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9.3 The Bigger Picture

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand how crowdsourcing may impact the bigger picture of eMarketing.
  2. Understand the role of the amateur in crowdsourcing.
  3. Understand the concept of the wisdom of the crowd.
  4. Learn how a new agency model may be needed.

The concept of crowdsourcing has had an enormous impact on the marketing and advertising industry, and its repercussions are not fully realized yet.

The Internet can be seen as a catalyst as well as an enabler that propelled crowdsourcing to the fore. In the past we had to be together physically to create crowds. Now with technology, crowds can be well connected although geographically distant. A savvy organization can tap a wider range of talent and knowledge than that present within its own resources. And once more, crowdsourcing, as Jeff Howe states in his book by the same name, is now “faster, cheaper, smarter, easier.”Jeff Howe, Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business (New York: Crown Business, 2008).

Crowds can also contribute in many ways based on a range of skill levels. Everyone from professional engineers to stay-at-home moms can be working on the same communications problem, for example, and each has the opportunity to come up with the best solution to the problem.

For clients, solutions to problems can be explored at a relatively low cost and often very quickly. Unlike traditional agency models where an individual is paid per hour, crowdsourcing permits a client to pay a single cost for an exponential amount of solutions. Ultimately a client only pays for the solutions it makes use of, while those in the community who are not paid usually retain their intellectual propertyIntangible creations of the mind, both artistic and commercial.. This is the case with Idea Bounty.

By listening to the crowd and requesting their contributions, organizations can gain first-hand insight into their customers’ needs and desires and build products and services that meet those needs and desires.

With an earned sense of ownership, communities may feel a brand-building kinship with the community through collaborationAn online community working together on a single project. and contribution. Less experienced individuals can show and hone their skills, and more established practitioners can earn money without long-term commitment.

The Rise of the Amateur

When it comes to crowdsourcing, amateursA person without formal training or professional credentials in a specific field. are competing with professionals in fields ranging from computer programming to design, and from journalism to the sciences. These people are hobbyists and enthusiasts who may not have the relevant professional qualifications but may possess talent and passion in a given field. The energy and passionate devotion to a particular subject is ultimately what drives the crowdsourcing vehicle. To a large extent, the development of technology is again the great enabler here. First, people have access to a wider pool of information through the Web. Software such as Photoshop and iMovie has made graphic design and film editing relatively easy to learn and even master.

An Ideas or Knowledge Economy

Thanks to the Internet, one can publish information at a faster pace than ever and make it available globally. An idea is now worth something—supply and demand is not regulated by money or time anymore, but rather by the value of what’s offered. An idea that took ten minutes to come up with may be just as good as, if not better than, an idea that took ten hours of ruminating.

Open Call—A Great Idea Can Come from Anywhere

It is now possible to form or access a crowd from diverse professional backgrounds and that possesses a wide range of talents in a short span of time. This wide range of talent is also known as intellectual capital.

InnoCentive (, a crowdsourcing platform funded by pharmaceutical maker Eli Lilly, connects with brainpower outside the company by giving outsiders access to scientific problems. Anyone on InnoCentive’s network can solve these problems. This is an example of an open callWhen anyone can submit solutions to a problem..

Colgate-Palmolive solved what appeared to be an unsolvable problem by listing it on InnoCentive. The massive packaged-goods company needed a way to inject fluoride powder into a toothpaste tube without it dispersing into the surrounding air. The research and development (R&D) team at Colgate-Palmolive were stumped, and so Colgate-Palmolive posed the problem to the InnoCentive crowd. An individual from InnoCentive’s online community drew on his experience and knowledge as a physicist to provide the solution (and claimed he knew he had a solution by the time he’d finished reading the challenge). A collaborative approach like this wouldn’t have been possible for the R&D team at Colgate-Palmolive.

Crowdsourcing blurs the lines between consumer and producer. This also means that solutions to problems can come from the most unlikely places. Crowdsourcing allows you widen the net when searching for solutions to problems, which of course increases the chance of finding the best solution.

The Difference between Crowdsourcing and the Wisdom of the Crowd

Crowdsourcing and the wisdom of the crowdThe collective knowledge, opinion, or skills of a group of individuals rather than a single expert used to solve a problem. Usually used for consumer feedback and new product development. are two different, though closely related, concepts.

The wisdom of the crowd can be referred to as open-sourceWhen a cooperative activity is initiated and voluntarily undertaken by members of the public, and not by a client or crowdsourcer. production. It is an activity initiated and voluntarily undertaken by members of the community. James Surowiecki, author of The Wisdom of Crowds, puts it this way: “the aggregation of information in groups, [results] in decisions that…are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group.”James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds (New York: Anchor Books, 2005).

One of the best examples of the wisdom of crowds or open-source production is Media Predict. Users bet on media trends such as television viewership and books that are likely to sell well. As a group, the Media Predict community is able to generate quite accurate predictions as to what will and what won’t succeed—something an individual could never do as efficiently or accurately.

In contrast, with crowdsourcing the activity is initiated by a client and the solution usually comes from an individual. The example of Colgate-Palmolive’s experience on InnoCentive is a good example of pure crowdsourcing.

Some platforms make use of a mix of both crowdsourcing and wisdom of the crowd. Threadless (an online community where users can submit t-shirt designs, vote on their favorites, and then purchase the top design each month) is a good example of this. It is crowdsourcing when individuals submit their t-shirt designs. When the community collectively votes on the best designs, Threadless is making use of the wisdom of the crowd to determine which design to print and sell that month.

Others platforms, such as Idea Bounty, are pure crowdsourcing platforms where a solution comes from an individual and is no way influenced by the rest of the community.

How Is Crowdsourcing Changing the Communications Industry?

Crowdsourcing is producing a new way of sourcing creative ideas, especially in the marketing and communications industry.

In an industry where creativity is the product, crowdsourcing allows us to access an enormous source of untapped creativity that marketing and advertising agencies do not have within their organizations. This creativity comes with very little risk and at a low cost.

The New Agency Model

Instead of allowing the marketing and branding process to be owned and managed by one agency, brands are pioneering an innovative new model with the use of crowdsourcing platforms.

A new agency modelThe incorporation and use of crowdsourcing platforms to source marketing and communications solutions. would manage idea creation as follows:

  1. A brand puts a brief on a crowdsourcing platform, such as Idea Bounty, looking for the best solution to a problem. It offers a reward (usually money) in return for the best solution.
  2. The brand selects the best solution and then approaches either a preselected production partner or the best-suited agency to execute the solution.

The new agency model may be the next stage in the evolution of marketing. It is inherently more sensitive to market forces as it levels the playing fields among amateur and professional creatives. Amateurs have the opportunity to communicate ideas to global brands, something they might never have had the chance to do. This also exposes the brand to a wider and more varied range of ideas and solutions. As an added benefit, positive PR (public relations) is generated and direct interaction with a consumer base can provide unexpected insights. It also helps that crowdsourcing offers a very fast and cheap way to source solutions to creative problems.

The crowd is now rivaling the corporation. With the Internet and cheap tools, consumers and communities have the power once restricted to companies with capital resources. When it comes to intellectual resources, which are king in crowdsourcing, ad agencies are lagging far behind.

Pros and Cons

Crowdsourcing can be of enormous benefit to any organization, large or small. All you need is a passionate, problem-solving community. The pros of crowdsourcing include the following:

  • Handing over the ownership of your brand encourages consumer involvement.
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration brings fresh input.
  • Individuals have opportunities and connections that did not exist before.
  • Problems can be explored at a low cost and often very quickly.
  • A client pays for results and only for what is used.
  • The organization can tap a wider range of talent and brainpower, which may not be present within its own resources.
  • Organizations can gain valuable insight into the desires of their customers.
  • As a result of collaboration and contribution, the community may feel a brand-building relationship with the given organization.

But it’s not all sunshine. Anyone exploring crowdsourcing, from either side of the equation, needs to be aware of the pitfalls, which include the following:

  • Contributing individuals can be taken advantage of.
  • Many clients have no agency guidance and in some cases have very little control over production value, especially if the end result of the project is completed or finished work.
  • When it comes to spec workFully executed creative work requested by crowdsourcing platforms., as opposed to merely an idea, the risk-to-reward ratio is fairly high. Not only is this taking advantage of an individual’s efforts, but it can also lead to work of a lesser quality.
  • Legal issues are often overlooked and the IP of an individual’s work is disregarded with no written contracts, nondisclosure agreements, employee agreements, or agreeable terms with crowdsourced employees.
  • The crowd’s reliability can be somewhat altered by the Internet. As an example, many articles on Wikipedia may be of a high quality and edited by multiple people—taking advantage of the crowd’s collective wisdom. Other articles can be maintained by a single editor with questionable ethics and opinions. As a result, articles may be incorrectly assumed to be reliable.
  • Added costs may be needed to bring a project to an acceptable conclusion.
  • A crowdsourced project may fail due the lack of financial motivation or reward. As a consequence, a project may be subjected to fewer participants, a lower quality of work, a lack of personal interest, global language barriers, or difficulty managing a large-scale crowdsourced project.
  • A crowdsourcer may have difficulties maintaining a working relationship with the community throughout the duration of a project.

Key Takeaways

  • All the repercussions of crowdsourcing are not fully realized as of yet.
  • In the past, we had to be physically together to create crowds. Now we have technology to help us connect while remaining geographically distant.
  • Crowds can contribute based on a range of skill levels.
  • Less experienced individuals can show and hone their skills, while more established practitioners can earn money without long-term commitment.
  • Amateurs are competing in a wide variety of fields.
  • One is able to publish information faster than ever, thanks to the Internet. This information can be available globally.
  • Crowds can have a wide variety of professional backgrounds with different talents. This is known as intellectual capital.
  • Wisdom of the crowd can be referred to as open-source production, which is an activity initiated and voluntarily undertaken by members of the community.
  • Crowdsourcing is producing a new way of sourcing creative ideas. It allows us to access an enormous source of untapped creativity that agencies don’t have within their organizations, with low risk and cost.
  • A new agency model is needed to manage idea creation.


  1. What are the main reasons for crowdsourcing taking off in the last few years?
  2. What are the benefits of crowdsourcing for both consumers and brands?
  3. What is the difference between the wisdom of the crowd and crowdsourcing?