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Public's creative muscle lifts Mozilla

Maker of Firefox browser is latest company hoping to generate buzz by turning marketing reins over to fans.

When up against Microsoft and AOL, one has to be creative.

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.

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Video: 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.

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Video: 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, General Motors launched a contest to see which member of the public could craft the best commercial for the Chevy Tahoe, a sports utility vehicle. At, visitors could choose from a range of soundtracks and video clips of the Tahoe traveling through different terrains. Contest officials also allowed entrants to write their own text. Many people used the opportunity to knock "gas guzzling" SUVs, the company and the war in Iraq.