The Pros and Cons of Crowdsourcing in Advertising

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Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining services, ideas, or content by soliciting input from a large group of freelancers or "crowd" rather than from salaried employees. Those who work in advertising or marketing are likely familiar with this term, which was first coined by Jeff Howe of Wired Magazine, as "the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call."

Crowdsourcing in Action

​A prime example of crowdsourcing can be seen in the Victors & Spoils (V&S) agency model. It was the first advertising agency to be built on innovation and crowdsourcing principles, as they believed that creativity could be found anywhere. V&S routinely crowdsourced creative ideas for its ad campaigns through its online platform Agency Machine.

A typical advertising project for a client may have included:

The agency would have solicited this "crowd" of specialists to obtain their ideas and use their skills to meet the needs of a project.

Putting the Crowd in Crowdsourcing

A crowd is a seemingly endless supply of talented freelancers who are prepared to work on any jobs that become available. They include:

  • Art directors
  • Copywriters
  • Producers
  • Designers
  • Writers
  • Strategists

Victors & Spoils maintains a large database of creatives, and they will access this database as and when they need work produced. A creative brief is issued to the crowd, the ideas come flooding in, and directions are chosen from the ideas the agency receives.

Advantages of Crowdsourcing

There are many benefits to adopting crowdsourcing:

  • The overhead Is lower: You only pay creative people as needed, and only if their ideas are chosen. Also, benefits are not included.
  • The talent pool is large: An advertising agency built on crowdsourcing can choose from thousands of available creatives.
  • It allows an agency to expand and contract as needed: Agencies that do not use crowdsourcing layoff or rehire creative staff, depending on the economy. However, with crowdsourcing, the creative department grows and shrinks to accommodate each job.
  • The work, theoretically, is fresher: You can have different teams working on the same client for years to obtain new ideas, rather than repeatedly tapping a select few and draining the creative well dry.
  • You have access to international talent: The geographical barriers no longer exist, as you can team up a writer in India with a designer in Japan, all via cloud computing.
  • Collaboration: Great teamwork and collaboration exist across multiple disciplines, languages, and age ranges.

Disadvantages of Crowdsourcing

There is also a downside to crowdsourcing that can affect both agencies and freelancers:

  • Talent is only paid for chosen ideas: This means that dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people are working for free in the hope of having their idea chosen. This devalues creative talent enormously.
  • Other traditional agencies find it difficult to compete: Economically, crowdsourcing is highly desirable among agencies. However, it does skew the marketplace in favor of freelance-only business models, which could negatively affect creative careers.
  • Below-average wages: They fall well below the average salary for the lucky ones who actually have their ideas chosen.
  • A greater probability of failure: Creative departments in the world's top agencies are staffed with the best minds. The external talent pool that remains is not comprised of top-level talent, as 99% of those are employed. Crowdsourcing, therefore, sacrifices an expensive A-team for a much cheaper B-team.
  • A breakdown of working relationships: As creatives change for each project, it's difficult to build solid relationships with reliable staff.
  • No accountability: With no contracts and low⁠—or no⁠—wages, the creative team will always be searching for a better deal.

Future of Crowdsourcing

Because of its money-saving benefits and access to fresh creativity, crowdsourcing will likely continue to be used by some agencies in the industry. However, others may want to weigh the pros and cons to determine if it is a worthwhile strategy to adopt.