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The Truth About Crowdsourcing

November 18, 2009

Nigel Hollis of Milward Brown had an interesting post on crowdsourcing last week, outlining how numerous brands and some agencies are using the concept. His post and the comments that followed cemented my opinion that crowdsourcing is really about the procurement of spec work from professionals, not the solicitation of ideas and content from typical consumers.

I’ve written about User Generated Content and Consumer Generated Content in the past. With few exceptions, most branded content worthy of any attention (by other consumers) is actually being produced by skilled amatuers and semi-pros, not crafty brand loyalists. We can add professionals and agencies to the list of producers.

Most brands continue to create an illusion that their crowdsourcing activities are consumer contests, but Mountain Dew’s recent campaign is fully transparent, listing agencies and independent film companies as their primary target audiences.

Crowdsourcing has become nothing more than a massive RFP drop based on the theory that creative is a numbers game. Get enough participants/entries and you’re likely to find suitable work at bargain basement prices.

Why would any agency, independent film company, or industry professional spend their time, energy and money on what amounts to the lowest pay spec work with poor odds? Because they see these activities as promotional and portfolio-building opportunities; a means to get noticed, build a reputation, and get hired for ‘paying gigs’. Apparently these participants feel no cognitive dissonance about crowdsourcing.

Will crowdsourcing become widespread or mainstream? Will agency fees for creative and production crater as a result? Nobody knows for sure, but what we do know is over time marketers run the risk of creating a patchwork quilt brand without the guiding hand of experienced marcom strategist.

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