Tag Archives: benefits of crowdsourcing


Off the Board and to the Horde! Is Crowdsourcing Ethical?

Crowdsourcing appears to be an increasingly hot topic in the marketing and advertising sector, despite the fact that it has been around since the term was first coined by Jeff Howe in his 2006 article: “The Rise of Crowdsourcing”. It can be beneficial in a marketing environment where inspiration has run dry and fresh innovative ideas are needed. From a CRM perspective, it also encourages a deep and meaningful level of customer involvement.

The concept involves taking the work required for a task and delegating it to an undefined large group or community through an open invitation. Companies are able to take advantage of public skill, typically arranging contests in which individuals compete for a prize by submitting specified a piece of work. Not only do businesses benefit in terms of the free labour (in return for a small fee) but it can also be a valuable marketing tool, spreading brand awareness.

In February 2010, Doritos launched its “King of Ads” campaign to the public: A contest encouraging budding advertisers and directors to design the next Doritos TV ad campaign to win a cash prize. A 29 second commercial was to be filmed and uploaded to the UK Doritos website. All entries would then be judged by an expert panel to select one winner. It was a competition with prospects of fame and industry recognition for its lucky winner.

My first ever encounter with crowdsourcing was in 2006, whilst I was studying for my BA (Hons) in Fashion Promotion and Imaging. I recall high street fashion chain River Island advertising a competition through the university, for which students were required to design a marketing campaign for the brand in order to win a small monetary prize. For a poor student, such as myself, this appeared a lucrative opportunity from a brand eager to help budding creative students. River Island, at the time, was trusted and recognized in the fashion student world, being the main sponsor of Graduate Fashion Week. However, in retrospect I cannot help but see the contest as a cheap ploy from a brand to avoid expensive agency fees. This raises two important questions for any business considering the method:

Is crowdsourcing ethical? And further to this:  Could crowdsourcing damage brand reputation?

Illustration created from pieces found online

In an age of intelligent consumers, easily able to see through attitudes and values which are not solidly rooted in a company, I believe businesses should tread carefully when entering crowdsourcing territory.

To ensure an ethical approach, a brand should carefully consider what they are willing to offer competition winners. If the prize exposes a huge saving for the company, the brand could be scrutinized by the public. In the case of Doritos, the prize was a minimum of £100,000 with the potential to earn as much as £200,000, depending on the number of votes the winning video received. To vote, individuals needed to register their emails, thus increasing Doritos consumer database. Whilst this may be worth well in excess of the prize offered, compared to River Island, only offering around £2,000- £5,000 to the winner, it was a significant and life-changing amount of money.

Steve Douglas (2009)

Further to the discussion of ethics in crowdsourcing is the, potentially huge, amount of entries that a business will receive, most of which will not be selected as winners but could be stored for future potential campaign ideas. The individuals behind these may never be rewarded for their work and the brand gains a database of potentially thousands of innovative ideas. If exposed as having copied or stolen ideas, the brand risks potential severe damage. Word of mouse travels fast and, during the current recession, the last thing the public will tolerate is a large business stealing from a small individual.

From a counter point of view, it could be argued that crowdsourcing encourages consumer participation and grants valuable foot-in-the-door opportunities for students and talented individuals. In a recent advertising summit in Copenhagen, Simon Francis, CEO of advertising giant Saatchi and Saatchi, stressed that modern day consumers want to “co-create brands” and highlighted the importance of participatory marketing.

Crowdsourcing campaigns increase brand awareness, encourages sales, generates interest and hype, increases online databases and brings fresh thinking and perspective. It does not take a genius to understand why brands are increasingly enamoured with the concept but I hope this article has stressed the need for careful planning to ensure terms and conditions reflect brand values.

Nanna’s checklist for ensuring your crowdsourcing campaign is ethical and reputation safe:

  • Maintain a high level of transparency throughout
  • Ensure that the prize being offered is significant to the winner and relative to what your business will gain from the idea. If monetary, is it in line with industry fees? If not, could further benefits be offered, such as potential employment for the winner?
  • Will winning the contest gain industry recognition for the winner? If not, could your business perhaps help facilitate this?
  • If any further entries are used in future campaigns, ensure full credit is given and an appropriate fee paid