You've seen them on television and social media: crowdsourced advertisements that have been commissioned by companies and supplied by the public. Companies from global enterprises to small businesses have learned that tapping into the creativity of the masses can be an effective way to get fresh content.
As every marketer knows, churning out a steady stream of new and engaging messages can be difficult. Thanks to social media platforms, however, using crowdsourcing techniques to gather content created by the people for the people is easier than ever. It is therefore no surprise that crowdsourcing ideas and content for advertisements from the public has become a common tool in advertisers' tool kits.
As analysts and industry experts point out, though, not all companies are using crowdsourced content to its fullest advantage. Read on to find out what makes an ideal crowdsourced ad—and how to get the most out of it.
Engaging Your Customers
It's no secret that the desktop computer market is shrinking. Worldwide shipments of PCs fell by more than 8 percent in the third quarter of 2012, according to reports from Gartner and International Data Corporation.
Decreasing PC sales and a weak economy have dragged down chipmaking and software giant Intel's profits as well. Revenue from Intel's PC Client Group, which deals in PC chips, was down 8 percent in Q3 of 2012, compared to the same quarter from the previous year. Intel president and CEO Paul Otellini noted in a meeting with analysts that the third quarter results reflected "a continuing tough environment."
To Ekaterina Walter, senior social media strategist at Intel and author of Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook's Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg, engaging the company's customers online—particularly Millennials—and showing them that their feedback is valued is critical to Intel's survival.
"We need to involve our customers in crafting our message," Walter tells CRM. "And over the past few years, Intel has been looking at engaging Millennials."
While Intel has used crowdsourced campaigns before, it has never produced one that asked the public for feedback about its brand. "Millennials will engage with brands that invite them in," Walter insists. "We have this huge community of over 14 million fans on Facebook alone…and we need to open ourselves up to them."
Walter partnered with Zooppa, a company that enables clients to gather crowdsourced content through design contests. With Zooppa's help, Intel launched a contest last spring based on one question: What does Intel mean to you?
Members of Zooppa's 185,000-plus community and Intel's followers were asked to create a print ad or a video up to 60 seconds long expressing their perception of the technology firm. "Make your pieces personal, original, dazzling, and fun," Intel suggested in its contest description.
Intel received 116 videos and 345 print submissions. The $20,000 prize money was divided among the video and print first-place winners and runners-up. The $7,000 grand prize for videos went to a video entitled "Freedom Processing," which featured a group of people emitting sounds that added up to a staccato rendition of the Intel jingle.
The first-place print submission, "Intel, My Creative Paper," netted $2,000 and consisted of a picture-in-a-picture concept of clouds and an ocean made with white crumpled paper and an Intel laptop displaying a rough sketch of the same design on its screen.
The contest was a success, according to Walter, because it sparked conversations about Intel and provided a virtual pile of branded artwork.
"We received many interesting submissions, some of which are on our pinboard on Pinterest called 'Fan Love,'" Walter says. "I will be looking at other ways to further incorporate them into our other social networks so we can say, 'Look at the great things our customers have shared with us.'"
In addition, Intel will continue to develop crowdsourced campaigns that ask consumers for their input, Walter adds. "The reality is a lot of brands—including ours—are still learning how to engage with our customers. But if we don't open ourselves up to our communities, we'll be clueless."
Asking customers for their opinions and showcasing their contributions is a smart way to keep your brand fresh and in touch with consumers, notes Gavin Heaton, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research.
"The end-to-end process is important, and crowdsourcing is a great way to engage your customer," Heaton says. "One of the benefits of crowdsourcing is that it closes the loop on customer direction. You have an ongoing engagement around the product, how it's used, how it's shared, etc., and if someone contributes to the product through product creation or promotion, then it's a powerful way of keeping customers involved in your brand."
One of the advantages of crowdsourcing ideas and content is that it can often be done for less than the cost of hiring a full-fledged team of graphic artists and other designers. Design organizations point out that companies rarely work as closely with participants in a crowdsourced model as with hired graphic artists. The lack of face-to-face communication and research could undermine the quality of the work, argue these organizations.
"All crowdsourcing is not inherently bad," writes Richard Grefe, executive director of AIGA, an association for professional designers, in a blog post. "But it compromises the value designers can provide their clients through a problem-solving relationship."
According to Grefe, crowdsourcing shows "a lack of respect for the value of design's full potential and places the lowest, rather than the highest, value on design services." Grefe also warns young designers that competing with thousands of other designers in a crowdsourced contest might not be in their best interest.
"Crowdsourcing a marketing campaign is viewed by some in the design community as speculative work, a cancer within our industry," Kurt Elster, a partner and the creative director at Ethercycle, a Web design consultancy, tells CRM. "Spec work is antithetical to a successful design process as it requires that we start with visual design. Without first understanding the client's business goals and their users' demographics, we can't create an informed collaborative design."
Laurence Wolf, cofounder and chief executive officer of Brand Honee, a crowdsourcing platform in Australia that lets companies host contests for online videos, insists he is not trying to compete with advertising agencies and production companies. "With crowdsourcing, you're getting a different kind of content," Wolf maintains. "We're not looking to compete with highly produced work. We're looking to provide good production value and good storytelling that has an authenticity to it."
Crowdsourcing, according to Wolf, is "just another tool in the box of brand marketing." It's something agencies should learn to incorporate, Wolf says, "because, whether it's us or somebody else, this pattern has already emerged as part of a marketing strategy."
Instead of ignoring or resisting crowdsourced content, advertising agencies should embrace it, says Jake Wengroff, analyst at the research firm Gleanster.
"There's a terrific opportunity for the advertising industry to step in with the insights, the tools, technologies, and platforms to take crowdsourced community content and sprinkle a dose of good old-fashioned Madison Avenue know-how and present the most compelling message the company can offer," Wengroff maintains.
Crowdsourcing's strength—collecting the talents and knowledge of the crowd—can also be a detractor. To find excellent content, someone must first sift through piles of submissions, and there is no guarantee the search will be successful.
Advertising firm GeniusRocket dropped its open community model for what CEO Peter LaMotte calls "curated crowdsourcing." Rather than forcing customers to choose between the benefits of a traditional advertising agency and a crowdsourcing platform, GeniusRocket combined both concepts into one service.
"We created a community of professional writers, creative directors, animators, motion graphic artists, and filmmakers," LaMotte explains. "These are people who are either retired, freelancing, or doing extra work on the side. We'll hire them based on the fact that they understand the demographic that the client wants to reach."
Members of the community get to submit 20 ideas or pitches for a campaign. The client works with GeniusRocket to narrow down the list. The people whose ideas are selected to be developed are compensated for their efforts. If someone's idea is turned into a television commercial, they will receive $2,000 to $5,000, according to LaMotte.
Once the client selects a submission, GeniusRocket helps the client decide on a budget and negotiates a price with the production company that will create the advertisement. "A lot of the production companies that are working with major ad agencies might be working one week out of every month, and we fill their pipeline at a reduced rate," LaMotte explains.
GeniusRocket's average price tag for a television commercial ranges from $40,000 to $80,000. Animated ads that do not include live actors are usually $20,000 to $40,000. According to LaMotte, GeniusRocket's system enables the company to offer a TV commercial or online video at typically one-fourth to one-eighth the cost of those produced by a traditional ad agency. "You're getting the benefit of the crowd, but you're going through professionals," he says.
The promise of affordable quality content was what hooked consumer marketing manager Crystal Griffith when she considered working with GeniusRocket on a crowdsourced campaign for Audio-Technica, a company known for its professional microphones, headphones, and other audio equipment.
"We were skeptical," Griffith says. "When we heard that GeniusRocket had changed its format so that they were only tapping into professional businesses, we felt more comfortable about moving forward with a project."
Griffith's goal was simple—to produce a viral video. In terms of reaching its customers through online videos and social media, Audio-Technica was "kind of late in getting into the game," Griffith admits. The company had recently created its own YouTube page and was looking for ways to create content that would allow viewers to "see what we are about," Griffith adds.
The video, developed in fall 2011, was created around the company's Solid Bass headphones, popular in Japan but little-known in the United States.
The development of the video was timed perfectly, according to Griffith, since it featured dubstep (a genre of electronic music) dancer Marquese Scott, whose videos had recently made him a YouTube sensation, and who has performed on shows like So You Think You Can Dance and America's Got Talent.
"Getting Marquese on our video and being able to leverage that viral quality that he had already brought to the table was perfect for us," Griffith says.
Audio-Technica's video featuring Scott executing his dance moves while wearing the Solid Bass headphones quickly received more than 1 million views on Scott's YouTube page and 260,000-plus views on Audio-Technica's YouTube page, according to Griffith.
While Griffith declined to say exactly how many more Solid Bass headphones were sold after the video went live, she notes that the company ended up selling "quite a few. We promoted the video to our dealers and retailers and got more placements for this line than ever before," Griffith says. "What we got out of this video was pretty amazing."
Since then, Audio-Technica has collaborated with GeniusRocket on several other ads, including a 30-second national TV commercial, and plans to continue creating more crowdsourced ads, according to Griffith.
"You get a ton of different ideas [from crowdsourcing]," Griffith maintains. "And, if you're not sure yet which direction you want to go, this is a great way to think of the many ways you can promote your product."
Tips for Success
While crowdsourcing ideas may seem simple enough, there are several ways that companies can get the most out of their endeavors, according to advertisers and vendors. "You have to think about what the outcome should be, how you'll communicate your goals, curate the content, and what you'll do with it," says Lisa Arthur, chief marketing officer of marketing automation firm Aprimo.
A few years ago, Arthur organized a crowdsourcing exercise during a cocktail party at a trade show. Using a long strip of paper that was attached to a wall, marketers were invited to jot down their concerns and thoughts on what improvements were needed in the marketing industry. Arthur and her colleagues came away from the event with hundreds of suggestions and marketing ideas that the company still uses today, as well as fodder for a white paper, Imperatives of the Marketing Revolution.
"Crowdsourcing," Arthur notes, "is an effective approach for getting people to help you shape something that's an idea into a tangible asset, whether that's a piece of content, white paper, video, all the way into strategy, depending on what your need is and what the idea is."
As a marketing tool, crowdsourcing is best used to understand your audience and marketplace, according to Scott Mires, creative director at MiresBall, a branding and marketing agency. "The most positive way to use crowdsourcing is to create an ongoing dialogue [with consumers] about where you want your brand to go."
If you expect to run more than one contest or crowdsourcing campaign, "keep those communities active and invigorated," adds Shail Khiyara, chief marketing officer at Spigit, which specializes in enterprise innovation management, including crowdsourced forecasting. "You want to be able to show what the outcome was of the contest. How did you translate the feedback into action? There needs to be an awareness of the community's accomplishments," he says.
Make sure the crowdsourced video (or print ad) falls in line with the rest of your marketing strategy, advises GeniusRocket's Peter LaMotte. "Tailor the content to your audience and look for relative virality," he says. "If you're a B2B company that sells automotive widgets, you don't care if the video goes viral with high school students."
In addition to keeping online video ads to 60 seconds or less, remember to document the production process, LaMotte adds. "I see a lot of people leave those gold nuggets on the floor," he notes. "When you're filming a TV spot or online video, have someone on set snapping photos and taking notes. You can use that later as behind-the-scenes content on your blog or on YouTube and Facebook." What marketers sometimes forget, according to LaMotte, is that "you're creating more than just a video, you're creating a whole host of content whenever you're shooting a commercial."
Finally, it is important to keep an open mind, says Intel's Ekaterina Walter. "A lot of brands are still under the illusion that they have control over their brands when the truth is…you cocreate your brand with your customers and the sooner you realize that, the stronger your brand will be," she says.
Associate Editor Judith Aquino can be reached at email@example.com.