LONDON (AdAge.com) -- For some time, marketers have been using ad contests as one-off PR ploys for their brands. Now, Unilever is testing whether crowdsourcing can be a long-term strategy for one of its British brands -- and the result could have far-reaching consequences for any number of agencies on the consumer-goods giant's roster.
Just ask Lowe, London, which was recently sacked by Unilever on its Peperami snack brand so that the marketer can run a contest to find ad ideas. Unilever is offering a $10,000 bounty to the winner of a competition to find TV and print ideas for the meat snack popular with schoolchildren.
Matt Burgess, managing director of the Unilever division that owns Peperami, said, "Lowe has done great work on the account over the years. They've created a strong creative vehicle that's extremely well-defined and very portable. But their great work has created a problem for them, because it makes Peperami the obvious candidate for crowdsourcing."
What's more, Unilever isn't holding this up as a publicity stunt designed to appeal to average consumers. It actually expects that professionals in creative businesses will respond, and that's precisely who the pitch is marketed to. Oh, and if you think you're safe on some other Unilever account, beware.
"This could work for other brands," Mr. Burgess said. "We're looking at a long-term model to produce content and I'm keeping [Unilever CMO] Simon Clift involved. He's interested to see how it will turn out. There will be a very public judgment of what we come out with and it's risky, but it's a risk worth taking."
Mr. Burgess admitted that the move to crowdsourcing saves on agency fees and creates better value for Unilever, but insisted that this is not the main catalyst for the move. "We want to get the creative back from 'good' to 'outstanding' again. The best way to increase our chances was to increase the amount of creatives exposed to this brief. This is the overriding driver."
He added, "We left Lowe on good terms and they took the news very professionally. Their business model is set up to expose a brief to two or four creatives -- that doesn't give us the value we get from going it alone."
Of course, this isn't the first time a major marketer has prodded consumers to come up with ad ideas. But in most of those previous examples, the ad agency stuck around to manage the contest and execute the idea.
In this case, the $10,000 brief has been posted on the Ideabounty.com website, and is being promoted to the creative community using traditional ads in U.K. trade publications, as well as viral marketing. "This is not user-generated content," Mr. Burgess said. "Anyone can respond to the brief, but it's more likely to attract people with a creative track record or an interest in creative output.
"We're not looking for ideas scribbled on the back of a Post-it note. We want to come out with an ad that has the same production quality as our usual output. The Doritos Super Bowl ad was a great stunt, but this is not a stunt. We want to do this sustainably."
Idea Bounty was set up 10 months ago by a South African company, Quirk eMarketing, and has already worked with clients including BMW, SABMiller, Red Bull and the World Wildlife Fund, although Unilever's $10,000 bounty is the biggest the site has yet offered. It currently has 5,000 members, 400 of whom have recently signed up specifically to tackle the Peperami brief.
Jonathan Ratcliffe, Idea Bounty's marketing director, said that Unilever's initiative has attracted quite a lot of negative comment. "People get sensitive and think we are threatening the creative industry, but if everyone is big about this then it can be a good solution for some clients," he said.
"The Peperami idea is groundbreaking for us -- especially if the advertising turns out better than or comparable to past campaigns."
The winning idea (or ideas, as the $10,000 prize could be split between a TV and a print solution) will be put into production by another South African company, Smartworks, which will liaise with Unilever via its small London office. The spot will be filmed in South Africa at the end of the year, and is due on air in early 2010.
"Unilever has been pioneering in their use of Idea Bounty. I could never have gone into a company and persuaded them to dump their agency. It takes a very cutting-edge marketing department to do this," Mr. Ratcliffe said. "It's important that Peperami's positioning and creative platform are clearly defined -- if it was a new launch you'd struggle to get ideas that were on brief, but this one has tight parameters and we've already had some very good ideas in."
Back in 1993, Lowe (then called Still Price Lintas) created "Animal," a masochistic salami stick that takes great pleasure in being eaten, ripped apart or chopped up. The brief for the new campaign specifies that Animal remains the "brand mascot."
Previous ads feature images such as a half-eaten Animal chasing a victim along the street, angrily shouting, "Hey! Come back and finish me off you wimp. What's the matter? Too spicy for you?" There was the controversial "Cheese Grater" spot, where Animal grates his own head off. The campaign's tagline is, "Peperami. It's a bit of an animal."
"It's easier to take a very clearly defined campaign vehicle and crowdsource iterations of that vehicle," Mr. Burgess said. "Would I create a new Flora [margarine] campaign through crowdsourcing? No."