How Ad Agencies Could Learn To Stop Worrying And Love Crowdsourcing

Is crowdsourcing a riot that'll wreck ad agencies or an innovation that'll save them?

Mention crowdsourcing over a meal with ad agency pals you’re likely to put them off their food, and you, for some time.

For a creative, liberal, experimental, edgy, fashion-aware, up-to-date industry, it seems advertising is very conservative and defensive about crowdsourcing ideas for their clients.

The most common reaction is “But ideas are OUR business”.¬† Perhaps. Even if you aren’t getting paid for your ideas because much of the industry is half-way between the old commission model and being hung on the FTE cross by Procurement (see earlier posts on this blog).

Last year Unilever used it, for Peperami in the UK, causing lots of dark muttering in the trade press. They used IdeaBounty (Slogan: “The best ideas get paid“) as lead agency and dumped Lowe from the brand altogether. Another key crowdsourcing player, BootB call themselves “The Borderless Creative Engine”. Their web-site runs in 14 languages including Arabic and Simplified Chinese, proving their point. Check out the clients listed on both web-sites. Big names.

For Peperami it was discovered, once the feathers had been swept away, that the winning ideas were thought up by a copywriter in London and a Creative Director in Munich, both of whom had recently been made redundant. The selected ideas were produced through a specialist agency called Smart Works.

In the USA, Frito-Lay brand Doritos has made a Super Bowl Special out of crowdsourcing. This is the fourth year that they’ve put crowdsourced ideas to work. 4,064 videos were submitted this season and they’re all available on the Doritos “Crash the Super Bowl Contest” site. The landing page features the four winners and two runners-up. The rest are in a 362 page gallery. The Herbert Brothers (two then-unemployed guys from Batesville, Indiana) who created the Doritos big winner for Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, are also featured.

The top 20 commercials aired at Super Bowl XLIV this year include Doritos in 2nd, 11th, 14th and 17th places as ranked by the USA Today AdMeter poll. They also topped the Visible Measures most watched viral videos listing week commencing 1st March 2010.

Marketers turning to crowd-sourcing seems to reflect a combination of 4 things:

1. Frustration with the speed and calibre of ideas from their agencies;

2. Giving their less adventurous ad agencies a firm shove in a new direction;

3. Exploring ways to get more for their money, including better results;

4. Getting their feet wet for educational and publicity reasons. It certainly did the latter for Unilever with Peperami and seems to work well for Doritos where the crowdsourcing idea has become a key brand attribute.

Instead of panicking, perhaps the ad industry should take another look at crowdsourcing but with their innovation hats on. There’s a whole new model for the ad business here and when it takes off …

For those who still don’t want to look too closely, think of it as bringing in free-lances. From the whole world. And you only pay for the ideas you use. The best ones.

There will still need to be a strong ad team at the core representing all disciplines and collaborating closely with clients. Their responsibility, finally, will be the Brand itself. The core idea of the Brand will remain the preserve of that marketer/ad agency team, as will the management of the communication platform. It’s expressions of that core idea that will get “free-lanced”.

I wonder which ad agency will crack first.

Oh, hold on. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners managed the entire “Crash the Super Bowl 2010” process.

OK, then I wonder which holding company will crack first and buy BootB. Anyone care to bet?

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3 responses to “How Ad Agencies Could Learn To Stop Worrying And Love Crowdsourcing

  1. Mike, Thanks for your insightful comments on my crowd sourcing post on the Media blog. Having worked for 15 years on Client side and only recently crossed over, I have my firm doubts about agencies truly embracing “crowdourcing”..because taken to its logical conclusion it means running a very lean creative dept and relying on the proven wisdom of the crowd to get breakthrough expression ( I see a clear line between IDEAS & EXPRESSION). Ogilvy recently started an internal crowdsouricng or shall we say Idea-aggregation platform. Interesting thought on a big agency buying one of these crowdsourcing site !!

  2. Mike,

    Couldn’t agree more. I think the CS industry (and people’s opinions of it and involvement in it) is changing quickly.

    Another leading player in the agency space is Victors and Spoils (www.victorsandspoils.com). Spin outs of CP+B. Oddly between V&S, Trada, Retel and BootB we’re getting a good little hub of CS/ExpertSourcing businesses going in Denver.

    Cheers,
    Niel

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