It's Advertising Jim, but not as we know it.

In 2006, Jeff Howe wrote about crowdsourcing in areas such as TV content, Amazon's web-based marketplace for computing tasks, and Corporate R&D, including the story of how outsourcing had solved a problem that had stumped the in-house researchers at Colgate-Palmolive. It showed the merit in connecting with brainpower outside the company capitalizing on, as sociologist Mark Granovetter describes it, "the strength of weak ties".

Sounds good. So why should Advertising Idea Creation be excluded from the practice of low cost outsourcing, tapping a broad range of information, knowledge and experience? I think two reasons:

  1. Agencies already crowdsource: most creative departments use numerous teams on a brief in the early stages. Planners use ethnography. Tracking studies question hundreds of people. And consumer group feedback often shapes creative development. Much of what clients are actually paying for is not just the creative 'idea' but the journey of discovery illuminating the right idea from many possible ideas, as well as the crafting that makes that idea utterly engaging to the right people at the right time.

  2. If your brand is service or retail, crowdsourcing for a creative idea will hardly push your brand-peanut forward. Intangible services require multifaceted messaging, that make sense at every touchpoint, and deliver coherent experiences. Crowdsourced advertising to date has been only for FMCG brands: Doritos, Heinz, Peperami etc, It's easier because they are for tangible products. More and more FMCG brands are getting closer to sponsored entertainment anyway to keep themselves top of mind but for service brands, the game is one of loyalty rather than impulse.

The point is that whilst one can outsource execution, one can't outsource strategy. And crowdsourcing for creative executions is easier to do for FMCG brands. FMCG brands have been running competitions for consumers to star in the next ad, or create a new flavour, for years and years. This isn't advertising. It's PR. It's the creation of an idea that will be talked about due to the novelty around its creation, rather than because it tells a story about the brand in a compelling, engaging way.

But why should we be surprised at that? Is it really any different to the way in which Simon Cowell uses X factor, as he crowdsources for singing talent, supplied by the masses for the masses. The proof, as always, is in the pudding, so it remains to be seen whether the next Peperami ad is the advertising equivalent of Jedward. Or worse, the one who won it before Leona. Who? Exactly.