On Crowdsourcing and the New Professional Promiscuity

Last week’s news that Wrigley canned their three digital AOR’s in favor of independent shops who will operate in a state of perpetual “jump ball” for future campaigns (Wrigley’s uninspiring website is here) is just the latest example of the creeping influence of crowdsourcing on brand marketing, particularly since those agencies will work directly with Wrigley’s brand teams, rather than through its creative agencies, DDB and BBDO.  Hmm…  Good luck with that.

Currently on crowdSpring.com

Currently on crowdSpring.com

I’m sure Wrigley calls this efficiency, but perhaps not surprisingly, I can only see it as hubris, plain and simple.  Let me be clear: I actually like crowdsourcing.  I think it offers a lot of upsides, even as it aggressively threatens the traditional agency compensation structure  status quo.  In fact, when clients ask me about crowdsourcing, I give them the name and details of one of the best purveyors of it: crowdSpring.

Why would I do this?  Why would I allow, even encourage, clients to go this route?

Because doing it right is hard.  Really hard.  Crowdsourcing thrives on thoughtful interaction.  If you want people to work for you, you owe them the fundamental decency of personal feedback.  You must provide direction to everyone–good, bad and ugly.  And you have to do it publicly, for the entire crowdsourcing community to observe.  Play favorites and the crowd will turn on you.  Set high expectations without offering your own heavy engagement and they will walk away.  It’s not as simple as ask and receive.  Nothing ever is.

And that’s why I encourage clients to try it for themselves.  Because it’s freaking hard.  Really hard.  At its root, an exercise in crowdsourcing is an immersion in creative direction at its most basic and busy, and most brand managers I know would make awful creative directors.  Most creatives make awful creative directors because dealing with all those imaginations all of which need guidance gets draining.  With crowdsourcing, ideas pour in with astonishing volume and speed and you have to assess them, redirect the potentially useful, and gently shunt aside the awful on the off chance that the creators of that initial tripe might go back later and hit a long ball for you.  Spending five days with a project where hundreds of people offer their ideas and demand feedback will usually remind brand managers just why they chose the bookish side of the business, and why they actually need creative directors.  As smart as they may be, few have the mindset for the task.  Aesthetics are a series of judgment calls without any absolutes.  You can always be wrong.  And just in case you don’t think so, people will be quick to remind you of it.

As Bill Bernbach said, “I warn you against believing advertising is science.”  Indeed.  Practiced well by people who know and respect the craft, creative direction is something much, much more.  It is art.  And magic.  And all too often, it is an exercise in wrestling with the intangible.

They don’t teach you how to handle that at Kellogg or Wharton.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

One thought on “On Crowdsourcing and the New Professional Promiscuity

  1. Crowdsourcing seems the advertising equivalent of acting as your own general contractor during home renovations. Five-percent of the time the results are fine. However, the other 95% of the time you don’t want to live with the results.

    Wrigley is about to remodel not only the kitchen and family room, but all the baths as well. As Dennis wrote, “Good luck with that.”

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