Crowdsourcing advertising ideas from consumers – will it work?

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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?


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  1. Isn't crowdsourcing the direct bypassing of a. market research and b. advertising agencies? I can see why it is so appealing to marketers since it comes straight from the horse's mouth and saves them a few more "immersion sessions" 🙂

    That said, isn't expertise still needed to put these ideas together into a cohesive output that follows the brief set above? I think Crowdsourced ideas should be one input into the creative process, not the meat.

    • Saves marketers 'immersion sessions' and 'hourly fees'! There are cases where the ad agency is not involved even in moulding the ideas that come in from consumers.

  2. I think in a crowdsourcing model "advertisement" is a by-product, a something customer can feel happy about. I would see it as customer buy-in even before an ad is created. That is if u can convince people to participate!

    Yes, everyone has an opinion on ads, its easy to critque than be correct. so its up for moderation and for experts to join and mould. Its like in software Not everyone is a part of the open source development, but many are! There is a process for it to get refined and released.

    • In the case of Peperami, Lowe the agency which created that mnemonic and ads for years was sacked before the crowdsourcing project happened. Wonder if they had any role in shaping the ideas that came in from consumers.

  3. Crowdsourcing advertisments wouldn't only work for strong brands with a following anyway. Why would a consumer want to come up with ideas for brands that are knew or they don't know much about anyway?

    For existing brands however, the *perception* of giving more control to consumers helps create buzz. It's a gimmick, but it works. Take 'Doritos King of Ads' campaign being done in the UK for instance. Most user submissions aren't that great, but they've got great buzz going without much actual advertising spend on conventional channel. Again, this works only because Doritos is an established brand with enough fans willing to devote time to come up with ideas for ads.

  4. Srinivas Macha Reply

    Calling crowd sourcing is tad uncharitable. From the days of print to TVCs and radio commercials to Internet promotions using viral marketing techniques, these have largely followed a from-one-to-many-kind of a model. If everything clicked, you have a fantastic ad, solid value addition to the brand and improved sales/perception. If it didn't, then you had duds on hands never mind the 'immersion' sessions and other field-testing approaches. And Rory Sutherland is absolutely on the dot!

    Crowd sourcing inverts the traditional model of ad making by transfering the creative ideation process to people. People who the know the brand, would would to improve an attribute or two of the product/service and thereby improvising the product roadmap, and people who will actually shell out the money to buy the product. If collective thinking yields ideas and direction trends, that is as precious as it can get because it is voluntary and there are lead-in questions that market research folks try to push.

    Dismissing it as a fad is a little premature at this point for it hasn't been really tested in the field. Give it some time, and it could evolve into the next disruptive thinking model. After all, companies always want to know what their consumers think/want of them.

  5. I don't see why it has to be assumed that the people submitting suggestions to these crowdsourced advertisement projects are all absolute laypeople with no idea of how the industry works. Contributors surely include a mix of people.

    And can it even really be said that the general public knows nothing of the complexities of advertising? Most people these days are aware of the tricks of the trade.

    We take the view that crowdsourcing is well on its way to becoming a more established and respected form of getting ideas:

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