Crowd-sourcing vs. agency domination

Crowd-sourcing has been whipping up the agency world. And about time too…

Courtesy of Marketing Week online, this piece considers some of the response from traditional advertising/marketing practitioners to first few outings for crowd-sourcing. Crowd-sourcing, as the article states, isn’t a new phenomenon but the growth and speed of digital media has widened its reach further than ever before. And with Unilever throwing open its doors (against its agency, Lowe), the debate has intensified.

It’s interesting to see the creative industry’s reaction to this – some agencies and individuals are understandably somewhat rattled by the thought that what used to be their prime territory could be opened up to the great unwashed, who might just happen to have a great idea. An idea better than any that they could have come up with.

In line with this idea of shakeable agency domination is the experience we had with Embrace Life. Even though our product was invited to be shown at Ted.Com (I believe the only ad that was), even though it received plaudits from creatives and agencies the world over (and has now reached the attention of one of Lowe’s clients who have asked their account handler to get a copy for them), it’s been almost impossible to get any coverage in the creative press.

On filling in the forms for a major advertising award, we found that there was a list of agencies (the big players), then an ‘Other’ option. Even in going for this option, we had to navigate a minefield of required fields such as ‘Agency Creative Director’, ‘Campaign Account Handler’ – impossible to fill in as we didn’t create the ad through agency channels. Finding these fields made us wonder just how insular the agency world is – or is the word insecure?

The advertising/marketing world is dominated by agencies, and they know it. This is why it’s so difficult for a non-agency created piece to get recognition within the creative industry, even if it beats ads shown at, let’s say, the Superbowl (see NYDaily). And this is why they’re so worried about the implications of crowd-sourcing ideas. The thought that an idea might come up from grass-roots level, from people who didn’t go to St Martin’s or spend years as the office gopher on their way up to creative stardom must be terrifying… And this, I believe, is at the root of the panic over crowd-sourcing.
(At this point, see number 30 on my Manifesto)

However, I’d argue that crowd-sourcing is a good thing, both for the brand and for the agency world.

The brand will get the benefits of new, fresh ideas without having to pay the agency fees but, importantly, they will be able to directly involve their consumers in the creative process and allow them some ownership of the finished product. This brand involvement is key to creating community loyalty, generating chatter and developing firm brand ambassadors.

The brand will also be able to gauge the level of affection for their product – if no one bothers answering a crowd-sourcing call, it’s a good supposition that the product isn’t cared that much about and that something fairly fundamental has gone wrong somewhere. It also an opportunity to see how the buying public see your product and how they want to see it developed into the future.

For the agency world, the competition can only be a good thing. Competition breeds innovation, forces value-for-money delivery and is the opportunity to show just why employing an agency (your agency) is better than going out to the entire world.

Interestingly, however, another thought comes to mind: how bad must client/agency relations be if the client wants to throw open its doors to the world for ideas (assuming it isn’t just a shallow PR stunt)? And why didn’t the agency see it coming?

There is one final point to consider in the whole debate. Crowd-sourcing is ideal for certain brands, but not for others. For example, Pepperami has a very specific brand personality, which suits the application of crowd-sourcing. HSBC on the other hand, is a lot less fun (but then it has to be), and thus crowd-sourcing might not work as well since the bank’s concerns are more likely to focus on business growth strategies and pleasing the investor more than the potential consumer. Their brand activation is reliability and solidity; Pepperami’s is anarchic dead flesh. Two markets, two approaches.

The flip side to this is that is could be quite exciting to develop a strategic approach that allows integration of a crowd-sourced idea into the main brand identity. That’s a challenge as creative as coming up with the idea in the first place.

Crowd-sourcing may be shown to be a temporary blip in client/agency relationships, or it may open up an entirely new channel for idea generation in which the consuming public are king and actively play a part in brand communication development. Time, and the creative world’s reaction, will tell.

One thought on “Crowd-sourcing vs. agency domination

  1. Pingback: brand activations | BBQ BRANDING TOOL

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