In this issue
Crowdsourcing - find or fad?
|Patrick Meade questions the trend of marketers using people power to generate ideas|
Since this is Marketing.ie magazine and the chances are you're a marketing professional you've probably heard about crowdsourcing. In fact, unless you spent 2009 on sabbatical in Siberia you couldn't really have avoided the concept. Crowdsourcing is the practice of outsourcing a project or job to an online community instead of to company employees.
Charlie Brooker described it as ‘loser generated content' but then he would, as he was using it to describe the cringe worthy ‘Oxo factor' campaign. Crowdsourcing's profile increased with the much publicised T-Mobile campaign, the launch of the world's first (claimed) creative agency built on crowdsourcing principles - Victorsandspoils in New York, Walkers ‘Do us a flavour' promotion and the decision by Unilever to take some of its business out of Lowe and use the website ideabounty.com to crowdsource creative campaigns, with Peperami being the highest profile brief crowdsourced to date.
Crowdsourcing is by no means a new idea and it goes back a lot further than the last year. In 2007, Pepsi launched a campaign to get designs for its new can with a reward of $10,000 to the winners and the honour of having their design go into production. But it goes back further than that still with Doritos using user-generated concepts for its Superbowl commercials in 2006 and again in 2008 after the success of the first outing. Aside from adland, crowdsourcing has been applied with success in other industries. Wiki's are probably the most high profile and regularly used examples and in the field of R&D companies like Procter & Gamble have been using InnoCentive.com to speed up and expand its product development with great results since 2001.
It now has over 185,000 contributors in areas from food science and IT to helping NASA. Apparently there are quite a few part time rocket scientists out there freelancing their abilities for cash. Either that or the broadband coverage in the former Soviet Block has given some out-of-work cold war physicists a way to earn some extra cash.
When it comes to this type of innovation-led process there's no doubt that the advent of Web 2.0 allowing for collaborative problem solving is a positive development. Society is facing some tough battles in the future and whether it's the energy crisis, or the damage to the environment, crowdsourcing offers hope to think that this form of mass collaboration could uncover potential sources of clean fuel to help save the world.
All this is well and good and the potential benefits are plain for all to see but I don't believe we should be as keen to embrace the concept so readily into the creative arena. Crowdsourcing's applications in R&D and scientific areas, where a systematic problem solving approach is key to success, feels somewhat at odds with the creative process in adland where great leaps of lateral rather than logical thought are required.
Our role as a creative agency is to develop ideas. We are hired for our ability to think creatively and our talent is to do it to a brief and a deadline with repeated consistency and regularity. That might be an over simplistic view but it's the nuts and bolts of it. We pride ourselves on sourcing the best talent, putting it to work on our client's behalf with the aim of creating financial benefit and nurturing long lasting relationships.
Unilever decided to crowdsource for its Peperami pork salami stick. It dumped its agency Lowe and went on the Idea Bounty website to find out what consumers wanted.
The idea of ignoring that talent and asking any Tom, Dick or Habib to come up with the idea completely undervalues both our offering and the consistent quality of results required by our clients. It might sound like we have our clients best interests at heart - quick response, wider talent pool etc. - but great work thrives on great relationships where creative talent is nurtured not sidelined or worse still undermined.
At its very best, crowdsourcing can potentially offer an agency a low cost, high-speed way of finding a solution. It could open our business up to a much wider range of talents than we could ever hope to find in our own industry and it may even bring us closer to the consumer through increased brand engagement. For the most part though, it will be time consuming to administer and most responses will be of little or no use.
At its worst, crowdsourcing is a frustrating exercise with nothing to show for it at the end. It can potentially cause serious damage to the confidence of your in-house creative talent, put client relationships at risk, make their corporate ambitions public and offer little in the way of contractual security. It is incumbent on creative agencies to ensure we can always tap into the best talent and thinking both in-house and through contracted specialists - but it should always be under our control and creative direction.
I, for one, see crowdsourcing as a bad idea for our industry. But thankfully I also believe it is just another passing trend. Or, a ‘flash mob' in the pan perhaps.
Patrick Meade (firstname.lastname@example.org) is strategic director at Boys and Girls