Traditional vs. User-Generated Content (UGC): Which One Should You Focus On?

Danil Salukov
Danil Salukov
CEO & Co-Founder at Insense

Content is king, and it will always be. In today’s digital world, it’s getting more difficult to stand out among strong competitors, especially when you’re paying to get customers. 

This is why brands continue to invest in digital advertising, particularly in experimenting with creative content. It is a tested and proven strategy to build your brand voice, drive new customers, retain clients, and pull in sustainable revenue. 

Around 24% of eCommerce marketers say that paid advertising has the biggest impact on revenue. As a result, brands use paid social advertising as the main driver of new customers and purchases. Consumers are now looking for a trustworthy customer experience even after they become interested in a brand’s products so 98% of marketers believe that content performance justifies its cost. 

Though sourcing and creating content traditionally has proven its prowess, user-generated content (UGC) is starting to take center stage. Content marketers and digital advertisers are deciding between using traditionally sourced content or focusing their efforts on testing out UGC.

Deciding which strategy to go with can be a difficult decision, but it’s a crucial one. Ultimately, it’s important to base your decisions on facts and figures before implementing them.

What is traditional content?

Traditional content is content as you already know it. It refers to the way that branded content has been sourced and produced over the past decades. An in-house team or an advertising agency put in a lot of research and work to create a myriad of content. The result is a well-executed marketing strategy composed of text, videos, graphics, photos, reports, you name it. 

traditional branded content ad
Traditional Branded Ads

Copywriters and art directors often work together to conceptualize these concepts. For example, they work on a content plan for social media channels. The artists take product photos and the copywriters work on engaging captions. High-quality social ads with polished video editing and professional photoshoots are also often the products of traditional content teams.

What is user-generated content?

UGC is any content created by customers or any other online users or audiences on behalf of a brand. Like traditional content, UGC also takes the form of photos, videos, articles, and reviews. UGC is similar to traditional content in terms of form but it is produced by customers, creators, or influencers. 

Marketers of today sift through UGC and integrate them into their overall marketing and branding strategy. 

For example, customer testimonials in the form of photos or videos are often compiled together and made into ad creatives. You’d also often see video ads filmed from customers’ points of view as they describe what they like about the product and how it changed their lives. Brands are also fond of reposting their customers’ video tutorials or unboxing videos.

Brands leverage UGC by repurposing them for their marketing strategy. They also partner with content creators and influencers to create UGC for specific promotions or campaigns. 

Weaving UGC into a brand’s advertising plan is proven to be an effective strategy for increasing engagement. Comscore shared that brand engagement increases by an average of 28% when online users are exposed to both UGC videos and branded content.

Which one should your brand focus on? Let’s look at different factors

UGC Content on Insense's Instagram post
Post that uses UGC

You can use a combination of traditional and user-generated content. However, it would still be more efficient to focus on the strategy that brings in the most results. Should you go with traditional content or should you pursue UGC?

We’ve broken down the various factors that will help you make this decision.

3 key features of traditional content and UGC

As mentioned above, traditional content is produced by the brand—whether it’s by an in-house team or an outsourced agency. 

UGC is produced by customers, influencers, and content creators—or anyone on behalf of the brand. Brands would then get these raw posts and polish them to produce ads creatives. In fact, brands can now tap platforms like Insense to get UGC at scale

The way how the content materials are created or sourced is the main factor that differentiates the two.

It’s important to note that UGC is not always organically produced. In today’s digital landscape, brands also pursue collaborations with influencers to come up with engaging content. After all, ads with UGC are able to generate 5x more in terms of click-through rates.

UGC used in a Facebook Ad by Maybelline
Ads that use UGC

Advertisers have also started repurposing customer video reviews as their advertisements on social media. These videos are usually filmed selfie-style by existing customers or even influencers. Other examples of strategies include creating product tutorials and showing real-life applications of the products. 

Benefits and drawbacks of traditional content vs. UGC 

Both traditional content and UGC have their benefits and drawbacks, and that is why brands strive to strike a balance in using both in their digital marketing strategy.

In terms of cost and resources, traditional content is almost always more expensive because of the production costs that come with it. After all, you are paying for the creative minds and skillsets of professionals like videographers, a production team, an art director, and copywriters.

UGC, on the other hand, does not cost as much as traditional content—even if they’re organically sourced or produced intentionally with content creators. 

Organically produced UGC, for example, can be repurposed into different ad variations. One product demonstration video can be turned into a video ad. Multiple unboxing videos can be turned into a single ad or combined into a video compilation. 

Partnering with UGC creators can have minimal costs (i.e., you give out free products, you have to pay influencers, someone has to review the content produced). However, it gives brands the freedom to get the output they’re aiming for. All they need to do is provide the influencers and content creators the concept and the brief.

When it comes to the actual quality of the output, traditional content usually looks professional and polished. UGC may not necessarily be up to par with professional studio standards, but this is the beauty of UGC. This is what makes them more relatable and effective. They don’t look like ads so they usually pull in higher engagement which results in conversions.

Another key difference between the two types of content is the way that the message comes across to the audience. 

Here’s what we mean by that:

  • Traditional content is less personal because they don’t include customer insights or points of view. These are all about the brand promoting its products and the brand itself.
  • UGC has more trust indicators. People trust people—70% of online users trust online reviews and recommendations from actual users compared to professionally produced content, 
  • UGC gives off a sense of authenticity that shows potential consumers that your brand has brought value to your existing customers. 31% of consumers shared that UGC ads were more memorable compared to traditional ads.

The drawbacks are not necessarily bad, but they’re important to consider especially when you want every content you put out there to radiate your brand persona.

Quantity and variety of content

Testing is an important aspect of content marketing and advertising. And when you’re invested in testing out your content, you will need a lot of it. It’s easier to produce and scale UGC compared to traditional content which tends to be labor-intensive. 

Additionally, you’ll be surprised at the many ideas you’ll discover from UGC without having to put in the extra long hours. UGC will give you more variation for your paid ads strategy because content creators tend to get creative and think out of the box. 

Here are some quick examples of the various ad types and ideas you can create with UGC:

  • Solo unboxing videos by influencers can also be compiled for a different ad variation
  • Product demonstrations or real-life applications. Beauty brands tend to leverage this style by partnering with makeup gurus, repurposing makeup tutorials by their existing customers, or by creating their demos.
  • Customer testimonials and feedback can take the form of videos, mini-vlogs, or even TikTok reels.

A comparison of ROAS

When it comes to Return on Ad Spend (ROAS), you have to look at the impact of your content. How does UGC impact both existing customers and target users? Let’s look at some numbers. 

  • Nielsen Global found that 92% of consumers find UGC content more trustworthy than other types of advertising 
  • Shopify, the biggest eCommerce platform, reported that ads using UGC receive 4x higher click-through rates compared to other ads—and a 50% drop in cost-per-click!
  • 55% of consumers say they trust UGC, making it a great way to boost sales and retain brand loyalty

What does this information mean? 

Not only does UGC work—it drives better results than ads using traditional content. No wonder 86% of companies are now using various types of UGC in their marketing strategy.

This clearly shows how user-generated content is more relatable, creating more impact compared to traditional content.

This category’s clear winner is UGC. 

It’s already been established that UGC is both less costly and easier to scale, so your marketing budget will go down. As a result, your increased profit and lower costs will give you a pretty large ROI. 

Additionally, the results that UGC brings in can be pretty solid, which means that your profit margin will increase all the more. 

Market pulse 

Market pulse is ever-changing and dynamic. Plus, it’s different across industries. There’s no one-size-fits-all. As marketers, we need to be aware of the market pulse so you can decide whether to go with traditional content or UGC at a certain time.

Traditional content is no longer new as brands often invest in high-quality traditional ads for their full-funnel approach. Lately though, as digital marketing continues to evolve, big brands have started leveraging UGC in a bid to be more authentic and genuine. 

Global brands like Starbucks and Adobe use their well-known names to encourage consumers to post on social media using their new hashtags. Sure enough, this provided them with additional sources of UGC for future ads.

UGC used in Starbucks ads
Starbucks Redcup Contest

Here’s another example. US restaurant Buffalo Wild Wings created an ad made entirely from UGC. 

collection of UGC used for ads
Ad by the US restaurant "Buffalo Wild Wings"

The ad showed people at home creating their own sports since live sporting TV had to pause during the lockdown. You can watch the full video here

Which will you test on your next ad creative? 

Now that you know the clear differences between the two, you can decide which type of media to use on your marketing campaigns.

In a nutshell, both traditional content and UGC have their benefits and drawbacks. Both approaches are effective, but you don’t want to miss out on what could be your potential revenue if only you’d decided to test one. 

Additionally, when you decide to allot a chunk of your marketing strategy to investing in UGC, Insense can assist you in this process.

The real winner is the strategy that works best for your target audience—and this includes testing out both.


Only real campaigns will help you figure out which brings in more results and revenue. Listen to the data and learn how to adjust accordingly. It all boils down to what works best for your consumers.

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Danil Salukov

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