Crowdsourcing and branding: a long shot

March 24, 2014

This month two recent college grads recently put together a fake 60-second ad for Tesla called “Modern Spaceship” that captured the attention of the brand’s CEO, Elon Musk. Musk tweeted “Just discovered a great Tesla ad made by 2 recent college grads. I love it!” The spot was produced for $1,500 by the pair, who have started their own production company, Everdream Pictures.

Tesla doesn’t actually need to advertise thanks to the strong demand for its cars, but the pair seems to have earned themselves a meeting with Elon Musk himself. Well-done, Everdream Pictures.

Now, I can’t help but think that this example will be used to motivate CEOs (while aggravating CMOs) to consider pursuing a “similar” approach for their advertising/marketing efforts. They might be compelled to challenge the public to come up with a new logo, product name or advertising campaign for their company. In other words, rely on crowdsourcing to develop a brand’s creative.

But before going down that path, I would offer a strong word of caution. Others have tried this before with very mixed results. From JCPenney to Jersey City we’ve seen disappointing results from attempts to outsource creative. More importantly though, this option throws aside a collaborative creative process that works.

There are several considerations I would offer up before considering this path:

  1. More doesn’t mean better. First, there are experienced professionals for creative services, and opening a creative challenge to the world will probably present you with many submissions that aren’t viable. Furthermore, while it’s likely that the opportunity for cost-savings is a motivating factor for choosing crowdsourcing as a solution, it can be a very inefficient process, requiring unforeseen costs like having a large internal team review submissions only to find that the end result is still not ultimately a desirable outcome.
  2. It’s a one-way conversation. The creative process should be a conversation, starting with a clearly defined creative brief – in alignment with a brand’s strategy – that offers helpful direction. By putting the work out in a public square there isn’t an opportunity to work together on that creative brief. Whether it’s a name or a logo, it’s just as important to know what isn’t on-strategy as knowing what is fertile ground. This way, doors can be closed and creative energy can be focused in the right direction.
  3. Betting on a hole-in-one. A contest submission format assumes that one try should be all you need, but a fruitful creative process often involves rounds of revisions to evolve and refine the end product.

The challenge is similar to hitting a physical target from a long distance away. Say, for some reason, you’re out in wilderness and need to hit a very small target that’s very far away. Would you prefer to use a shotgun that fires a random cluster of projectiles in a general direction or a highly accurate rifle that can be recalibrated if it misses, so that it eventually hits the target?

It is possible that your organization is (1) fortunate enough to receive a submission from a talented creative team that is (2) able to understand the essence of your brand and (3) translate their understanding into a creative expression that effectively meets your full expectations on the first try. But, you have to admit the odds don’t look good. For me, a collaborative partnership with a capable creative team would be the safer choice by far.

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