Creative Crowdsourcing: Whom Does It Really Benefit?

“No one has ever become poor by giving” is a quote that has been variously attributed to Mark Twain, Maya Angelou, Mother Theresa, and that immortal know-it-all Anonymous. (It was actually Anne Frank, if you were wondering.) Thanks to a new trend in marketing though, many creatives are finding this to not be the case. This trend is called campaign crowdsourcing, and while more and more brands are beginning to embrace it, creatives are growing wary of what may prove to be a very lopsided deal.

Crowdsourcing Is Nothing New

In the world of marketing, some services have been crowdsourcing creative for years, typically giving brands dozens of design and identity options for a very small amount of money. The idea of paying a few hundred bucks for dozens of custom logo concepts was previously unheard of.

However, campaign crowdsourcing is a relatively new offshoot of this concept. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea, it generally works like this: a brand or agency puts out a brief and offers a cash prize, and creatives do spec ideas, campaign strategy, and video production in hopes of winning the cash. If they don’t win, they build their portfolios with (unofficial) name brand work. (You may already be forming a notion why many creatives would prefer not to work like this.)



This concept is growing more popular every day. Dozens of companies like Zooppa, Poptent, and Tongal are attracting massive corporations such as P&G, Unilever, PepsiCo, Chevy, and Harley-Davidson (to name just a few) with promises of bottomless wells of talent all competing for their business.

More Is More

The advantage on the hiring side of this equation is obvious. Brands and agencies can cast a wide idea net and get a variety of creative explorations for a fraction of the cost. So from a “bottom line” perspective, they wind up getting massive amounts of work without paying for the majority of the time put in. (Is that notion you started forming in the last paragraph getting clearer?) Aside from the obvious financial advantage, brands are beginning to understand that going big and wide with ideation and then honing ideas down can prove to be a powerful tactic for getting great work and pushing the envelope.

Also, lest I be accused of being a creative with an axe to grind, I will point out that many portfolios are built on spec or pitch work, so there is some value in this exercise for creatives looking to build a book. Not to mention the fact that the good ones actually do get paid sometimes.

Or Perhaps More Is Less?

The point, though, is this: These “contests” inherently devalue the currency of creative. They cheapen the work to the point where it's a commodity that can only have value when subjective opinion deems it worthy. It sets a dangerous precedent, as creatives often struggle with understanding their true worth and have a tendency to sell themselves short.

Also, on the brand and agency side, there’s the issue of quality control. The exercise is often a gamble, and not all creatives are created equal. Yes, there is a better-than-average chance that brands will get work that is both great and cheap, but their level of creative control is very limited. Just like buying a lottery ticket, no matter what the result is, you’re never getting that dollar back.

That said, I’ll remind you that I’m not here to pass judgment. Campaign crowdsourcing may breathe new life into the industry, offering access to brilliant new voices that otherwise would never have been heard.

I actually find the notion of many ideas coming from many places intriguing, and the ability to solve a problem by gathering countless great minds from around the globe is no doubt one of the greatest and most exciting achievements of the modern era. Recently though, a lot of attention was given to a designer who stood up to Showtime and the idea of giving work up for free. This became a rallying cry for an industry, introducing the notion that creative crowdsourcing is a contest where few win -- and one that may be a slippery slope to devaluing a precious resource.

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