NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- The trend of marketers relying on the wisdom of crowds to create marketing campaigns is escalating as PepsiCo turns over the choice of agencies for three product launches to the masses, ramping up the potential threat to ad shops bypassed or relegated to a supporting role in implementing the resulting efforts.
In a contest beginning this month, Mtn Dew will hand off marketing duties, at least temporarily, for a $100 million-plus business to several potentially unknown players selected by consumers. Via the contest, any agency, independent film company or individual can submit 12-second clips via www.12seconds.tv outlining their ideas for marketing three new Mtn Dew line extensions.
Those line extensions themselves were created by the crowd. Distortion, Whiteout and Typhoon are the latest results of Dewmocracy, an initiative designed to open up product development to consumers. Last year, the Dewmocracy brands accounted for 25 million cases -- or a couple hundred million dollars, according to John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest. By comparison, Coke Zero, a major growth engine and core brand for Coca-Cola, sold 96 million cases last year.
"It really is a good piece of business for a line extension, even in this big a category," Mr. Sicher said.
When Dewmocracy launched in 2007, it involved an online game. This time around, Mtn Dew is using Facebook, Twitter and its private online Dew Labs Community to determine the flavor, color, packaging and names of the new products. Now, it's also allowing consumers to select the agencies that will produce 15-second spots for each of the new flavors. Digital advertising and point-of-sale materials could also become a part of the mix. Once the flavors and advertising break in April 2010, consumers will vote to determine which flavor will become a permanent part of the Mtn Dew lineup.
Fate of BBDO
Mtn Dew is adamant that the new effort will not impact its relationship with agency of record BBDO Worldwide, noting that it has been a part of Dewmocracy from the beginning and continues to play an important role in the process. BBDO directed a call for comment to the client.
Brett O'Brien, Mtn Dew's director-marketing, said that the broadcast spots created by the selected agencies will be supported by a "robust media plan," noting that marketing is a key part of the Dewmocracy process.
"If we're going to have a dialogue with consumers and have consumers play a role in dictating the future of our brand, they've got to play a role in all aspects of it," said Mr. O'Brien of the decision to let consumers select agencies.
Crowd-sourcing is a growing phenomenon among major brands such as Unilever and Amazon. Frito-Lay's Doritos brand has run three consecutive "Crash the Super Bowl" campaigns, which ask consumers to vote on their favorite consumer-generated spot. The latest contest offered a $1 million prize if the winner topped the USAToday ad poll, which it did. But while contests like that have been decidedly gimmicky, a more troubling trend for agencies is emerging. This fall, Unilever's Peperami brand dismissed Lowe, London, in favor of running a contest to find TV and print ad ideas. Just this month, two former senior managers at Crispin Porter & Bogusky launched Victors & Spoils, billed as the world's first creative agency built on crowd-sourcing principles.
"Most agency relationships, they're still the brand steward. They understand the brand they're working with at an almost molecular level," said Chick Foxgrover, 4A's chief information officer. "It's unclear whether [crowd-sourcing] will be a trend that takes hold in a universal way or whether it's more of an experiment. ... In general, there's a lot of experimentation going on in agency compensation. This fits into the context of that larger conversation."
Mr. O'Brien said the review will be promoted to indie agencies, indie film companies, universities and film schools, as well as via online messaging and word-of-mouth. BBDO handled advertising for the previous Dewmocracy product launches. This time, BBDO will work on an umbrella spot that explains the overall Dewmocracy program, while the selected agencies work independently on the launch creative.
"I don't know ... that they'll bring something different -- certainly they may have a different perspective," Mr. O'Brien said about the prospect of using a smaller agency or a film company, rather than a large, traditional agency. "It lets us get an interesting and unique perspective on the brand from people that aren't living and breathing it every day."
Asked whether the agencies tapped for the product launches could pick up more Mtn Dew business, Mr. O'Brien said he didn't know, adding that "it's certainly TBD." PepsiCo has worked with small agencies in the past, especially in the digital space, and recently tapped Interpublic Group of Cos. digital agency Huge to handle a piece of business for brand Pepsi.
Mtn Dew has been one of the few trademarks growing in the carbonated soft-drink space, with volume up 1% in the first half, as the overall category declined 2.7%, according to Beverage Digest.
"[Dewmocracy] contributes to our growth. ... The Dew fan is excited about engaging with new offerings from Dew. But it also attracts new people into the Dew fan base that say, 'hey, this is something really interesting, let me give it a try,'" explained Mr. O'Brien. "And retailers love it, because it's interesting news that drives folks into the stores."
When campaigns go to the crowdsCrowd-sourcing isn't new, but it's increasingly popular, with major brands turning to consumers to create marketing for all sorts of products.
AMAZON: The online retailer turned to consumers this year for TV concepts, eventually awarding $20,000 to the winner, a photographer based in Los Angeles.
CAREERBUILDER: In May, CareerBuilder dropped Wieden & Kennedy. That same month it began promoting the HireMyTvAd contest. The winning ad could be shown during the 2010 Super Bowl.
CHEVROLET: In 2006, a contest to create ads for the Chevy Tahoe resulted in anti-SUV spoofs, but it did garner plenty of attention.
DORITOS: For three years running, the Frito-Lay brand has run a "Crash the Super Bowl" campaign featuring consumer-generated ads.
HP: To promote its Artist Edition laptops, HP launched the You on You Project this summer. It asked consumers to upload videos or remix a commercial using stock footage.
PEPERAMI: The Unilever snack brand dismissed Lowe, London, earlier this year in favor of a crowd-sourcing strategy to find new ideas for TV and print.