Did CP&B’s crowdsourcing experiment backfire? Have designers created an exclusive club designed to keep newcomers out?
Go ahead; pick the headline for this post. I’m crowdsourcing it. There was plenty of buzz on Twitter and in the press today about whether or not CP&B’s crowdsourcing experiment for client Brammo Motorcycles backfired (No pun intended.) The agency, in its inimitable practice of calling attention to itself, went and initiated a crowdsourced logo competition for Brammo, offering a paltry $1000.00 to the winner. (Obviously they made the prize so small intentionally, knowing it would incur the wrath of the design community and generate buzz for the agency.)
No surprise, it didn’t take long for the critics to emerge and start a #nospec hashtag on Twitter. A believer in “all publicity is good publicity” Crispin let all the comments show up on its beta blog website. Folks who just don’t get it may have thought this constituted a faux pas. No doubt, however, that at Crispin people were celebrating once again.
Personally I’m a huge believer in crowdsourcing. At my agency, Mullen, we’re experimenting with it ourselves, joining with clients to try it out and meeting with as many crowdsourcing companies as we can to determine how best to use it. Why? A. We owe it to our clients. B. Consumers want and even insist on a role in a brand’s voice and content. C. If we don’t, we’re simply leaving it up to someone else to do.
It’s not our intention to exploit the crowd or necessarily to source cheap content, but rather to embrace the inevitable and discover what it can yield. In fact the real value in contests like the one CP&B is running may not be in the logo that gets created but in giving customers a chance to participate in the process. While we’re actually more interested in the co-creation side of crowdsourcing – memes, propagation, group created content – we are in the process of launching a crowdsourcing program for ourselves and potentially our clients, initially working with schools and portfolio programs and eventually with the community at large. There’s much to figure out, but we’re committed.
However there’s another side to today’s story. And that’s the reaction of the design community and its reluctance to tolerate spec work. In advertising, there’s no one who likes spec work. But the industry already dug that hole. Not unlike the media giving away free content, we’ve made it a practice in our desire to win business and gain attention and there’s no going back.
But we’re not the only ones. Architects, filmmakers, and writers all create some form of content for free in the hopes of winning an assignment. What makes designers so special? (I’m not talking Paul Rand, here.) The critics among them must either think their talent is so rare, unique and valuable that they don’t need to compete. Or those who are finally semi-established must figure that now that they’re in the exclusive club it’s their responsibility to keep everyone else – young designers, students, aspiring talent – out.
The interesting thing about crowdsourcing is this. It hasn’t emerged as a new phenomenon because there are clients and companies who want cheap content. It’s emerged because there’s a community of aspiring professionals, or, yes, amateurs, who want to try their hand, find out how good they are, or have their work considered by those who curate it. By the way, this isn’t new. Planter’s Peanuts crowdsourced its logo in 1916. A 13 year-old kid won and a professional designer tweaked it.
Will there be crowdsourced logos created today that live for another 93 years? My guess is yes. So, where do you stand? For crowdsourcing? Or against?
One thing I notice an awful lot of are comments on blogs that start, “Great post,” or “I couldn’t agree more.” Rarely do I see “What are you out of your mind?” Or “Are you on crack?” Yet I wonder if instead of simply echoing each other’s sentiments about the awesomeness of community or the transformational power of social media, or the lack of vision of those who’ve yet to embrace Twitter, we should have a few more disagreements.
Let’s debate whether or not Twitter actually will extend its value from the core user community to have a long term impact on individuals and marketers. Let’s disagree about whether social media is replacing true human contact. Maybe we can get really opinionated and insist that despite the community’s desire to participate in creating advertising that crowdsourcing is a terrible idea if we value quality creative and craftsmanship. Better yet we can even have an argument over what we should argue about.
Everyone agrees with Chris Brogan. At least most of the time. (Usually I do, too.) And with Seth Simonds. And with David Armano. And with Amber Naslund. I’m noticing that people are more often than not agreeing with me. Which is the last thing I’m looking for.
It seems to be a blog thing, especially a social media blog thing. It’s far less common on news and editorial sites. When I wrote an article for AdWeek last April, lots of people disagreed with me. I loved that. It made for interesting debate and conversation and I even got a post out of it.
Maybe we simply need to write more challenging posts and take more controversial positions. Or perhaps we should all go and read people with whom we disagree instead of those who already reinforce our positions.
Am I the only one? Are we all just a little to considerate out here? What do you think? Agree? Or disagree?
This week, Mitch Joel wrote a thought-provoking piece suggesting that it’s time for brands to abandon pursuit of the big idea. As with all good posts, this one inspired lots of comments, many of them advancing the conversation, but most of them predictably agreeable.
From what I can tell, however, none of those comments come from brands or advertisers who might actually know whether big ideas still hold value. Nor did they come from people who’ve actually conceived big ideas themselves. By that I’m referring to things like The Ultimate Driving Machine, Just Do It, Got Milk, or Dove’s campaign for Real Beauty.
My guess is there’s not a brand in the world that wouldn’t die for an idea like that.
So in one way, Mitch is dead wrong. Brands still want a big idea.
But if by big idea he means a Superbowl spot, or the multi-million dollar TV campaign or the single, overly produced flash heavy website, then Mitch is dead right.
A big idea can only succeed if it can be executed in a lot of little ideas. Why? I think you know the answer. Your consumer isn’t sitting around waiting for a message. For starters if she wants to know about you, she’ll either conduct a search of ask someone on Twitter. If she wants to be amused or entertained she’s got an iPhone and YouTube. And let’s face it; if she is watching TV, she probably has a DVR system.
Mitch refers to the days portrayed in MadMen — “wooing the big clients and winning them over with one pitch and one big idea “ — to draw a distinction between a time when a single concept worked and now.
Interestingly, the show MadMen markets itself with lots of little ideas: the poster of Don Draper up to his waist in water; coffee mugs with a dotted line an inch from the rim reminding you that’s how much whiskey to pour; a viral avatar that’s all over Twitter; and a rare willingness to relinquish control of the brand to the evangelists who want a role in promoting it. Each one of these ideas is pretty darn good, definitely effective, and cumulatively better than any single execution could ever be.
Which brings me to the real point. As Mitch suggests, we may need more than a singular big idea, but our little ideas better not be small. Our little ideas have to be Big Little Ideas. Otherwise they’ll never grab attention, be remembered, inspire engagement and drive results.
What do you think? Big ideas? Little ideas? Or Big little ideas?
Anyone on Twitter knows the power of the medium. We’ve seen one person call on his community to raise money for someone in need. We’ve witnessed the near instant display of support for Iranian free speech. And we observe daily big and small examples of crowdsourcing.
But one of the coolest demonstrations of Twitter’s power is its recent use in movie making. For Erik Proulx, the man behind Lemonade, Twitter aided in casting, staffing, equipping, transporting, and promoting this soon to be documentary.
Having connected with hundreds of unemployed advertising people on his blog Please Feed the Animals, Erik was inspired to tell their stories of life after exile.
“I thought I’d end up making a simple video of people sharing what happened to them and how they dealt with losing their jobs. Something with production qualities similar to what you see on YouTube,” he explained over coffee.
Clearly Erik wasn’t thinking big enough. Using Twitter to spread the word, a request for personal stories yielded 75 full-blown responses in a matter of days. Picture Park, a Boston production company, saw the conversation online and volunteered its production services to film people telling their stories. Another Twitter follower from Sony Pictures forwarded to Erik the name of a contact at a camera rental house willing to donate equipment. And in a virtual coup, after Erik mobilized a few Twitter friends to @reply Virgin America and ask the company to contribute airfare, the airline came through.
“It took Virgin America all of two hours to respond and offer up free flights for the Boston based film crew to fly to Los Angeles to record subjects who lived on the west coast,” says Erik, still surprised at the impact a few tweets can have.
Lemonade is in final production as I write this. But the role of Twitter continues. Enter Darrell Whitelaw and team (see Darrell’s comment below) who’s building a website, still in its early stages, that will house the film and offer an interactive experience where users can upload and share their personal stories via video. Where did Erik and Darrell meet? You guessed it.
Lydia Dishman, a Twitter friend of mine who I met during Wednesday evening’s #editorchat, noticed my tweets about the trailer and instantly asked for an introduction to Erik so she could write a piece for Fast Company.
And the beat goes on. The day after Erik and I met, HBO contacted him asking for a description of the finished film for its consideration. While anyone would want visibility for their movie, Erik has decided to eschew any distribution (festivals, theaters) if it means he can’t put it online. “I certainly don’t want anyone who’s lost a job to have to pay to see this film,” he explains.
From the trailer, Lemonade looks incredibly promising: genuine, inspiring, beautifully filmed. It’s a lesson in re-invention and transformation. But just as important, it’s a lesson in how much you can accomplish when you add social media to the mix.
Lemonade the movie. Conceived by Erik Proulx. But brought to you by Twitter.
What’s the best project you’ve seen made possible by Twitter or social media?
I knew Richard Russo was coming to our little neighborhood bookstore in Brewster today to sign copies of his latest novel That Old Cape Magic. But I’d already bought the book and read it, and besides, every time a noteworthy writer shows up at the Brewster book store the lines stretch across the parking lot.
Sure enough, when I passed the tiny shop on a late morning bike ride with my two kids, 100-plus readers stood anxiously peering over the shoulders of those ahead of them as they awaited their turn in line for a brief audience with the author.
I called out, “Love the book,” as I rode by and figured that would be the end of it. But upon returning an hour later, the line was gone and Richard Russo sat alone, beneath an awning in the 90-degree heat, diligently signing copies of his book for future customers.
“Go talk to him,” encouraged my eight-year-old son as we came to a stop at the corner of 6A where we were about to cross. “Come on, Dad, go.” So I did.
With my kids standing patiently nearby, Richard Russo and I chatted about Cape Magic and writing and authors. During our brief conversation he never stopped scribbling his name, half looking up and half making sure his Sharpie stayed in the center of the title pages, one after another. The stack of autographed books already stood as tall as the author himself, who seemed surprisingly shorter than I’d imagined –must be that I assumed physical stature would equal literary stature – but he kept right on signing. It was impressive to see a Pulitzer Prize winning author, humbly sitting in a folding chair behind a portable table, fulfilling his responsibility to readers.
I had time to ask him a few questions. How long had it take to write That Old Cape Magic? He told me that he’d never written a novel as quickly as this one. It took but a year and a half to get it right, a short time for him.
He shared his writing habits: daily, morning, but not early. “Definitely not at the crack of dawn, not even close,” he emphasized with a smile that suggested, “if you think I get up at that early, you have no idea.”
Finally I wanted to know whom he’s been reading. “I recently judged the Hemingway awards for first time authors” he offered without missing a beat. “I can give you four books I read and liked. You won’t be disappointed.”
This is great, I thought, personal recommendations from Richard Russo. As I was about to leave I said, “Richard, the only town you didn’t mention in That Old Cape Magic was Brewster. How come?” He seemed surprised and thought about it for a moment. “I didn’t? Not sure why, it’s one of my favorite towns on the Cape.”
The encounter took all of 10 minutes, but it made me think. Local bookstores, personal appearances by Richard Russo and authors like him would, at first glance, seem like the oldest form of marketing there is. But isn’t this what all of us are trying to do in the age of conversation?
The little Brewster Bookstore and Richard Russo don’t simply talk, they listen. They engage their audience. They create a community. They provide them with useful content. And if this post is an example, they inspire word of mouth. Funny, as marketers we talk about social media as if it’s this new phenomenon. Yet if we pulled our eyes away from the screen for a few minutes we’d realize it’s actually all around us, there to learn from and replicate.
Oh by the way, here’s what Richard suggested I read:
Met any good authors lately? Visited any great bookstores? Noticed any examples of community and conversation worth learning from? Please share.