Crowdsourcing: Mercenary Marketing and How It Could Kill Our Industry

Crowdsourcing: Mercenary Marketing and How It Could Kill Our Industry

The Joker looks up at the ASHEN FACES of the remaining Body Guards. Smiles.


Now, our organization is small, but

we’ve got a lot of potential for

aggressive expansion… so which of

you fine gentlemen would like to join

our team?

The three bodyguards all nod. The Joker SNAPS a pool cue.


Only one slot open right now- so

we’re going to have try-outs.

The Joker drops the broken cue in the middle of the men.


Make it fast.

The men stare at each other. Then at the jagged pool cue.[i]

Two peers forced to fight for their livelihood. Sound familiar? If you work in advertising, the answer should be yes. This very situation is happening in boardrooms and websites around the world as we speak. It’s called crowdsourcing and depending on who you ask it could be either the gateway to a new egalitarian creative renaissance or the devaluation of our entire profession.

Though it may not be as dramatic as the Joker’s ultimatum, the results could be equally as dire. Instead of reaching for the broken pool cue, designers, programmers, writers and art directors are reaching for a cup of coffee and an iMac and literally fighting for a paycheck using unpaid work submissions as artillery.

But, wait, before we go any further…what the hell is crowdsourcing anyway? Crowdsourcing is “the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.” [ii] Payment is based on results—it’s a competitive system where the winners get paid and the rest get nothing.

There’s actually an entire agency that relies solely on crowdsourcing, aptly called Victors and Spoils, that refers to their crowdsourcing community as “The Squirrel Fight”. That’s seriously what they call it. While I may be a little jittery after one too many cups of coffee, I don’t find comparing my profession to the aforementioned arboreal rodent all that flattering.

By pitting creatives against each other, this and other crowdsourcing platforms have become the antithesis to collaboration. Instead of a group of people spanning many disciplines working together to create and refine an idea, crowdsourcing gives rise to a creative process akin to a den of thieves each trying to outwit the other for the day’s take. This not only reduces the value of creative work in the market, but also dramatically reduces the quality of that work by dashing any hopes for an integrated approach.

As is evidenced by many of the top agencies around the globe, the creation and execution of strong creative and strategically sound work is the product of a multidisciplinary team of professionals. To think that one or two people can accomplish this, as the competitive crowdsourcing model dictates, is to drastically underestimate the time and experience required to do good work and inevitably settle for a subpar creative product.

Crowdsourcing creates a distance between the core values of a brand and the manner in which they are communicated by dispersing messaging amongst these “satellite creatives”. How can you have a consistent brand when every piece is coming from a different source? Brand standards only go so far, and as we all know, there’s more to a brand than logo location and the font used for the body copy. An agency is a partner, for years and sometimes for decades, that works with businesses to help them grow—it’s a process founded on relationships, trust and cooperation that simply cannot be duplicated through a string of emails and pdfs.

I’d like to think that our advertising brethren have more respect for their craft and their clients than to participate in crowdsourcing. But, as many businesses around the world are throwing the jagged pool cue between us advertising types, the biggest question is: How many are willing to reach for it?

Make it fast.

[i] Nolan and Nolan. “The Dark Knight.” Warner Bros. 2008.
[ii] Jeff Howe.  “Crowdsourcing: A Definition.” June 2006.

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