That's what Mozilla tried earlier this year by holding a filmmaking contest to promote its Firefox Web browser.
The "Firefox Flicks" competition--which judged participants on production values, creativity, script or screenplay, choice of soundtrack or jingle, and the use of the Firefox logo--received more than 280 submissions.
And the Firefox film winners are...
Mozilla picks five best promotions
Mozilla announced the winner Friday: a short called "Daredevil," produced by Pete Macomber of Venice, Calif. The film tells the story of Ella Hubley, a 14-year-old female surfer and self-described daredevil. "My other browser is a surfboard," reads the text following shots of Hubley skateboarding to the beach.
Mozilla has in the past chosen a grassroots approach to marketing Firefox, a rival to Microsoft's Internet Explorer and AOL's Navigator browsers. In November 2004, for example, Firefox enthusiasts designed and underwrote a two-page ad that appeared in The New York Times.
The filmmaking competition is just the latest example of tech companies trying to raise a brand's profile by letting fans drive marketing campaigns, a strategy that's been juiced up by the Internet.
Mozilla gets PR help from community
Grassroots marketing through Firefox flicks
Corporate America has held such contests for decades--according to advertising experts, they not only foster brand awareness with contestants and provide executives with insight into how a product is perceived, they also help marketing types come up with new ideas.
The Internet, though, is adding a new twist. User-generated commercials can catch fire online and spread rapidly over the Web as friends pass the spots to one another--a phenomenon known as "viral marketing."
And the benefits can work both ways, at least according to Macomber. The 33-year-old is trying to break into feature-film directing and says his "Daredevil" short will make a nice calling card and provide some exposure--the film, and other contest entries, will be incorporated into Mozilla's 2006 marketing activities. First prize also includes a $5,000 gift certificate to a shop that sells professional cameras and filmmaking equipment.
"I found out about the contest from the Mozilla site," said Macomber. "The Web is how I get the latest info on filmmaking."
But tapping consumers for advertising ideas doesn't always go as planned. Last month,launched a contest to see which member of the public could craft the best commercial for the Chevy Tahoe, a sports utility vehicle. At ChevyApprentice.com, visitors could choose from a range of soundtracks and video clips of the Tahoe traveling through different terrains. Contest officials also allowed entrants to . Many people used the opportunity to knock "gas guzzling" SUVs, the company and the war in Iraq.