Much has been made of “crowd sourcing” ideas here in the USA ad industry lately.

Agencies have even popped up with this as their USP.

Rather than paying an expensive agency with all that fancy overhead (an agency that no longer exists btw) why not tap into the untapped creative resources online?

Which makes sense theoretically.

There is no shortage of frustrated creative talent out there.

So in theory this should be a good idea.

But anyone who runs an agency can immediately spot the flaw in this model.


How do you crowd source that one?

I remember my old partner Scott Smith had the creative crowd sourcing idea back in 2000-2001.

And I remember thinking that it sounded like a royal pain in the arse.

Sifting throught crap ideas for days when he and I could crack it in a matter of hours?

And have actual fun doing it!

Because the truth is that having great ideas is the result of a chemical reaction.

Great personal chemistry yields truly great ideas.

Nothing beats having a highly talented and motivated team of passionate individuals in the same room at the same time, focused on YOUR problem.

And having fun in the process.

Bouncing ideas off each other.

Going to lunch together.

Generally having a jolly old time.

Because every thing else is, frankly, just a pain in the arse.

UPDATE: the lovely John Geletka responded to my post. you can read it here.

I would respectfully disagree with him that software can solve the problems I pointed out. Collaborative creative endeavors need physical proximity in my experience. Otherwise team members go off in their own disparate directions. Just as films need a director to impose a vision on a production, creative ideation isn’t a democracy. Ten people can’t have a vision. It’s always one person who has the vision.

And that’s something that gets lost in this discussion. Ideas truly are a dime a dozen, visions aren’t.

Visions are rare and precious.

That isn’t to say certain creative endeavors don’t lend themselves to crowd sourcing. Discrete tasks like logo design can be farmed out.

But thinking can’t be. Again, I’ve learned this the hard way.

Also there is the problem of nuance. the best advertising ideas are nuanced things of beauty. they are elegant intellectual sculptures, if i may be so pretentious sounding!

I personally am a great believer in the saying that out of heat comes light. and to get heat you need to have people sparking off each other and arguing and actively straining their brains at the same time toward the same goal: solving your brand’s problem.


  1. I assure you I’m not a royal pain in the arse just a republican pain in the arse.

  2. Good article. I wrote a quick response: http://bit.ly/enlobu – I think chemistry only beats crowdsourcing now, because crowdsourcing as a practice and process is in it’s infancy.

  3. I am going to give you another angle on why crowd sourcing fails. For big brands when they are incubating new products they usually crowd source. They do research which involves surveys. They look at feed back from the crowd. What do the people want? What can be improved? They then work a bunch of stuff up and do focus groups. They don’t launch a product until the crowd says Yay! Then 9 out of 10 of the products fail.

    You can say well this is different. It’s not. Trust me it is not. The purpose of Crowd Sourcing is to get something CHEAP! And you get what you pay for. Yes 1 in 10 will be golden. But 9 are going to push daisies.

  4. If something is important to you, you’ll find a way. If it isn’t, you’ll find an excuse.

  5. @Geletka
    Crowdsourcing is not in its infancy; it is in its senescence having been born in the 1920s when people sent a one-penny postcard with their summations of products and services in 25 words or less for a chance to win a year’s supply of the product. The form particularly thrived during the depression when radio came on the scene and listeners were encouraged to write jingles for an on-air mention.

    • good point tom. and over my career i’ve taken advantage of several random ideas from family and non-advertising pals. but i wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for them to crack the ten per cent off canned peas brief! everybody clams up on that one.

  6. Vinny
    Is it a pea brief or a clam brief?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s