Who's Ready to Crowdsource?

Check Your Egos at the Door, and Tap Into the Collective Wisdom of Millions for Solutions

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The phrase outsourcing is not one you hear discussed often in the advertising industry. It's largely irrelevant since it generally refers to the decentralization of more routine work. In our business, most of us are paid to be creative -- and we're proud of it.
Steve Rubel
Steve Rubel Credit: JC Bourcart

However, a fundamental shift is taking place regarding the sources of creativity. The creative process is no longer centralized. The masses now have access to the same distribution channels we do, and they're using them to flex their creative muscles. It's critical that the advertising community embrace crowdsourcing as a model for the future. Can we? Only if some of us check our egos at the door.

Wisdom of millions
Crowdsourcing was coined by Wired magazine earlier this year. It's a process where businesses faced with tough challenges don't try to come up with all of the answers themselves. They tap into the collective wisdom of millions of amateurs around the world to come up with a solution. Naturally, they use digital technology to do so. For example, Procter & Gamble researchers post about their particular research challenges on InnoCentive.com, offering rewards to hobbyists and amateur scientists who come up with the best solutions.

In the creative disciplines of advertising, marketing and public relations, however, we're just beginning to see the fruits of such collaboration. Crowdsourcing is one reason YouTube was such an attractive acquisition for Google. Marketers by the boatload are rushing to launch campaigns where consumers, not advertising agencies alone, determine what goes into a TV ad. The TV networks have been at it even longer. Reality TV and text-message voting for "American Idol" are, at their heart, crowdsourcing.

All of this is just a start. Now is the time for the industry to commit to crowdsourcing, not as a nice-to-do but as a must-do that permeates the bloodstream of our business. It needs to go beyond "upload your video here and maybe we'll let you into our hallowed halls" to a process that that is far more strategic and integrated. Give individuals the creative brief. Let them guide you.
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