Okay, so user-generated content is all the rage, and there are a million contests where you can make a commercial and win money.
I’m all for the democratization of television and whatnot. Putting your own short films on YouTube is one thing. But here you’re doing a huge company’s work for free. Win $57,000 for your video about ketchup? Sounds great! …until you think about how much Heinz would be paying an ad agency to produce just one nationally-broadcast commercial. But this way, they get a huge range of choices for free (tons of really creative people sent stuff in), and are getting the actual content they use at a discount.
Sure, it would be cool to see your work on TV, especially if you have talent and make interesting, original things that really deserve to be seen. But odds are good you won’t win, and in most of these competitions the company takes ownership of all submitted ideas — whether they pay you or not. One of the cable networks had a “win the funds to make your sitcom pilot!” contest a while back that had some of my friends really excited… after all, they’d been kicking around some of their ideas for years. Then they realized the network got the full rights to every show idea suggested. Even if they didn’t make the first cut they’d’ve been unable to sell their scripts elsewhere. ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT. Same goes for most of the make-us-a-commercial gigs. You could lose the contest, then they could re-make your idea later as a major campaign and you wouldn’t see a cent.
Basically, what I’m getting at here is that if you’re any good you shouldn’t be working for free — especially for people who could easily afford to pay you. YOUR IDEAS ARE VALUABLE. Go make something amazing, and don’t do it to sell ketchup.