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Wednesday, 11 November 2009

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» Can Curating the Crowd Work? from Servant of Chaos
Crowdsourcing is a great concept - but can it work for advertising? Can it work for agencies? And what about the communities who contribute? [Read More]

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Richard Band

Some guys from Crispin here in Boulder just started a new agency based on Crowdsourcing creative ideas. Headed up by John Winsor, it's called Victors and Spoils. It sounds like a new wall is being broken down, and while my instincts tell me to fear it for many of the reasons you mention above, I'm also really curious to see how this experiment works

amelia

Nic Ray actually mentioned that agency to me and had a look at their site
http://victorsandspoils.com/

Like you I'm really curious as to how this works. Feels like more of a creative collective, you have to "join" the agency to be allowed to deliver ideas if I understand right.

Do you know if they have any clients yet?

Richard Band

no idea on V&S clients. I have a look at John Winsor's blog every now and again..I think the agency has only been open 10 days. This is a great debate though and hardly new. It's just that technology has made the assembly & collaboration of multi-talented "crowds" possible. I need to re-read The Wisdom of Crowds! Malcolm Gladwell has spoken about this too...it's the whole genius vs. collective debate that we talked about here http://www.eggstrategy.com/blog/2007/11/what-is-genius/

dan hon

I'm reminded of the line that the Pixar movie Ratatouille ends on: a great chef can come from anywhere but not anyone can be a great chef.

10,000 people don't necessarily equal one Steve Jobs, but by casting the net wider you potentially increase the chance of finding the next one. On the other hand, that says nothing of execution, and doesn't even get into the whole nightmare of spec work and not properly rewarding great work and effort, either.

Alastair Duncan

I thought your comments at media140 were fair. There is disincentive built in to the ideabounty model - if it's a 1000+ to 1 chance in winning any 'bounty' each time the quality of crowd will dwindle. There is something disruptive about the creative cloud, but it will only be sustainable if there's something in it for the crowd, and picking and growing the idea is done well. Not sure every client can *actually* nurture ideas. V&S claim to have had 5 calls from fortune 500 CMOs since launch. They do have good PR, but the substance will come from creative product. Watch out for alternativegenius, the British version that will reward all contributors on the collective model, coming soon :-)

Helen

yeah but:
a) no crearive gets paid £6k for no more work than an idea on a sheet of paper
b) a large number of creatives are paid little or nothing for hard work (interns anyone?) and then let go after the industry has 'milked' them for their idea
c) peperami is a well defined advertising franchise - spotting a good ad within the contraints of teh animal ain't rocket science
d) the fact that the business has been forced to do this shows to what extent the traditional advertising model has become bloated with too many people taking too much margin for too little added value at various stages of the process
e) This was never intended to be 'UGC' so the fact that an ex ad creative has won (if that's the case) is neither here nor there - it just suggests that good ads are written by guys who write ads for a living, but that if you cast your net wider you get 1000 ideas submitted, rather than the usual 3 (if you're lucky) that make it to the client...

twitter.com/tomfarrand

Timely debate, will get ever more topical as more examples hit the headlines and shelves (and high-profile agencies like V&S take the challenge head on)

Good case studies, as you say, are thin on the ground. Lots of talk, and not much action. And there are some very, very bad examples making the whole thing look a little ridiculous

http://www.news.com.au/story/0,27574,26133319-5007146,00.html

Kraft Foods, Vegemite brand extension name from a crowdsourced effort.....wait for it......iSnack 2.0.

Don't need to be a genius to see that idea sucks

Most clients recognise value in working with the right people curate and develop ideas for their brands beyond the initial wide and unfocused trawl (that any process has). I've no idea if Idea Bounty are any good, but if they are, then why shouldn't they become a partner to the client helping them grow their brands?

It's a low risk, low-cost and pretty cheap way to do stuff. But it will only be as good as a) the brief b) the selection and c) the execution. Maybe all ad agencies should be creating new networks and tools to tap into different ways of developing ideas as an option for clients and not see it as a competitor?

I think thhe real challenge is the same as it's always been. Good ideas come from different kinds of people getting passionate about where to take a brand, finding some inspiration and then running like crazy to make it happen. In partnership. The challenge is that there's loads of different ways to get there and they don't always sit under one roof.

amelia

Lots of great food for thought, thank you.

@Helen: You really got me thinking. I guess that it's the old question of how much is a great advertising idea worth (I hope more than 6ooo) and what value clients place on long-term agency relationships.

BTW I am assuming that you're a client not a agency person. It's just that the words and phrases that you use "(its not rocket science", placement teams "milked for ideas", traditional agencies being "bloated" and the desire for 1000s of ideas rather than "the usual 3 if you're lucky") sound like a disillusioned client whose had crappy agency experiences.

I do agree with you that this is a very cost efficient way of getting lots of creative teams doing spec work on a brief essentially for free.

Alastair's point about how long people will continue to submit ideas where there is a 1 in 1000 chance of being paid for them interested me. Can you share any more details about the British crowdsourcing style ad-agency?

Jess

Hello Amelia - we just did a quick interview with one of the founders of Victors and Spoils. My first instinct on learning of their launch was - who exactly IS the crowd in this sense, and what's in it for them? This is what he said. http://www.contagiousmagazine.com/News%20Article.aspx?REF=1248&IsArchive=false

They have a creative agency that sorts through crowd ideas, refines them etc. So they should be able to sort the glimmer of a good idea from the thousands, as you so rightly point out, of shitty ones.

They're a smart team. Looking forward to seeing how/if it works.

amelia

@Tom

Very fair point, agencies should be thinking about how they harness smart, quirky thinking on briefs.

It is probably quite out-dated to believe that the only people who can solve a brief are full-time employees of the agency.

There is certainly a trend, at least I can see one, of smart creative thinkers NOT wanting to be employed full time by one company but instead preferring to work in a more portfolio-style way and picking the projects that genuinely interest them.

Your point of not seeing this as "competition" but rather something to be harnessed is a good one. Hmmm, lots to think over. Thank you.

Mark Hadfield

I debated whether to enter the Peperami thing myself. Just as an exciting/ few rules/ excuse to dust off my creative roots but decided against it as it just seemed so bloody... exploitative. But then I'm already employed, in the industry and don't need to win it.

I'd like to comment on 3 things - some of which are touched on above:

1) I think it is exploitative. We're talking about one of the biggest companies in the UK here. But while we're talking about exploitative things in agency world - let's discuss internships (something we've discussed via email, Amelia). In my opinion these are just as bad. In the short term they take good ideas from people and create profit for an agency. In the longer term they perpetuate the ridiculous notion that even with qualifications, one must start at the bottom when entering agency life. (That's a personal opinion, but one I'm passionate about.)

2) How can the people at Ideabounty sort the wheat from the chaff? Well, one way would be to simply act as one facet all planners should be good at: be a voice of the consumer. In a lot of ways my dad's opinion is just as valid as mine and the same as the bloke behind the counter in a Subway. I do take the point that our experience permits us to analyze and strategically look at the work more than some others, but on a base level I think the people at Ideabounty are as good as anyone else at selecting work if they remember it's not their opinion they're representing, it's the opinion of the consumers.

3) For me, it's a sad day when a client prefers cheap, one-off ideas instead of building a relationship. Peperami can afford to pay the going rate but they've chose to outsource for something much cheaper. This is either because the client wanted some PR for himself/ herself (they're building a career the same as us) or because they genuinely feel they can get more value by casting the net far and wide instead of building a longer term relationship with a prefered agency. I hope it's the former - the latter to me would highlight how poor a lot of agencies are when it comes to genuinely original creative and strategic ideas. There's a lot to be said for a longer term, trusting relationship between agency and client and that's something I'm proud of, and something that shouldn't be taken for granted. It's more than a business relationship, it's about trust, reliability and friendship. That cannot be delivered via crowdsourcing.

Holly

I have to agree with Helen, to a point. As a junior agency creative, I get paid very, very little and £6000 is an awful lot of money to me. It might be small in comparison to what an entire campaign would usually cost the client in agency fees, but it's a lot more than creatives get paid for their ideas in their day jobs.

Add to that the fact that a lot of us aren't working on brands anywhere near as recognisable and cool as Peperami, and you can start to see where the incentive for the creative to enter the competition comes in. It's doing your day job, but on a better brand, with the potential to get a big reward.

I don't actually agree with the crowdsourcing model, and I concur with a lot of your points, Amelia - but with the credit card bills piling up, I can imagine my resistance will probably break down sometime soon.

John

Let me play devil's advocate. I've never worked in an agency but everyone I know who does or has done are smart, creative thinkers and nice people.

That's reflected in the comments above - all well made, all with some validity, but (I hope it's not harsh of me to point out) all from within the silo.

I see no reason why crowdsourcing should generate better ideas/results than the current agency model. But I think its stirrings (and others) should make everyone re-examine the assertions they are making and question for example

whether 6000 is cheap (or do agencies overcharge)

or whether a long term relationship with an agency
is truly valuable (or subsidising overhead)?

I am not saying agencies aren't needed any more - far from it - but it's up to agencies to explain why they are.


twitter.com/justinbasini

Whilst thought provoking it's just too early to tell.

If the campaign is brilliant - builds their brand and shifts volume - then they just got the bargain of the year! That will prove that in this case crowd-sourcing worked.

If the campaign is crap then agencies will breathe a huge sigh of relief and say "told you so".

I think the key is that there are many tools out there to crack many different nuts. Too often agencies have a hammer and therefore see every problem as a nail.

Maybe Peperami wanted to get a PR-led approach, open themselves up to lots of people, become more involving, and save money? Maybe the marketing folks wanted to stimulate a debate in the industry? I don't know but if those are some of the things they wanted to do then in this case sounds like crowd-sourcing could be a good tool to use. But as I started with the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

After all is said and done I'm all for brands and businesses trying new things and innovating. Good for the folks at Peperami for having a go and taking a risk. I, for one, hope it pays off for them. Then I'll have another tool to consider when I develop my next campaign.

Justin Basini
www.blog.basini.com
www.basini.com

Matt

If your going to crowd source surely build the approach more integrally into your brand and the service you offer not simply the advertising which feels slightly irrelevant and stunt like. (Although if you take Wisdom of Crowds they are just as likely to come up with the right solution).

Walkers go a fair way to making crowdsourcing go further than advertising in a campaign context but brands through social should be doing this on an ongoing basis if they want to make crowdsourcing work in a really interesting way. Making their core business and brand continually relevant and interesting not just their advertising

Nic Ray

Hi Amelia, thanks for sharing your point of view on this very contentious debate. I think many of the points you've made (in this post and in person) are absolutely valid. However, I do think it is worth clarifying a few things about how Idea Bounty works and what kind of applications it is suited to.

Firstly, I'd like to stress that we see our creative community (which is now over 8000 strong) as our most important asset. Without these smart people, we would not be able to do what we do - so everything we undertake is aimed at keeping them happy, rewarded and engaged. That said, we are very aware we should be doing a better job at recognising and rewarding the efforts of the community. We have only just turned one, and are still working through many of the challenges that crowdsourcing creativity brings. We're the first to recognise that we are a long way from perfect, but we do believe that we are onto something important and cool and I think (hope!) our community are happy to take this journey with us. We are making some pretty significant changes to how we reward creatives (sharing more of the rewards and recognition with more people) in the very near future - so watch this space.

Secondly, its important to emphasise that Idea Bounty (and any form of Crowdsourcing for that matter) is not appropriate for every marketing / communications brief. In fact, we have turned down a number of clients because we didn't believe their problem was best solved by a crowd. That said, we believe certain briefs can be brilliantly solved by crowdsourcing; the fact that all of our clients have purchased an idea (when they were under absolutely no obligation to do so) goes a long way to proving this.

With regard to your point about 'exploiting' out of work creatives in a recessionary climate - this I do take some umbrage with. Idea Bounty was set up before the recession kicked in and was never intended to be a cheap solution for clients with tight marketing budgets. Yes, it does offer good value for money, but our stated goal is to provide better (and more diverse) creative solutions. In defence of our Unilever clients, this is why they came to us - a diverse range of cunning creativity was their key requirement. Our community is made up of many types of individuals - talented amateurs, frustrated suits and planners, working creative professionals, students / graduates looking to get some experience and build a portfolio and, yes, out of work folk. I think it is easy to sit in your great job at VCCP and say that we are exploiting these poor people by offering such meagre rewards - the reality is that for most of our community (of which many are based in South Africa, India and Asia) $10000 is a seriously significant reward. We are not putting a gun to anybody's head - they join and submit their ideas on their own free will. The fact that we got over 1000 submissions for the Peperami brief underlines that we are meeting a real demand. Finally, I'd like to stress that we do not stipulate how much work a creative should put into their submission - they can send a doodle on a napkin, a descriptive paragraph ... or a fully worked up campaign. They can chose how much work they want to do based on the reward and their own capacity / ambitions. Interesting, some of the finalists of the Peperami brief were just short paragraphs.

Lastly, I'd like to tackle your point about how the ideas were judged. Coming from 6 years at the good ship Ogilvy, I think I fully appreciate how important (and difficult) recognising a good idea can be. Idea Bounty offers clients the option of judging the ideas themselves or letting us help with the filtering. In the Peperami case, the ideas were judged by a panel of seriously experienced individuals - a former senior planner at Ogilvy, the former global CMO of SAB Miller (who also happened to found The AVG Group), an ex executive creative director at Ogilvy....and of course, the clients themselves. We used a considered, rigorous process to pick the winners and every idea was read and debated. The judging process culminated in a full day workshop where the finalists were put through some fiery hoops and were championed and challenged. In short, I think we tackled the idea judging with the respect and responsibility it deserves.

I hope I have answered some the questions and challenges you and your readers raised. Whilst we have a lot of work to do in evolving our model, I ultimately can't see how many talented creatives responding to a client brief (as opposed to two) can be a bad thing for clients, creatives or the industry.

Thanks

Nic

twitter.com/justinbasini

If Mark Sherrington had anything to do with it God help you! ;)

twitter.com/grumblemouse

For what it's worth here's my two-penneth. Crowdsourcing is clearly an awesome way of generating great PR, stimulating engagement with the added benefit of input from people that can see the wood for the trees however there is something with the Peperami version that doesn't sit well.

The Walkers campaign was open to everyone - you didn't need any special skills to enter, it was fun and the bounty was fairly hefty - £50K and 1% of future sales aint bad for submitting your favorite food. Friends and families could all enter and it was sent to a public vote.

Conversely the Netflix algorithim competition was super niche - not just anybody can build an awesome recommendation engine so apart from the fairly sizable prize of $1m there's a huge amount of peer cachet at stake.

I think that's where the peperami approach sits badly with me - the prize of £6K for an integrated campaign is rediculous - I know we all have rent and credit card bills but you're probably going to hash out some ideas with a couple of mates which essentially leaves you with a couple of grand each - if you win!

Some friends and I actually did spend a couple of hours discussing this over beers until we realised we're essentially working for free - if 1000 entries were received that means 999 entries didn't make it - in theory you could have had 1998 people working on your pitch for free.

Another point is that the cost of entering the Walkers campaign was minute - the Netflix campaign clearly took a lot of time but even if you didn't win you've buit yourself an awesome recommendation engine which is a useful thing to have around - what do you get left with if you don't win the Peperami competition - a bunch of ideas about an angry meat stick which is about as useful outside a peperami campaign as, well it's fairly useless.

Another point following on from Mark's point about relationships is that if you're working with a client there's a dialogue (in theory) - how many people sit down and say to a client 'this is what we're going to do' and the client says 'awesome - great - let's not change anything' - probably very few - great ideas don't exist out of context, they arise out of conversation and dialogue and building on solid ideas and chucking out the weaker bits.

Like you mentioned Amelia, Meekats on first glance probably looked and sounded bonkers but it's been super successful - I guess it just seems that Peperami are selling both themselves and the people that enter the competition short.

One last thing - the ideasbounty site says

"Clients: Get thousands of minds thinking about your brief and only pay for what you use.
Creatives: Get paid for your best ideas with no long term commitment from you.

I think there are 2 false promises here. The first one is that you really can get quality goods for cheap - of course you can get cheap stuff, look at Primark, but if you want something that lasts you usually have to pay a bit more. Secondly I think it's wrong to assume that people don't want commitment - I know we've been sold this idea that we're all digital nomads and that freelancing is the way forward and a release from the tyranny of the daily grind but that's just not the case - we're social beings, we define ourselves through the relationships we build whether they're work or family etc - the fact that a company doesn't want to build a relationship with you even though you've just submitted your BEST idea is tantamount to waking up next to someone who then hands you says 'thanks for last night, here's tenner, don't let the door hit your ass on the way out!'

Sarah Manners

@grumblemouse: "The first one is that you really can get quality goods for cheap - of course you can get cheap stuff, look at Primark, but if you want something that lasts you usually have to pay a bit more." I think plenty of excellent ideas have been generated by the briefs on Idea Bounty, so I have to disagree that is a false promise.

I think the crowdsourcing platform allows anyone - not just those who have been trained in / work in the creative field - to get a little zany and submit a killer idea. Sometimes it's the people who aren't viewed as "Creative", that have the most unique and least affected ideas. At the end of the day, it's just the big idea not its execution that is being rewarded by the Bounty - after all just because I am a copywriter doesn't mean I can execute a full campaign. And as “creative” myself, I would never in a million years earn that kind of reward for an idea alone.

It’s a contentious subject no doubt, but it’s is an interesting new twist on an old game and is keeping the industry on its toes.

amelia

@Nic Ray and @Sarah Manners : Thank you for sharing your experiences as part of the Idea Bounty team. It's really important to get your views. I've got a couple of questions if that's ok.

Can you share any examples of great ideas that have been produced through Idea Bounty and how much the "bounty" was for them? I'd also love to know if you get a sense of where your submissions are coming from. I know that the Peperami was UK mainly (at least I think that's what Nic said - which makes sense as its a UK brand)

I thought that it was interesting that you had "expert" advertising judges as the panel to choose the winner alongside the client, did these people get paid to judge?

David Law

I think crowdsourcing is great as a suggestion box. However it does feel like clients/agencies are flailing for big cheap input - 'Quality, not quantity' wins for me. Malcolm's Gladwell's '10,000 hours of experience to be deemed an expert' applies to ONE individual, not 1 hr of 10,000 people!

Peter Blackman

Not directly linked, but about a year ago, some fellow advertising and design professionals and I tried to get a website off the ground. The idea was that ideas were free. You can still see it here www.thefreethinker.co.uk

We never had the time or the sustained energy to keep posting up work that we couldn't sell or didn't get approved. Nor, given the provincial nature of the briefs / clients, was some of the work much good! Not our fault of course....:)

But it was an interesting exercise - we got lots of good feedback in new business pitches, i.e 'this is what we're going to do with this work if we don't win'

In the end we all had to concentrate on the day job. So we're neglecting it now. Which is rather a shame. It felt good to post something up that had just been rejected. Especially the price comparison campaign. Especially when that same client recently ran the 'singing tenor' campaign!

twitter.com/neurokinetikz

Hi Amelia. Thought provoking article. Thanks for sharing.

I work at a company called quirky.com and we crowdsource the design and development of consumer products every week. I encourage you to take a look at the results of our efforts.

We have found that crowdsourcing can be surprisingly effective when:

1.) users are incentivized in perpetuity for their efforts
2.) all users who contribute to the product's success are rewarded
3.) the 'crowd' evaluates hundreds of ideas so that we can focus on the top few, and
4.) there is someone steering the crowd

Many powerful feedback loops are created that encourage and reward this collective creativity.

Daniel

@amelia

Hi another of the Idea Bounty team jumping in here - thanks for kicking off this discussion by the way!

In terms of giving an example of a winning idea. Due to the way our system works the ideas never belong to us at any one point. Most of the ideas that were bought are still in the production phase. I can how ever direct you to a campaign executed by Levies in South Africa that came out of their brief on Idea Bounty - http://www.levi.co.za/Press/PressDetail.aspx?id=1120

Then in terms of where the submissions are coming from - creatives come from over 68 countries with the biggest being the South Africa, the UK, US and then Brazil, India, Australia. With the Peperami brief we definitely saw a spike in the amount of submission from the UK but that was to be expected since these would all be people who know the brand well. Having said this there were strong submission for all over. I also have to say that this is because the brand is so strong prolific that it would have been easy for someone to get a grasp on what was required of them.

Then the people who judged the ideas - they are all employed by Idea Bounty so yes they are paid.

Then just chipping in on your point that crowdsourcing runs the risk of exploring creatives. Some of our winners in the (infact allot of the entries) really are just a couple of paragraphs on a page and we even had one winning idea that was summed up in a single three sentence paragraph. The chances of a creative in an agency walking away with a min of $3000 for an idea is slim and think it would be difficult to agrue explotation here.

In fact we have had a couple of very senior creatives mailing us to let us know how much they are enjoying the briefs and the chance to keep their cogs turning on fun problems in their spare time - the chance of making some extra cash for that family holiday never hurts.

I closing I would like to say that Idea Bounty is still young and we are working out the bumps and niggled in the model so thank you for bringing up the points that you do!

Cheers,

Daniel
@IdeaBounty

Rish

This has been a really illuminating debate. My two'pennorth is that, actually, there are limits to how far the crowdsourcing process can go in advertising.

Why? Because of the nature of what's being asked to be produced. You're highly unlikely to have a situation where a majority of ads or executions can be crowdsourced, because of the inherent drawbacks of crowds. Don't forget, even Suroweicki says there are limits to what crowds can do:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wisdom_of_Crowds#Failures_of_crowd_intelligence

And I think it's wise to keep in mind that, generally where crowds work best is where there are numeric, quantifiable decisions to be made - right or wrong questions, that can be successfully answered in decision markets, for example. Creative questions are rarely that.

Yes, ideas can come from everywhere. But good ideas rarely do.

mark sherrington

Thanks Mr Basini for outing me - Mark Sherrington here. I don't have too much to add to Nic's comments but would thoroughly endorse first hand a) the respect with which the creatives are treated b) the thoroughness of the selection process. Like Nic I'd stress the view that this is right for some clients, some briefs, some situations. With the benefit of age I'd like to remind the community that advertising started with people acting as agents selling ad space who threw in the actual ads as an extra service, often free. That is why they were called agencies and explains the old commission system which persisted for some time! Look how it developed over the years. Idea Bounty and this whole approach to crowd sourcing creative submissions (which is different to UGC) is still very young. Give it some time. But finally please explain to me as a former client why on some occasions it is not a good idea to seek creative solutions from not just one agency creative team but several and yes even thousands. This is exactly what agencies have been doing for years and is business as usual for many big USA clients who throw out briefs regularly to more than one agency. When I was at SABMiller working on the Miller turn around that is exactly what the US Miller team did and the award winning work was a composite of at least 3 agencies. Like I say sometimes, not always, more heads are better than one. I see lots of potential for Idea Bounty and offers like it. As Adam Morgan pointed out to me, if nothing else it is an amazing way to get insight on a creative problem even if you then use the insight within a conventional agency relationship. It's new & exciting, it offers a choice, it will develop in unexpected ways. Marketers can be real Luddites sometimes. I thought we were supposed to like innovation?

neilperkin

Useful couple of links re this:- if you haven't seen it, @eyecube did a pretty thorough look at the subject including an interview with Evan Fry here:
http://bit.ly/2ObGnw
And I think Jon Howard also makes a good point about how a crowdsourced poor idea is still a poor idea, but you could be stuck with it...
http://bit.ly/4swmLs

John V Willshire

What we do know about digital information on t'internet is that whenever things become digital, they lose 'value', no matter that they cost the same to 'produce' as they did before.

Music tracks being a prime example, of course.

And if there's a place where these newly digitised pieces of information can be gathered at almost no cost to the creator, that place will become swamped with stuff that just crosses that threshold of 'good enough'.

Like Myspace, for instance. The home of a million 'ok' bands (mine and yours included).

...so...

...do we run the risk of making the main thing our industry has to sell (the 'ideas') into our equivalent of MP3s? Hosted in the idea equivalent of Myspace?

Or does it not matter, because every advertising/media/digital agency could never monetise 'the idea' anyway, it was always about product/commission/build etc?

Tiffany

Wow - really impressive debate.

Being from the strategy side, I'm curious about the role of planning at Idea Bounty, and in the crowdsourcing creative model in general.

Normally a planner has to work closely with the creative department until an idea is right - it's a process of back and forth, tweaking, homing in, which I don't imagine is possible in this model - not to mention all the work that goes before the actual brief, such as brand positioning, strategy research etc.

Is this model taking the strategy client-side and making planners redundant? Or, will we start to see crowdsourced strategy take off too?

Philip O'Neill

One of the elements I find interesting in this debate is the precedent that’s been set within agencies and marketing departments. My observation is that there’s a lot we’ve done that legitimises the concept of crowdsourcing.

When Unilever originally announced its intention to crowdsource ideas for Peperami, Matt Burgess, (managing director of the Unilever division that owns Peperami) said "Lowe has done great work on the account over the years. They've created a strong creative vehicle that's extremely well-defined and very portable. But their great work has created a problem for them, because it makes Peperami the obvious candidate for crowdsourcing."

Which effectively means that the agency’s done such a good job, they’re not needed any more. As an agency person I want to be outraged by this, but he’s so obviously right. Because we do exactly the same thing ourselves. How many times has an agency used a senior team to crack a ‘big’ idea, produce the first couple of executions that establish the framework, then handed it on to juniors to roll out? We do it all the time, and we do it proudly. It’s responsible business and efficient use of resource. Which means it’s also responsible business for Unilever.

He also explained that "We want to get the creative back from 'good' to 'outstanding' again. The best way to increase our chances was to increase the amount of creatives exposed to this brief. This is the overriding driver."

Again, I really want to be outraged. The problem is that there aren’t enough creatives exposed to the brief? Surely only a client could think quantity more important than quality when applying creative minds. But actually, we do that too. How many times have we stood before a client in a pitch, or even just a significant presentation, and told them that this is such an important/interesting/last-ditch project that we’ve put ‘all the agency’s resources to work on it’? We say it all the time, believe it to be true, and so teach clients that more is merrier.

We also throw up the argument that to develop great work you need people who are intimately familiar with the brand, and to whom the brand’s language is second-nature. This closeness, we argue, is what enables these people to deliver consistently outstanding work. But then in a completely contradictory stance we argue that the essence of any great brand should be able to be distilled to one word, any great idea captured in a simple statement and any decent brief distilled to a single-page. Which really means that any strong creative mind should be able to develop good work for such a brand. So again, you can see the client’s logic for a crowdsourced solution. They’ve defined the brand, established the campaign idea and have a clear brief for the execution. You don’t need familiarity with the brand, which means you don’t need an ongoing relationship with a good agency.

And lastly (sorry for the rant) clients have been building towards this for a long time. I’ve been in the industry 20 years and most marketing departments have been crowdsourcing for at least that long.

Because for most clients, crowdsourcing is what focus groups are for. Put eight people in a room, give them a half-baked new product idea and ask them to redesign it. Then slavishly do whatever they suggest because it’s ‘what consumers want’. Change the format, the flavour or the font. Ask them what the packaging should look like, what cause the brand should support and who should be cast in the ads. Ignore the opinions of the experienced professionals and take guidance sourced from the interested amateurs. That’s crowdsourcing.

Every ‘agency’ bone in my body makes me want to be angry and rail against the injustice, just as I want to be able to mount an argument that suggests the whole argument for creative crowdsourcing is flawed. But I just don’t think that from a client perspective it is.

I don’t believe that crowdsourcing is likely to deliver a great, fortune-changing idea for a brand. I do believe that working closely with a collection of smart people (possibly within an agency) might. Because that’s been my experience.

But I just can't find a way to explain to a company like Unilever why that’s the case.


marktylerb

Doesn't crowdsourcing lead to Clients having creative directors to be able to take responsibility for the decision which leads to clients having agencies which leads to Lintas which leads to.....

Craig

Amelia,

Let's get rid of this artificial distinction between 'creatives' and the rest of humanity. In my experience all human beings are creative in their own way and, having spent more than 15 years in marketing-related fields, good ideas come from all walks of life from people with diverse experiences.

If there's any commonality I've seen for good ideas it is that they are born of diversity of thinking - so in that regard crowdsourcing provides much greater access to diversity than does your average advertising agency - or selection of agencies in your own country (even when owned internationally).

In the long-run what organisations are really looking for are solutions that deliver what they want. They aren't interested in preserving that company-ad agency partnership or keeping a bunch of 'creatives' in employment.

On that basis it's irrelevant whether individuals - you, me or others - believe that crowdsourcing ideas is a good or a bad strategy.

All that counts is whether it delivers the outcomes organisations want in a more cost-effective way than other approaches.

I reckon it is too early to tell whether crowdsourcing will make major inroads into the business of advertising agencies (and their 'creatives'). However I'd certainly put my money into trialing a crowdsourcing approach a couple of times to test whether it delivers a better outcome. I think other prudent organisations will consider similar approaches.

At the end of the day, though, the IdeaBounty isn't really crowdsourcing, it's tendering at an individual level.

The next stage in development will be the really interesting one - more like NetFlicks - where people with ideas interact directly with each other, not simply the intermediary or client, and thereby explore, develop and improve ideas before they are presented to the client.

Remember that the winner of NetFlicks was a group of separate teams who all decided to get together in order to gain that extra edge. They combined their ideas for success - and that's true crowdsourcing.

And to finish with a comment on the value of the contract/award/prize at the end of an IdeaBounty process. If people felt the money was too little they'd not bother entering. At this stage - with most companies still going an agency route - there's no pressure for someone to submit an idea to IdeaBounty.

How much is an idea worth anyway? From my experience the quality of the idea rarely reflects the cost of an ad agency. As many ideas only become great or mediocre in hindsight, there's limited capabilities for ad agencies to charge more for a great idea than for an ordinary one - and, in many cases, the effort exerted in time and resources doesn't reflect the brilliance of an idea anyway. We don't really pay for the idea, we pay for the efforts of the agency.

Find a way to correctly value ideas based on their brilliance and you'll fundamentally reshape the communications industry.

Stephen Wolak

Interesting point about Ideas Bounty doing the filtering for the client ...this is the bit of the process that SHOULD be crowdsourced.

Betavine (www.betavine.net) has been using crowdsourcing for mobile technology research since 2007 but now we are trying to use it for social change. The Betavine Social Exchange aims to bring together NGOs with ICT challenges and mobile developers / support partners with mobile solutions.

Laurel Papworth

Hi,
Heh the http://TwitterAgency.com was one of the first fun crowdsourced agency for Australia - we set it up to look at pitching for social media contracts. But the back-end, cloud based business solutions just aren't there yet, including revenue share across the "team".

http://AdCandy.com predates TwitterAgency.com by years - 2004 I think it started asking people to create ads around brands they like then would pitch them to those companies. Current.TV (Al Gore's station) also has crowdsourced advertising.

I wrote a post a year or so ago called Protecting UGC - Our Content http://laurelpapworth.com/protecting-ugc-our-content/
which covered a movement to stop "design our logo" competitions by a group called NoSpec - asking designers not to submit to free or cheap competitions. They've been around for years, and some similar other anti-brand activist organisations.

Important discussions, they should continue... :)
Cheers, Laurel @SilkCharm

Holycow

Good debate and for what its worth here's my thoughts:

1) It entirely depends on the category and whether there is a strong advertising and product legacy to draw upon. This 'bit of an animal' was entirely based on a semiotic analysis of the category (something I have championed for many years) which allowed a multitude of creative ideas to flow then and now. The hard bit was the creative platform. If agencies get good at delivering this sort of value - as many did in the past - then we as an industry have little to worry about. Crowdsourcing in this case I think is ideal.

2) Agencies that kick against any form of 'Open-Sourcery' are making themselves look increasingly like spoilt children. Why? Because we don't like to admit we are run as financial businesses not creative businesses first and foremost and when we lose revenue, HQ gets to find out and bottoms must be smacked. No-one likes a smacked botty at bonus time. Making the ad isn't where the majority of the loss is felt financially - but it is felt emotionally. Get over it I say.

3) A smart marketing led client who knows what they are doing will increasingly not require a host of agency bag carriers and a self-opinionated creative head telling them how to handle their brand narratives. Before that happens (and it's as unlikely as policemen not getting younger IMHO) we can add value strategically by linking our outputs to their business objectives rather than over focusing on the brilliant but unquantifiable potential of a mood tape in a plush boardroom.

4) It's a huge opportunity to reconfigure an outmoded structure and to admit we don't have all the answers creatively. We might have a disproportionate amount of the talent pool for a short while in one or two agencies but the world is changing and so should we. Let's get better at accepting that we can add value at a business level like management consultants do but be the respected voice of choosing the best brand narratives from a wide range of sources that can deliver high levels of brand equity.

Toby

As an MD of a digital agency in a bigger group, this debate has really got me thinking. Thanks to Nic Ray for highlighting the debate at Social Media ’09.

It appears to be a direct crowd-sourcing (or exploitation depending on your point of view) v traditional agency model (or bloated agency depending on your point of view) argument.

I can’t help but think the future probably lies somewhere between these two models.

To me both of these models seem inherently flawed. Amelia and others make some very valid points about the limitations of Ideas Bounty’s model, they don’t need repeating but they are hard to completely ignore.

At the same time I do think traditional agencies are bloated. Every time we work with a traditional advertising agency we are blown away by the number of agency people involved, even the assistants have assistants. And all of this means fees.

It’s completely understandable that Ideas Bounty and similar concepts have been born out of a reaction to an industry that hasn’t adapted quickly enough to the way the world is changing.

Everyone talks a good game, we all tell our clients how we’re in a rapidly changing world, how they need to change the way they communicate and engage with their consumers, how we can guide them through this complex place. We scare them with examples of businesses that have failed to grasp that change, of industries that have been decimated.

But when it comes to our own industry we are obsessed by integration. The focus of debate seems to be how we get a bunch of disciplines based on channels to work together, or create agencies that can blur the edges. All very important stuff, but possibly blinkered.

We don’t seem to be all that radical in how we look at Agency models. For me it seems like there is a spectrum with trad agencies and overly-paid execs and under-paid interns at one end and then crowd-sourcing and exploited out of work creatives at the other. Surely there must be a better way?

Shared-ownership, loose collectives, bonuses based on client objectives not agency profitability?

Stuart Witts

I couldn't agree more. You can read my thoughts on the Media 140 Blog - http://media140.org/?p=561

Tom Hopkins

I've probably stumbled on this topic late in the day and without the history, but isn't this precisely why agencies exist?

Just the generation of ideas can be carried out for advertising in a hit and miss 'one at a time' fashion. This has always been the case. But agencies are there to make the advertising effective not just creative.

If a top (and strategically-orientated) agency told its client a third of the ideas where coming from creative teams, one third from random 'crowdsourcing' and a third from a magic box in the kitchen, would they really care?

Aside from the (voluntary?) exploitation of creative thinkers, and the bigger concern over whether this technique will actually be efficient (£6,000 isn't a lot but how much time does it take to sieve through the 999 runners up?), I don't see:

a. How anyone could object to it as a method

b. How it really impacts on traditional agency services of planning, measurement, account handling etc.

Bounty, or whoever, will need those credentials too - in account management and planning - as well as considerable capabilities in the logistics of running a creative or ideas contest.

The traditional agencies should be less shy, perhaps, about admitting where they really can add value - orchestrating the advertising show, wherever and however the ideas are cooked up.

Promotional Products

Wow, great article and great comments. You have sparked quite the discussion. I'm a big believer that crowdsourcing is beneficial to marketers. You can get some very candid opinions when you employ this tactic, and this is a great way to review and improve your practices.

sean

It's crazy how many sites are playing this space now. I've posted a long list here:

http://hernaturehisnurture.com/2009/02/10/the-user-generated-market

Karan

I've worked at VictorsAndSpoils.com and i've won money there on the Harley Davidson brief. So i can say for certain that the model works.

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