Remember the Doritos Super Bowl ad that featured a chip-craving canine forcing a dog collar on a human? Or the one where an obstinate young boy warns his mother's date to keep his hands "off my mama" and "off my Doritos"?
The commercials might have left you chuckling but many people in the advertising industry aren't sharing in the laughter. Both ads are examples of crowd-sourcing: The use of the Internet to broadcast an open call to a large group to work on a project with the winner being awarded the job by a company.
Crowd-sourcing started as a novelty but has grown into something much bigger and now threatens to further erode agency profits and undermine the traditional agency-client relationship. It has invaded the advertising space, with large companies such as Pepsi, Heinz, General Motors and Starbucks using crowd-sourcing. Doritos aired winning submissions in its ad-creation contest, including the dog and mama ads, on the Super Bowl broadcast.
As crowd-sourcing has evolved, it is now becoming a seriously organized threat to the traditional advertising agency. Late last year, Unilever fired advertising agency Lowe and opted to crowd-source its Peperami TV and print campaign with the promise of about $20,000 for the winning idea.
At first, crowd-sourcing was an innocuous way to generate buzz in the mid-2000s. Clients would ask consumers to create advertising for the brand. Tools such as cheap video cameras and YouTube facilitated consumers' creating some good but mostly poorly shot, dimly lit, low- to no-concept submissions. Heinz, Doritos and Chevrolet were early adopters.
In the next generation, clients and agencies used freelance professionals to submit ideas online for fees that were a fraction of the cost of traditional agencies and selected winners from the submissions. This model, being used in many fields such as science (citizen-science) and reporting (citizen-reporters) generated a lot of ideas but still required traditional agency help to refine, produce and buy and place the media.
In its latest iteration, crowd-sourcing is becoming more organized and relevant. Witness OpenAd.net, which, with 11,500 creatives from 125 countries, bills itself as the world's biggest creative department. OpenAd.net boasts clients such as DaimlerChrysler, Virgin Atlantic and MTV.
Lest you think OpenAd.net is just a Craigslist for creative people, the membership-driven site holds pitches and allows members to shop and buy from a gallery of ideas. Members have to submit a creative brief and OpenAd.net facilitates the licensing of the ideas and, upon purchase, hands off the creative and the idea to be produced in collaboration with the purchaser.
Traditional advertising agencies criticize crowd-sourcing. They argue that it is just a ruse for getting speculative work cheap. Brick-and-mortar agencies say they sell relationships and the ability to gain a deep understanding of their clients' products, services, industries and competition; all necessary to develop campaigns that have lasting effect. Take the rules to the Doritos contest, which give no real details about the target audience, product or strategy.