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Crowdsourcing advertising ideas from consumers – will it work?

Everyone’s an expert in advertising. Shove an ad under their nose and ask  for an opinion and they will find fault with the headline, the visual or both. They will comment on every aspect of a TV ad –  script, dialogues, anything. No, I am not talking about a Focus Group situation – I am talking about the ordinary consumer. Not surprising, since we all react similarly to several such stimuli – movies, books and so on. Apart from playing critics consumers now have a chance to play advertising ‘creators’ thanks to crowdsourcing.

Unilever’s latest effort in crowdsourcing – asking for consumers to create ads for as many a 13 brands – is being talked about in the blogosphere. Unilever experimented with crowdsourcing last year with Peperami – by sacking Lowe and throwing open the brief to consumers. Apparently they received over a 1000 responses and the final winning idea is yet to be aired.

One of the insightful comments on this issue of Crowdsourcing was from Rory Sutherland, who says:

Crowdsourced solutions are treated with an indulgence from clients which agency solutions are not. 97% of an agency’s time is now spent not in the generation of ideas but in their post-rationalisation \(or “strategy” as it is generally called). Agency solutions are girt about with client requirements and hurdles whereas crowdsourced solutions are judged on likeability and not much else.

Aside from that, my issue with Crowdsourcing is that, consumers have an opinion about advertising. Not necessarily expertise. The creative ideas sought are on brands that have already reached a stature. They have built on the basis of some solid brand thinking and creativity which is meant to deliver business results. And that creativity is based on universal insights, understanding of consumers and market realities. Coupled with delivering these solutions within the constraints of deadlines, research feedback and several other guidelines it is a tough ask by any means.

Could consumers have created these brand ideas? I doubt it. But the fact is, crowdsourcing is a new toy clients are going to play with in the future. It could be seen as a failure of the advertising industry, which has pushed clients to seek fresh ideas from the consumers. Results have been varied in the past – Doritos, Tide 2 Go and a handful of brands in India have tried it. All of them provided a tight brief to the consumers with a broad direction to follow. The creative ideas sought have been aided by a clearly defined brand idea and the tools to create scripts. Will it work if it were for a new brand, an open field as it were?

The brief for Axe is:

Without the collective, residual imagery of the great work done on Axe by its advertising agencies, will the lay consumer be able to create clutter-breaking, relevant, differentiating work? What if we assumed it was a new brand and this is the first work that’s being created in a competitive market, will consumers without the expertise of planning & business-building creativity be able to develop ideas.

Agencies need to introspect on the trend of crowdsourcing advertising ideas, surely. Is it a reflection of the lack of faith? Or experimenting with a new fad?



Ex-ad man. Love advertising, Apple, tech, digital, design and all things creative. VP - MarCom, @Robosoft. Views personal. See disclaimer for more.