was able to comb through swiftly within a single, easy-to-navigate centralized database. But, according to King, receiving 50 remote auditions is not tantamount to receiving 50 high-quality remote auditions. Still, discounting the ones he knew wouldn’t be right for the project, the difference-making element was that the top-tier candidates he did end up with were strong enough to make narrowing them down a challenge of its own.
The lesson is clear: volume matters. Fielding 10 submissions might yield too little high-quality UGC for a project — and so fielding 50 will get you the 10 high quality submissions you’re after . The ability to swiftly assess dozens of submissions on a centralized platform is crucial for efficiently scaling a UGC campaign.
In the end, there were so many quality submissions that “it was hard to pick 10,” King said.
A significant challenge for publishers: Populating all the right verticals at once
For some publishing groups and content producers, another major challenge is fielding influencers for numerous verticals simultaneously. Often enough, one centralized branded video team is tasked with deploying talent across all of a company’s channels. That can be a major lift without a means of swiftly facilitating content casting.
In one recent interview with Backstage, Hearst’s director of talent and casting development, Sabrina Safran, said she was searching for talent for the Seventeen Magazine YouTube series ‘Bestie Picks Bae,’ looking for contestants for a remote-dating show for Men’s Health and searching for a body-positive influencer for an certain digital brand’s YouTube channel — all at the same time.
According to Safran, remote casting and production have been a decisive factor in enabling Hearst to keep these projects moving. “I feel like most people now being accessible remotely could only help casting directors get in touch a lot easier with the talent that they’re looking for,” said Safran, in the article.
Remote work like this, conducted through a single, centralized database, can help professionals clear away variables that can drag down the process of working in person, such as travel, expenses and the sheer logistical hurdles of getting multiple sets of eyeballs on large numbers of in-person applicants within a brief time-frame.
Remote UGC casting is an effective, fast and economical path for brand messaging.
The value of UGC was increasingly evident well before a pandemic upended society. And for brand marketers, publishers, agencies and casting professionals, remote casting for UGC — a phenomenon that was already picking up steam — is now likely to become a new normal.
“In my commercial field, [UGC] adds another layer of authenticity,” said Sean Elayda, a creative producer who’s worked with brands such as Jockey and the gaming brand Scopely. “I do know that we’ll start shooting [in-person] again, but I still think that this kind of remote, at-home stuff is still going to be king. Self-content creation is going to be strengthening over time.”
According to Elayda, an industry-wide desire for lower overheads is one reason why the trend is likely to persist. “Getting the studio, getting the crew, that’s thousands,” she said. “If you have a self-content creator with their own setup, it’s not comparable in price point.”
From cost-effectiveness to efficiency, the factors driving brands and creators toward user-made materials are likely to persist in the time that follows vaccines and returns to in-person creative work.
“I think that UGC can now always be part of the conversation, even for brands that we would never have done it for before,” said King, at Bamboo. “We’ve realized it’s not as difficult as we thought it was … and when you have an audition platform, it makes it a very easy process where we don’t have to do a lot of the legwork. It almost becomes another arm of our agency. We can just [set up] the audition, and that goes on while we’re also working on other stuff.”