The Pros and Cons of Crowdsourcing

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The Debate

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.

Curated Crowdsourcing

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."

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