Is advertising giving crowdsourcing a bad name?
I didn’t get to New York for Social Media Week so I missed catching this crowdsourcery panel live, but did sit through it online. I’m a big fan of John Winsor and Michael Lebowitz as well as Faris Yakob. Three smart guys for sure. Put them at the same table with Denuo’s Seneel Radia and JWT’s Ty Montague and there’s no shortage of wisdom and experience (not to mention opinion) to go around.
In a nutshell (and I paraphrase here), Ty starts with the accurate assessment that crowdsourcing is still so new we don’t really know whether it’s a good or bad thing. Or even how best to apply it. Michael is skeptical that the technique can ever deliver the kind of product that comes out of his agency Big Spaceship since their process is all about collaboration and teamwork. Faris comes right out and questions the “wisdom of the crowd,” preferring instead the line “a person is smart, people are stupid.” And, of course, John, who just launched a company inspired by the possibilities, believes that crowdsourcing can work if the infrastructure is there and a “benevolent dictator” leads.
Frankly I agree with all of them. But for me the problem with the non-stop discussion of crowdsourcing in our industry is that we limit its application to the output of “creative.” We continually think about the technique exclusively as a way to yield a logo, or a TV spot, or a campaign of some sort. And so it remains controversial. We are either “devaluing the expertise of those who’ve spent years mastering a craft. “ Or we’re supposedly “exploiting all the wannabes who are willing to give their time and effort away for a pittance.”
But if we think of ourselves in the business not simply of creating messages (or even platforms) but of helping brands and clients build their businesses, then there are many uses of crowdsourcing. We can actually aid clients in developing new products. Think what Splenda did with its Facebook fans. We can accelerate learning by soliciting reaction to an idea from a willing community of fans. We can stimulate word of mouth marketing just by inviting people to create their own version of the ideas or spots that we conceive (think HP’s You on You). We can even produce finished work that might never be achieved otherwise. Lemonade the Movie, crowdsourced via Twitter, and the 3six5 project come to mind. While these two examples may not be for the benefit of clients or brands, they just as easily could be.
In the last year, Mullen has experimented with crowdsourcing for a number of projects. None were designed to produce the commercial that would run in place of something we could create ourselves. Instead our initiatives have served to inspire participation and co-creation from a community. We crowdfunded for Grain Foods Foundation. We created a blog to help clients and marketers understand Gen Y. We’re in the early stages of inviting Boston Bruin fans to write new “rules.” And we have some interesting ideas for our new client Victorinox Swiss Army.
The same day that John and friends shared their opinions, I met with Randy Corke of Chaordix. We talked about all the things that Chaordix was doing. They’re working with one of the UK’s top universities to reduce infant mortality in developing nations by crowdsourcing the knowledge and experience of all the doctors and nurses working in those countries. They’re showing a major US retailer how to tap into its employees to solve technical problems that will allow for better service, augmenting a small R&D group that’s overworked. They’re even crowdsourding ideas from the general public in Canada to help that country become innovative in the new digital economy. These ideas suggest possibilities far more interesting than securing an inexpensive logo or a user generated TV spot.
If you’re an agency, stop thinking about crowdsourcing for nothing other than creative (even though it can be a great tool for this, too) and consider your clients’ most important business challenges: faster development of new products; improved customers service; alternative distribution channels; new ways to give customers a chance to participate. All of these objectives could be crowdsourced, making an agency more of an asset in the process.
The big brands get it. Dell, Netflix, P & G, Heinz and others use crowdsourcing for all kinds of projects. But there are a lot of smaller or less innovative companies that haven’t yet explored the opportunities. Why not be the one who introduces them to the idea? If it’s not you, chances are it will be someone else.
If you look at the high-profile results of crowdsourcing concepts (consumer-generated SuperBowl spots) the ad industry is simply doing the equivalent of moving the factory to China for the benefit of their clients. Perhaps the means of production is cheaper, but the quality sucks...
Speaking of which, the video posted on your Twitter account explaining the latest crowdsourcing entrant "Guided by Voices" has a graphic in it that seems awfully reminiscent of the Opening for the 2008 Beijing Games, with the square drums moving up and down.
The scenario sketched out by GBV is capital's wet dreamu00e2u0080u0093thousands of skilled workers ready to act immediately in accordance with whatever orders come down from management.
The second part of your article got my attention... I'd love to see the likes of McKinsey and Accenture crowdsourced off their lofty perches. Can anyone who's been in business for more than 10 years recall hearing a truly great business idea from these overpriced 'consultants'? If they were any good they'd be starting their own business.
The Internet can certainly be used to encourage and shape community participation for the greater benefit. I do have a problem when Guided By Voices (name not crowdsourced-just stolen from a musical group) distract people with shiny infographics and English accentsu00e2u0080u0093when their real message is clients don't have to pay for anyone's health insurance anymore.
With all that said, I applaud your continued coverage of co-creation possibilities enabled by Internet.
Even if it moves you further away from what people consider 'advertising'
Edward, thanks for helping spread the message that crowdsourcing isn't all contests and "free labor". While its true that we are still early in the cycle, the underlying concept of crowdsourcing of opening up innovation and problem solving to those outside of an organization's four walls is only going to gain steam as more and more begin to master the use of it. There are so many places to apply the concept outside of creative contests. It's an exciting time, and we're all learning.
Edward - I too listened to the entire Crowdsourcery at Social Media Week taped version for the obvious reasons that the folks on the panel are leaders in their space. All the panelists seemed to be talking themselves into the same conclusion about crowsourcing's immature value.
I've been trying to express my opinions about where crowdsourcing fits and from this point on I will direct people to this post because you wrote what I've been thinking for weeks - thank you, it's been a struggle.
Crowdsourcing has become an ugly name because it now connotes (and at times denotes) exploitation where open source or co-creation suggests teamwork. Moreover, regardless of how many examples we can find in our business where the winner takes all, spec work has been the bane of the freelance market since I entered it in 1980.
In its newness there seems to be a hyper expectation for how crowdsourcing may change creative development and finished product. The bottom line is that brilliance and imagination come from individuals. Teamwork can help but it's the individual who puts pencil to paper. We can use new tools to find that brilliance or to excite our culture to move a cause, but creativity's true brilliance is a point source.
Thanks again for great incites.
.-= Bruce DeBoeru00c2u00b4s last blog ..VW u00e2u0080u0098Punch Dubu00e2u0080u0099 Ad is the Winner of the Super Bowl Spots =-.
agree indeed dude. messaging or indeed finished creative outputs are simply one application/ as i said increasingly i'm more interested in the process than the outputs - participatory consumers are drawn to processes more than products. I think.
that splenda facebook thing is a good example - naked worked on that when I was there. the process is the idea, the research is the launch. the community is being engaged and there is a value exchange.
i'm not skeptical in the sense the mobs are stupid - as I point out in my post, no one is smarter than everyone. but it's not either or - binary simplification like that doesn't work for me. ;)
context is everything.
rock ON! FX
Obviously you should or are or will read Jaron Lanier. You'll have much in common, I think. Agree that the process is the thing. Of course we want to sometimes guide the process and other times be surprised. So, what's your next move? Heard that change is in the air.
A great post. Really agree, especially the point about advertising often seeing crowd sourcing as something to think up a new logo or strap line.
As you rightly point out the true potential power of crowd sourcing is getting passionate consumers to help solve business problems / move business forward, in whatever way is required, not just TV spots. Reminds me of the work 'We are social' are doing with Marmite http://bit.ly/dt05N4 .
Often in advertising I feel we think that people out in the real world are OK to give opinions on small aspects of a TV creative but nothing more, as "they don't understand". We often forget that these people are our own wives / mums / sisters and it may be that it is we who possibly fail to understand, getting caught up in a world of buzzwords and lingo which ultimately in the light of the real world means nothing.
Bringing more people into creative problem solving can only be a positive step for the industry.
I think about once a month you make a post that gets me so excited that I end up hitting my desk and shouting "HELL YES!!!!". This is one of those.
I think crowdsourcing has a lot of potential outside of advertising. The SomethingAwful forums regularly produce compilation albums that are really good. I'm working on an album right now and a lot of my tracks are crowdsourced. Then they had that crowdsourced Star Wars movie. This is all cool stuff.
If the mantra of the 2000s was "content is king", I think this decade will have "collaboration is king".
Great post, Edward. I agree that it's just the start of a more open sourced, bottom-up revolution. It doesn't really matter if you call it crowdsourcing, co-creation, open innovation or mass collaboration, the age of abundance is upon us. It will effect every business, large or small. I applaud your efforts to play with new models. It is this kind of play that will continue to make both you and Mullen a beacon in this new age.
.-= John Winsoru00c2u00b4s last blog .. =-.
Thanks. You should know that you have been one of my sources of inspiration in this space. Your sense of conviction and understanding of how to do things is useful to all of us. The panel was great. Wish I could have been on it. But I was a little surprised at the skepticism from some of the others. I agree with some of Faris's points (Jaron Lanier says similar things) and totally understand the shortcomings re: Big Spaceship's approach. But I fear we'll dismiss it for what it can't do rather than embrace it for what it can do. There is some wisdom in the crowd (not always a lot, but some) and a never ending desire to participate. Much to be gained and much to leverage.