Arati Rao
Aug 27, 2010

Will crowdsourcing be a threat to agencies?

It’s a welcome trend that can benefit the brand, but the advertising agency still can play a role, discovers Arati Rao

"It takes experts to create the opportunity and framework for consumers to fruitfully participate," says Chax

Imagine a situation in which the client could get ideas for his brief (a whole host of them, in fact, and from people around the globe), have the luxury to pick and choose the best one and pay for only what he or she used. It is possible and it’s already on the internet.’s modus operandi is “Well the simple answer is that for clients, Idea Bounty is the simplest way to hire 1000s of creatives and only pay for the Ideas you want. For creatives it’s an amazing platform that allows you to pitch on various briefs.”

Crowdsourcing isn’t that far an avenue for Indian marketers either; snack brand Lays recently asked consumers to come up with their own flavours. KS Chakravarthy, national creative director of Draftfcb+ulka, said, “One of the pioneers in this area in India is Tata Docomo. We have a section on our site called ‘create’ devoted to this.” He also mentioned a contest conducted through TASI (The Animation Society of India). “We invited the entire animator community to participate in a contest to create new animation films for the brand. It was so successful we ran the winning entries on air, giving credit to the individual creators,” he said. The agency can’t be written off in either case. “The important thing in all these cases is, it takes experts to create the opportunity and framework for consumers to fruitfully participate,” said Chakravarthy.

Anand Halve, co-founder, chlorophyll, believed crowdsourcing without supervision could be a recipe for disaster. “Imagine a girl ‘crowdsourcing’ her outfit for a special evening,” he said. “Without someone (herself, her designer) coordinating it, she may arrive at the party in a ghagra, topped by a Benetton tee-shirt, wearing white elbow length gloves, shod in a pair of Reebok sneakers, wearing a chameli gajra in her hair and Ray Bans on her nose.” While citing the case of the ‘Open Space’ column in The Times of India which asks readers to answer questions like ““What is a Qwerty Tummy”, and the new Rupee symbol which was the result of a memo asking for entries from artists issued by the Ministry of Finance, GK Suresh, head of brands and business development at ITC, argued, “Creative ideas are sought on brands that have already reached a stature. They are built on the basis of some solid brand thinking and creativity and are meant to deliver business results. After all, consumers have an opinion about advertising. Not necessarily expertise.”

The roots of crowdsourcing can be traced to the IT industry feel some. “Crowdsourcing is a fancier avatar of open source - a practice the IT industry is following for over a decade. Has it become a threat to the IT companies?” asked Partha Sinha, managing partner, BBH India. “Is Apple under threat from its numerous app developers? Or have these app developers become a source of competitive advantage for Apple? Then why will agencies think that crowdsourcing may become a threat?”

For Gitanjali Sriram, managing partner of Naked Communications India, the bigger story is in crowdfunding. She said, “Get onto YouTube and check out this great project called Emoji Dick that was all about experimenting with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform. They leveraged Kickstarter, which is probably the biggest story in crowdfunding at themoment. Only fear of the unknown can pose a threat, all one has to do is to go where no one has gone before!”

Anand Halve, co-founder, chlorophyll

“In generating options, a ‘crowd’ might outperform a small group. But a ‘crowd’ has no further responsibility. Advertising professionals also generate alternatives. But then they evaluate, refine and execute them. What about ‘crowd sourcing’ creative work e.g. DoCoMo.? Here, remember, crowds created the TVCs within guidelines set. Because advertising involves co-ordinating plans to achieve an objective. Even if you ‘source’ from a crowd, someone has to convert ideas into output. Intelligent judgement is not a crowd property. Unless advertising abdicates on that, crowd sourcing is not a threat. ”

Gitanjali Sriram, managing partner, Naked Communications, India

“Agencies have to start becoming less transactional and far more collaborative, engaging with important stakeholders in the creative process, especially the consumers. They must also approach brand-guardianship from a democratic standpoint. If agencies treat brand consumers as brand partners, no one will feel threatened. When used for the right reasons (transparency is critical) crowdsourcing enables consumers to join the brand conversation and to take pride in shared ownership in a way that no money can buy.”

Partha Sinha

Partha Sinha, managing partner, BBH India

“Crowdsourcing needs to be seen as a business practice - not a promo idea. The biggest malady of our industry is ignorance - otherwise if we open our eyes to the world of business we can see that collaboration has become the most important business practice (much bigger than competition). Companies that can collaborate better will become better at their business. Crowdsourcing is an extreme form of collaboration and needs to be embraced with open arms. And for that we need to have an open mind about the power of collective imagination. Gandhiji used the power of crowdsourcing ages ago - it’s time the advertising industry wakes up.”

KS Chakravarthy

KS Chakravarthy (Chax), NCD, Draftfcb+ulka 

“Interactive by definition is a crowd-sourcer. We stimulate, some consumers respond, we have a dialog, the world watches. And likes, if we do it right. The important thing in all these cases is, it takes experts to create the opportunity and framework for consumers to fruitfully participate. Clients will always need a planner and a creative director. Who can then pick from a million consumers to be their copywriters, models, actors and just about anything else. So where is the threat?”

GK Suresh

GK Suresh, head of brands and business development, ITC

“Delivering solutions within the constraints of deadlines, research, feedback, market realities and several other guidelines is very difficult. After all consumers have an opinion about advertising. Not expertise. Crowd sourcing of creativity is proving that a great idea can come from anyone, anywhere. Creative process by design should be very democratic. Creativity has always been a social activity. The technology behind crowd sourcing makes creativity a social activity that knows no geographic bounds. Like when we populate ideas, we should suspend judgment and let both approaches co-exist. May the best ideas win.”

Campaign India

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