Crowdsourcing creativity: could this actually happen?

Imagine there are two agencies left in a pitch for a beer account.  Four others have been eliminated including the incumbent.

But the client, as all clients do, asks for one more round of creative. Both agencies are pretty spent.  Unbeknownst to each other, each agency decides to crowdsource its final round of creative in hopes of finding something fresh.

Fortunately, the competing shops each choose a different crowdsourcing platform.  Agency A chooses to go with Victors and Spoils; Agency B signs on with AdHack. Both platforms assure that they can conduct the process secretly. Victors and Spoils is confident because it has a vetted group of creative talent from all over the world; the company knows much of its community personally and can admit to the “competition” only those who it feels bit the bill.

AdHacks is sure because it has all the legal non-disclosure documentation built into its registration along with a reputation management system that ranks past contributors for adherence to the rules.

The agencies submit their briefs; the briefs are visible only to the participants and not the public.  And while anything that ends up on the web can is fair game, both agencies willingly gamble they can keep things contained.

Meanwhile, a young, bored creative team learns about the crowdsourcing request for concepts because the writer on the team is part of the V&S community.  At the same time, the art director has previously submitted ideas to AdHack and  hears about the call for work from them. The team comes up with a campaign that includes, TV, experiential, and social all wrapped up in a coherent theme. In order to double its chances, the duo decides to enter the same work on both platforms. Why not, right?

Agency A (the one that went with V&AS) loves the work and presents it as part of their final pitch. Agency B (who went with AdHack) thinks the idea is lame, casts it aside and goes with something else.  Lo and behold, the crowdsourced campaign is the deciding factor and Agency A prevails.

Starting to sound like the Twilight Zone? Well consider this. The creative team that submitted the work was a junior team at the incumbent agency, which was cut from the pitch in the first round. However, at that agency, the team whose work won wasn’t even invited to participate as part of the pitch team; they were deemed too young inexperienced to be beer-pitch-worthy.

Last week, in Boulder, Colorado, I had long conversations with John Winsor of Victors and Spoils and James Sherrett of AdHack. We chatted about the current state of this new tactic, the quality of participating communities and the satisfaction of current clients. Crowdsourcing is still relatively new. No one really knows where it’s going, how many clients and agencies will embrace it, or how good the work will be. But one thing we did agree on is that a scenario like the one above could actually happen. I can only hope that I’m not Agency B when it does.

Photo by Michael

24 comments
Jeff
Jeff

Edward,

Interesting and fun, but two things strike me:

1) "both agencies willingly gamble they can keep things contained" One of my favorite web truisms is "you can convene but not control." These guys seem to see it differently, an in my opinion, they are wrong.

2) Ethics! I'm staggered that only one commenter thought about this. I mean, not only is it uncool, it is illegal under most employment agreements to work for a competitor. Criminy! (Same thing with this whole iPhone fiasco. No one thinks they guy who found it should have returned it. Sad, really.)

Jeff
.-= Jeff Shattuck´s last blog ..I got religion and it all went to hell. =-.

Bob Rinderle
Bob Rinderle

"As more companies realize that creative is a commodity...." Your reply to Bruce DeBoer nails the problem, Edward.

Unique customer insights that yield creative ideas should carry the day, but it's hard to get the necessary level of nuance in a pitch process. This allows a junior team to develop the top idea from a brief submitted through crowdsourcing.

Agencies have yielded expertise for years to the Barbarians (and BCG's, etc.) at the gate. Profit margins are slim enough without diluting agency value further through outsourcing and crowdsourcing.

What do agencies own? At the end of the day, what is the value proposition? Love to get your thoughts.

Jeremy Morris
Jeremy Morris

Bob

Great question. If I may I'd answer that for agencies to succeed in the future they need to move up the food chain in terms of client value. That means becoming more research and strategy oriented - even to the point where the output of insights might (gasp) not even be a communication solution. Even if you assume that creative is fungible, great strategy built on deep client relationships and a solid methodology of delivering consumer insight is much less so.
.-= Jeremy Morris´s last blog ..3 Lessons For Successful Co-creation =-.

Jeff Shattuck
Jeff Shattuck

Edward,

Interesting and fun, but two things strike me:

1) "both agencies willingly gamble they can keep things contained" One of my favorite web truisms is "you can convene but not control." These guys seem to see it differently, an in my opinion, they are wrong.

2) Ethics! I'm staggered that only one commenter thought about this. I mean, not only is it uncool, it is illegal under most employment agreements to work for a competitor. Criminy! (Same thing with this whole iPhone fiasco. No one thinks they guy who found it should have returned it. Sad, really.)

Jeff
.-= Jeff Shattuck´s last blog ..I got religion and it all went to hell. =-.

Ernie Perich
Ernie Perich

EB,

Big problem here is the junior team at the incumbent agency will always be considered a junior team because they're spending their time conceptualizing for V&S and AdHack when all their efforts should be going to the agency that is putting food on their table. And I'm also betting that they came up with the winning idea during the "business hours" of their real job.

And as the guy that signs their check every week, I'm not real happy with them.

Dustin
Dustin

Stupid question, does v&s work directly with agencies? I think it would be funny but here's how I think it would actually work out. Agency A would mangle the young teams idea before it ever saw the light of day. And the beer client would opt to just stick with their buddies at ddb Chicago.

edward boches
edward boches

They do work with agencies. And we're just imagining a crowdsourcing scenarios here, Dustin. Trying *not* to think like the ad industry would think, i.e. staying with DDB.

Mark Trueblood
Mark Trueblood

I think crowdsourcing has potential in some cases. But any agency that crowdsources the final round of a pitch deserves to lose.

This business takes passion and resilience, and we shouldn't expect any less.

Jeremy Morris
Jeremy Morris

Mark

It was a silly thing to say. Apologies. It's what comes of typing too fast and hitting send before reviewing. And I agree with your larger point.
.-= Jeremy Morris´s last blog ..3 Lessons For Successful Co-creation =-.

Mark Trueblood
Mark Trueblood

You might want to be more careful of throwing around insults like "Luddite" when I very clearly articulated above that crowdsourcing has potential in some circumstances.

My point is, that in the final round of a pitch that would make the winner much wealthier and famous-er, the agencies should be willing to "dig deep" and try to pull out brilliance one more time. If the agencies wanted to crowdsource concepts at some earlier date in the pitch, that's cool beans to me.
.-= Mark Trueblood´s last blog ..Resume changed =-.

Bruce DeBoer
Bruce DeBoer

My advice to photographers is to give as much of yourself as you can to each job to avoid being just a guy with a camera. I think that goes for all creativity now being commoditized in one way or another.

I think the big question that is yet to be answered is what role is your "heart" going to play in the differentiation of brands in the future. There is no such thing as commoditized differentiation is there?
.-= Bruce DeBoer´s last blog ..Creativity is Analog; Digital is Simulation =-.

Jeremy Morris
Jeremy Morris

Hahaha! Mark you're true to your cause. So were the Luddites!

Edward I think the answer lies on one of the defining traits of web 2.0. Transparency. There's nothing wrong with sourcing creative ideas from the deepest pool possible. Both agencies should let the client know that part of their creative process is to benchmark their internal stuff against work coming in from crowdsourcing networks. Nobody has a monopoly on talent. If I'm the client I'm buying more than just a creative idea. I'm buying relationship, strategy, category experience, etc, etc.
.-= Jeremy Morris´s last blog ..3 Lessons For Successful Co-creation =-.

Mark Trueblood
Mark Trueblood

It is an interesting thought experiment.

I just feel like "heart" is about the only thing that separates the average from the great in this business. And it would be sad to see that go further by the wayside.

edward boches
edward boches

Oh come on, have a little fun with me. You have to admit that this scenario is good for at least one sit come episode, if not a made for TV movie.

Mark Gallagher
Mark Gallagher

A slightly different scenario:

Agency A (the one that went with V&AS) loves the work and presents it as part of their final pitch. Agency B (who went with AdHack) also loves the work and presents it as part of their final pitch.

NOW WHAT?

Mark Gallagher
Brand Expressionist®
BLACKCOFFEE

James Sherrett
James Sherrett

Perhaps the client would go straight to V & S or AdHack and streamline the whole process.
.-= James Sherrett´s last blog ..Octopus Steals Panasonic Video Camera: Crowdsourcing Opportunity Knocks =-.

Mark Gallagher
Mark Gallagher

I suppose that's one way to look at it. Personally, I don't think the client would be very happy with either agency.

Mark Gallagher
Brand Expressionist®
BLACKCOFFEE

edward boches
edward boches

Awesome. Then they fight it out over who hires the winning team, which can hold out for big bucks and prove that crowdsourcing does work for the participant, not just the crowdsourcer.

Bruce DeBoer
Bruce DeBoer

Was there any discussion about the likely hood of this happening when the economy gets better and agencies get busier?

I used to own a production company in NC that had a prop builder on staff. When things got busy we used to send multiple estimates for the same prop as various companies bid for the same project and came to us for pricing. The ad world isn't all that big when it comes right down to it.
.-= Bruce DeBoer´s last blog ..Creativity is Analog; Digital is Simulation =-.

Bruce DeBoer
Bruce DeBoer

I still have questions about efficiency, consistency, and availability of top talent in a robust economy but it sure will be interesting to watch.
.-= Bruce DeBoer´s last blog ..Creativity is Analog; Digital is Simulation =-.

edward boches
edward boches

When the economy comes back I fear it will still be a buyer's market. And as more and more companies realize that creative is a commodity, sort of, this probably won't go away. But where it will go is still anyone's guess.