Crowdsourcing Creativity: The future or a kick in the nuts for creative folk?

By Emma Drummond on 2010/04/20

The question often posed by both the clients as well as their agencies surrounding the topic of crowdsourcing, is – should this new model for idea generation become a part of a viable brand communication and marketing strategy? Both of these parties have a difference stance on this question, which will be explored in this article.  

So the questions begs: How is crowdsourcing affecting the sourcing and creation of creative ideas? Is it viable for the future or does it diminish the value of professional creatives? After all, if it costs less and the ideas are of agency standard or better, is there a need to go somewhere else?

Crowdsourcing as a Model is Being Tested With Success

There are various types of crowdsourcing, which especially relate to the marketing and communications industry.

Crowdsourcing Finished Work

This pertains to the instances where clients crowdsource work that is delivered as a finished project. Examples of this usually include the likes of logo redesigns, short films, print ads and banner executions. Some great examples include:

  • 99designs - This site is a prime example of broad scale crowdsourcing. Clients may visit the site and source everything from identity conception, Web, print and graphic design to customised merchandise. With a community of 185 703 creatives – this is a massive portal of creative talent waiting to be explored.
  • CrowdSPRING - With a network of more than 58 133 creatives from 170-plus countries who vie to provide logo, website and collateral design to primarily small and medium-size business clients, the end results are impressive. The process is simple – businesses post a creative brief, watch the crowdSPRING creative community contribute ideas and then pick the one which best works for them.

Crowdsourcing Concepts and Ideas

Idea Bounty is an example of this form of crowdsourcing - a client posts a brief asking for ideas and goes on to execute the idea themselves. This is an example of how the crowdsourcing model crosses a platform - from the creative individual (who conceptualised the idea) to the professional creative in an agency (who executes the Idea).

Idea Bounty is a Quirk innovation and a fantastic example of how this model benefits a client is that of the collaboration between Idea Bounty and Capitec Bank. Idea Bounty ran a brief for them after they were declared one of the 27 “Great Brands of Tomorrow” by Swiss financial institute Credit Suisse. The brief asked for a concept for both a print ad and an online banner that would illustrate this accolade. What was so fantastic about this was the timeous execution, by crowdsourcing this idea, their turnaround time was significantly quicker. The brief was hosted for less than 2 weeks with the ads going live incredibly soon after. In less than a week, they received over 600 ideas! They capitalised on this opportunity and it worked extremely well for them.

Another example of larger scale companies using the crowdsourcing model is that of Unilever and their product, Peperami. After having worked with a traditional agency, Lowe, 15 years – they turned to the creative community to seek a new fresh print ad. This brave and forward thinking step got them significant exposure all over the world (in fact, during this period they received over £100,000 worth of PR!). Distinctive benefits for Unilever were that instead of getting the ideas and concepts from a select few people in an agency – they received insights into their brief on a global scale. This illustrates the potential for gaining ideas with a wider scope and potential to come across the very best ideas.

With the growth in popularity of crowdsourcing, there has been a subsequent rise in controversial conversation and resistance. After all, this completely throws the methods of the past and opens unexplored doors of opportunity. This more than often comes from agencies that may be opposed to the shift toward crowdsourcing - there are some instances where clients have chosen to rely on traditional agencies less and to steer toward crowdsourcing. Naturally, this could result in accounts being lost and money lost.

What Does the Crowdsourcing Model Offer that a Traditional Agency Can’t?

Due to the fact that the creative community are offering a once off idea – they often won’t settle for less that the best, after all, there is usually some form of reward (and usually something pretty hefty) involved for them.

There seem to be great benefits for those creative agencies that are pioneering this new model. Daniel Neville, Captain of Idea Bounty, had this to say: “Instead of keeping the whole process with one agency, they are spreading their wings and picking the fruit where it is most ripe”.

For the Agencies and Clients

Whether clients and agencies want to face it or not, crowdsourcing seems to be the next stage in the evolution of marketing as supply and demand has evidently changed. It allows the clients to be exposed to a limitless number of fresh, innovative marketing ideas and presents an opportunity for PR, whereby clients have the added benefit of direct interaction with those who matter most – their consumer base. This is an avenue for unexpected insights on a global scale.

Crowdsourcing doesn’t negate the need for creatives in a traditional agencies and this is what those who may challenge don’t realise about crowdsourcing an idea. Their talent and expertise is still relied on heavily when it comes to the final execution of the ideas. The issue comes in when creatives take the stance that they don’t want to work on something that they didn’t create from scratch or conceptualise themselves. In my opinion, this is a very narrow-minded approach, as it clearly makes sense to combine the expertise of both those in the agency and those outside of it. Ultimately, if both the clients and their agencies begin to consider using crowdsourcing models – they can only stand to add huge value to their businesses. So, it would be very advantageous for them embrace this way of thinking.

The view often seems to be that traditional agencies resist this model as they see it as something for amateurs. While excellent implementation may be restricted to skilled professionals (with extensive experience, degrees and credentials) conceptual ideas can be carried out by anyone

On the other hand, it has been argued that the separation between the creative and the brand means that subtleties of the brand communication process (relating to the strategy and brand identity) is lost in sub-standard work.

Ideally, when it comes to clients and agencies – they need to learn or adapt to use crowdsourcing to their advantage. For smaller agencies or businesses with lower budgets, outsourcing creative work (from 99deigns as an example) externally can be a big time and money saver. When it comes to larger corporate clients, like Capitec Bank, seeking concepts allows them to receive innovative ideas that they can then tweak according to their own (already established) brand identity. 

Pepsi in the US has shown extreme faith in imparting their entire marketing budget to their “Refresh Everything” campaign, where they are giving away millions to fund the creative community’s ideas – visit their site to get the details or check out this blog post.

An incredibly cutting edge and innovative example of the profound effect crowdsourcing has had on the industry is Victor & Spoils. “As the world’s first creative (ad) agency built on crowdsourcing principles, it’s our goal to provide businesses with a better way to solve their marketing, advertising and product-design problems by engaging the world’s most talented creatives.”

For the Creatives

A benefit of crowdsourcing for the creative community is that this model levels the playing fields – it gives them an opportunity to showcase their talent and contribute and communicate their ideas on a global scale. There is also the benefit of gaining global exposure and getting paid for the work they produce. They find worth in their creative work and by participating in a community with other creatives. Even if their designs/concepts/executions aren’t chosen – they are undoubtedly exposed to a pool of talent and subsequently an opportunity for growth and learning.

Creatives can also be assured that their ideas are protected – after all, crowdsourcing involves the transfer of intellectual property (which is protected by legal terms). In the case of Idea Bounty, the ideas submitted remain the property of the creative until it is exchanged for the Bounty by the client. These ideas also don’t necessarily have to come from an actively practicing “creative” – any person can be inspired by a brief and come up with an idea that perfectly meets the brief.

The truth is that regardless of how clients, agencies and creatives choose to deal with this new model, it ain’t going anywhere – in fact, it is growing substantially.

The trick here is to make the crowdsourcing model work for YOU