Memo to Crowdsourcing: Grow Up

by GeniusRocket President Peter LaMotte

At some point, every teenage boy looks around his bedroom and realizes it’s time to grow up. The little league trophies. The Star Wars sheets. The Elle McPherson poster (okay, maybe those last two can stay). But anything that’s going to embarrass you when you bring your college girlfriend home has got to go. You don’t need anyone to tell you—you just wake up one day and know it’s time to move forward.

Just like you wish your Little League career had, in just a few years, the term crowdsourcing has lurched out of obscurity to become a major part of the world we live in, especially within the marketing lexicon.

Most marketers have either first hand experience with crowdsourcing, or at a minimum have heard the term and know they should learn more. But crowdsourcing has evolved beyond just crowdsourcing for video and graphic design to include complex research, micro-financing and vast ideation. And while the teenage kid may not know what crowdsourcing is; he knows as he watches the Super Bowl each year, that a few of those ads are lot funnier than the others. He also doesn’t realize, that he’s witnessing a powerful new marketing trend. Because crowdsourcing may actually be most well known through the Doritos and Pepsi contests that premier each year during the Super Bowl.

First in 2007, Doritos was ahead of the crowd, no pun intended, when they turned to the masses to source what they hoped would be an entertaining commercial. In using the Super Bowl as the platform to launch these videos, Doritos, along with their agency Goodby Silverstein & Partners, took a considerable risk. Less than one year earlier, Chevrolet experienced a PR nightmare when it used a crowdsourcing contest to mash up Chevy Tahoe ads resulting in less-than-brand-loving tag lines such as “It’s Global Warming Time” and spots that touted the killing power of a large SUV. Yet, surprisingly, Doritos’s results were not only brand-friendly, catching and entertaining but generated endless buzz about Doritos and the power of creative crowdsourcing.

After taking one Super Bowl off from sourcing commercials, and turned to discovering unknown musicians through a crowdsourcing campaign, Doritos and its parent company Pepsi, came back to crowdsourcing for the 2009 Super Bowl and has stayed with the user-generated content approach each year since.

There is no question that they have delivered highly entertaining ads across the years by turning to the crowdsourced approach. The ads have consistently proven that crowdsourcing can produce great viral content and guaranteed viewership.

Now fast forward to 2011 and Doritos’s fourth trip to the crowdsourcing well, and one thing is clear, physical and childish humor seems to be content that rises to the top. In every year that Doritos has turned to crowdsourcing (including this year where sister brand Pepsi Max joined the competition) the majority of the crowdsourced ads selected for the Super Bowl are ones based upon physical comedy and sexual innuendo.

This is not to suggest that these aren’t effective ads. Especially for teenage boys. They continue to score very well on the USA Today Ad Meter. But the ads make a convincing argument that crowdsourcing needs to grow up and be less about men being hit in the groin.

Given the right incentive or a well-constructed crowdsourcing model, there is no reason why this year’s hugely popular Volkswagen Darth Vader spot couldn’t have been crowdsourced. Even Chrysler spot about Detroit could have been created (without the Eminem’s appearance of course) through crowdsourcing. Neither ad needed multimillion-dollar special effects, or multi-location scouting. It simply needs a big idea and talented production team.

This isn’t to say that these quality ads aren’t being generated already through video crowdsourcing sites, but the lessons brands need to learning from Doritos’s success aren’t about the power of crowdsourcing. Time and time again, when major brands turn to crowdsourcing for ads, they often set up creative briefs asking for sophomoric story lines.

You can generate just as much buzz and online discussion with an emotionally powerful crowdsourced video as you would with any cheap laugh. Brand managers and agencies need to trust in the production companies and freelancers of the world to create content that can bring you to tears from sentimental emotion just as easily as getting hit in the crotch can solicit a laugh.

Peter LaMotte (@peterlamotte) is President of GeniusRocket, a Curated Crowdsourcing company. The Curated Crowdsourcing model relies upon a vetted community of experienced and professional production companies, writers, and advertising veterans to deliver high quality commercial video content at a fraction of the cost of traditional means. Peter previously worked at Corporate Executive Board, IBM, and Apple. He holds BA in International Business from Rhodes College, and MBA from Vanderbilt University.


  • Interesting post. However, what I find lacking time and again in critical analyses of these sort of tactics is the industry-centric focus. I think if you look outside the box, you’ll discover that there is responsible crowdsourcing going on in ways that anyone who is firmly entrenched in consumer marketing ignores, healthcare, for example. I know “I’m not interested in that,” or “it’s boring.” However, there are lessons to be learned in every industry, even the ones that aren’t quite as fun as Doritos. Perhaps that’s the place to start looking at examples of maturation just because they HAVE to be more responsible about it.

    • Liz, I couldn’t agree more. Crowdsourcing as a whole has many mature industries, one of the best examples I feel is Innocentive which crowdsources scientific solutions to very complex medical needs to name just one. Also crowdfunding has also diversified to a mature level over the last few years. My goal in this post was to simply focus on how brand managers specifically in the subset of creative Crowdsourcing looking to source video should ask more from the Crowdsourcing model to generate a higher level of content. I can tell you personally that our Curated model has generated lots of quality spots that evoke emotion, but more than not marketers are looking for another “viral” video and feel (based on substantial examples) that a sophomoric style will get them there. I guess maybe a better title to the blog should have been, “Memo to creative crowdsourcing for video: grow up” but that’s just to long.

    • If SxSW is any example, I’d have to disagree with that. The content there is mediocre to terrible.

      • As you know I totally agree with that. There are some things that are better done without Crowdsourcing.

  • I think you have more faith in humans than I do because I’m not surprised that most crowdsourced video–especially menat to appeal to the masses and produced by the masses–is as sophomoric as it is. Sadly, most people are just not smart or creative enough to come up with better–and also most people are not smart enough to appreciate quality or nuance. Maybe “smart” isn’t the right word–it’s not like I’m a genius or anything–but take a look at shows like “America’s Funniest Home Video” or just at YouTube. What gets the most views? People farting or doing other stupid stuff.

    I’m not knocking your idea or your post–I think both are great–but I guess I’m just a pessamist ;)

  • Geoff,

    Like so many things, crowdsourcing has a time and place but it’s not an end all to moving forward, especially when it comes to something creative. It’s nearly impossible to crowdsource something that has never been imagined but it can be critical in refining an innovation provided someone can filter out the popular but somehow less effective ideas.

    One of the ironies, I think, is that so many contests only appear to be crowdsourced. In reality, they’re not. An individual puts something first, and then everyone critiques it.


    • Yeah, I think Peter’s point that it takes creative direction is a great validator of your comment… Critiquing or riffing, crowdsourcing is less original than many think and it takes a ton of process. I hope all is well, sir!

  • I’d like to think that proves an exception – this is a crowdsourced news and views site (with cash prizes) that contains surprisingly few articles with a comic slant (cartoons and possibly photos excepted). Most of the articles deal with serious issues related to politics, technology or gripping personal accounts. And the quality of content is generally high.

  • I’d like to think that proves an exception – this is a
    crowdsourced news and views site (with cash prizes) that contains
    surprisingly few articles with a comic slant (cartoons and possibly
    photos excepted). Most of the articles deal with serious issues related
    to politics, technology or gripping personal accounts. And the quality of content is generally high.

  • Amazing write-up! This could aid plenty of people find out more about this particular issue. Are you keen to integrate video clips coupled with these? It would absolutely help out. Your conclusion was spot on and thanks to you; I probably won’t have to describe everything to my pals. I can simply direct them here!

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