Crowdsourcing and the business of creativity.

In 2004 Converse became the first major advertiser to outsource an ad campaign to the masses (the term “crowdsourcing” hadn’t even been coined yet). Converse and it’s advertising agency came up with a brilliant concept to let consumers tell them how much they loved the iconic Chuck Taylor sneaker. Within a few weeks the agency received almost 800 videos, many of which were so good they ended up running as the actual TV commercials.

  Naturally, other advertisers recognized a good idea when they saw it, and the deluge of crowdsourced ads began. The 2007 Super Bowl featured Doritos commercials conceived and produced by consumers and since then there have been almost too many such campaigns to list.

  So what impact does that have on the advertising business - or, taking it to a logical extension - any business based on creativity and imagination? Why can’t a movie studio crowdsource the next blockbuster? God knows there are enough people trying to write movies so there’ll be no shortage of scripts. What about music? American Idol is crowdsourcing on both sides of the camera, with millions vying to “make it” and millions more voting yeah or nay.

  The whole idea of crowdsourcing takes a strange twist though, with a new ad agency model - and there are several startup shops with basically the same notion. The agencies are paid by clients to produce advertising - TV, web, whatever - but the creative work is done via crowdsourcing as opposed to the agency creative departments. The “winning” teams are paid a small fee (relative to a salaried creative person, that is) and the agency gets a huge storehouse of ideas that they now own. It’s a fairly new model, but addresses many of the concerns clients typically voice re their agencies: not enough fresh thinking, too slow, etc…

  You can see how this concept could grow to include the aforementioned movie studios or musicians or publishers… you’ve got to believe that the next vampire novel could be cranked out in a weekend by some crowdsourced writers.

  So should we lament what seems to be the utter and complete commoditization of the creative business, or should we applaud crowdsourcing for business as the ultimate expression of a capitalist meritocracy?

  It’s a tough question.

  Let’s ask the crowd.