Heeding the Voice of the People

The evolution of crowdsourced advertising from an efficient resource management tactic to a formidable marketing strategy in many ways mirrors the three key elements needed for successful CRM as a company-wide business philosophy: people, processes, and technology. Crowdsourced advertising relies on people, both managers and consumers, to share control over a brand's message. The approach also requires processes that inspire a brand's constituency to create and define the terms that ensure contributors are fairly rewarded and recognized. Lastly, crowdsourced advertising relies on technology, accessible media production devices, and networked platforms born out of the digital age, without which it would be impossible for these types of collaborations to take place.

The validation of business strategies including CRM and crowdsourcing, defined as outsourcing tasks to a wide network of people, is a response by businesses to the increased adoption of digital media technologies over the last decade. This development represents a fundamental shift toward more consumer-centric brand relationships that are needed in order to stay relevant to today's digitally savvy consumers. Yet, in this brave new world, the benefits of crowdsourced advertising may, at first, appear unclear. Is it a viable means to discover creative genius or simply mass mediocrity? Is crowdsourcing cutting edge or does it remain unjustifiably risky? Does it provide a return on investment or will advertisers simply be spinning their wheels?

While the integration of crowdsourcing principles into the production of creative ads continues to prove its value and effectiveness, some advertisers hesitate to take advantage of this opportunity. Interested parties may be unaware of successful case studies or that best practices exist, or they may be dissuaded by the prospect of loosening control over the creative process. Still others see crowdsourcing as no more than a cheaper way to produce ads, not recognizing that the practice produces the authentic content needed to capture the attention of today's digital audiences. But in an age where marketers are leveraging online platforms to do more with less and are listening to customers and creating meaningful experiences that deepen relationships, crowdsourcing has shown to be a powerful combination of three elements that every digital-savvy marketer seeks: content, engagement, and intelligence.


As a maxim of digital advertising states, "Content is king." Today's brands need to be producing creative content that is tactical, relevant, and original—and lots of it. In fact, based on an informal poll of members in Zooppa's online creative community, 57 percent of respondents cite "originality" as the factor missing most from today's advertising.

Additionally, two-thirds of respondents see creative crowdsourcing as a strong complement rather than a competitor to traditional advertising practices. Content based on innovative ideas can come from anywhere and, often, from the places advertisers may least expect. Consider, for instance, Zappos, which launched a crowdsourcing campaign to generate 30-second TV commercials in an urgent need to promote its Web site as a gift-giving destination for the 2011 holiday season. With a $48,000 incentive, Zappos received nearly 200 submissions and awarded eight, one of which aired nationally on cable television. While nothing replaces well-researched and skillfully crafted creative advertising, it's important that brand marketers and advertisers generate engaging content from the crowd and invite consumers to creatively interpret a brand's story and values. Internal brand stakeholders must recognize that the crowd can be a strong ally to enhance today's advertisements through innovation and authenticity.


Contest marketing continues to prove an effective promotional strategy that drives consumer awareness and engagement for brands. But inviting consumers to create a brand's advertisements elevates this engagement to a new level of co-creation. Through an open contest format, creative crowdsourcing empowers consumers to own a piece of the brand and creates opportunities for brand ambassadorship. In addition to those who produce ads, creative crowdsourcing campaigns provide a forum for other brand advocates to interact with the content generated through online voting, commenting, and sharing to amplify the content's message. Still, one of the most significant benefits afforded to brand marketers and advertisers is the opportunity for collaborative storytelling.

Before the 2011 March Madness season, Buick partnered with professional filmmakers to launch the "Human Highlight Reel" campaign, which profiles former NCAA student athletes who have gone on to become community leaders. Recognizing the power of these figures and the influence that they have across the country, Buick invited users to submit stories about these leaders in their own communities. The campaign not only put Buick in touch with a number of these figures, but also the causes and movements that many of these former student athletes were pursuing and leading. Not only can crowdsourcing drive online engagement, but it can also identify stories around which a brand's community of customers can celebrate.


Crowdsourcing campaigns can provide marketers with early insights to how types of content resonate with consumer audiences. Sponsors of the campaign can identify themes generated through a campaign and leverage these to define future or support present creative strategies.

Siemens, for example, launched its new storytelling format, "answers," in early 2011 in conjunction with some of the world's most renowned filmmakers in order to document the challenges of urban life. To extend the campaign, Siemens invited people from around the globe to share their thoughts, via video, on how technology can change the world for the better. The campaign generated a wealth of documentary stories from 26 countries and provided the team at Siemens with an unfiltered community perspective that helped their brand positively align with the spirit of innovation required to tackle these global problems.

Through a combination of creative content, engagement, and intelligence, crowdsourced advertising provides brand marketers and advertisers with far more than simply cost savings. Today's consumers are doing more than simply talking about a brand; they're designing, constructing, and creating graphics, songs, and videos to express thoughts. By incorporating crowdsourcing principles into the creative process, marketers can proactively embrace a strategy that can increase the ROI of traditional advertising and create a forum that makes the brand-consumer relationship more meaningful and valuable.

Wil Merritt is CEO of Zooppa. Prior to that, he served as senior vice president at the Corbis Corporation and at Time Warner, Inc., as president for EMEA for the Time and Fortune Publishing Division. 

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