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Playing to the consumer crowd

The newest trend to hit advertising is crowdsourcing. While brands are opening their doors to users’ ideas, creative agencies are also getting a fresh look at their approach

Sohini Sen | Mumbai | July 30, 2014


Going by the trend in advertising lately, crowdsourcing has emerged as an effective and engaging medium of communication employed by advertisers and advertising agencies. While it is not a novel concept, people across the globe are increasingly embracing it, thanks to the biggest catalyst – the internet. Today, it is easier said and done too.

Crowdsourced product launches, crowdsourced funding, crowdsourced music and crowdsourced recipes – it seems that the sky is the limit for crowdsourcing. It was only a matter of time then that advertising woke up to the wonders of what a million minds could do to bring out a campaign.

Brands across categories such as FMCG, automobiles, consumer durables and e-commerce have opened their doors for consumers to be a part of the marketing process. While some have asked for ideas for campaigns, others have asked users to share stories of how the brand has been a part of their lives.

When in Doubt, Ask the Crowd

Arun Mehra Arun Mehra

Offering a perspective on this phenomenon, Arun Mehra, CEO, Talenthouse India, says, "Crowdsourcing is all about throwing open a challenge to the crowd and using those insights. At Talenthouse, crowdsourcing is an open call from a brand to the audience, across creative genres of film, fashion, music, art, design and photography.” Talenthouse has executed numerous crowdsourcing campaigns. Its work for Godrej, Nicorette and Tata Motors are noteworthy.

Crowdsourcing to create campaigns has been a popular choice for brands. While Nestle's iconic Maggi noodles asked consumers to send stories of their special bond with Maggi (Me & Meri Maggi), Mirinda, the beverage brand, asked people to write in crazy ideas for its ‘pagalpanti’ campaign. Both of these campaigns recorded high consumer engagement. The best entries were duly rewarded – in the case of Maggi, consumers’ stories were printed on the pack and in the case of Mirinda, TVCs were made based on the ideas, featuring the participant and his/her friends.

Then, there have been others which have sought ‘design’ contributions from consumers. For instance, Godrej invited designers, artists, students and everyone with a flair for design to come up with a logo or symbol that represents ‘innovation’. Absolut invited designers to design limited edition bottles of Absolut India.

Tata Motors had its first brush with crowdsourcing when it recorded videos and clicked photos of its car owners to make a video about the joy of travelling. Hyundai, meanwhile, in 2013, rolled out its 'writeuri10story' campaign, asking people to send in ideas which were later made into three separate TVCs.

How it Works

Abhijit Avasthi Abhijit Avasthi

According to Ogilvy & Mather's NCD, Abhijit Avasthi, the benefits and the effects depend on what crowdsourcing is being used for.

"If crowdsourcing is part of an idea, then it is good to involve people. But, if we are using crowdsourcing to source an idea, then definitely there is a problem with the agency. For example, if I was doing a campaign about a new kind of bendable straw, and I tell people to come up with ideas on how this can be used, then each of them is giving something interesting and all we are doing is putting it together. So, if you use it like that and expand the brand promise, then it is a good idea. But if tomorrow I can't think of an idea, then I am not extending the brand at all," he avers.

Why should a brand go for crowdsourced ads at all? And why should the agency conform with it? Does it have anything for both?

Sonal Dabral Sonal Dabral

According to Sonal Dabral, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of DDB Mudra Group, when you crowdsource an ad, it starts a conversation for the brand with the consumers. "Because technology has enabled such a conversation, it is really one of the most interesting and effective ways that brands can have a conversation with their audience. Additionally, when the audience contributes to any kind of crowdsourcing, they feel that much engaged to the brand," Dabral explains.

This in no way implies that the industry lacks creative ideas. To quote Dabral,"This complements what we are doing. It provides an additional dialogue in which you ask consumers to participate, think and spend time with the brand. Therefore, the bond becomes stronger."

Brands stand to win loyalty in this process. For Nicorette, the tobacco cessation aid from Johnson & Johnson, a crowdsourced campaign was more than just a way to reach out to the audience. Targeting smokers, Nicorette launched a short film contest where people could share their stories of successfully quitting smoking.

This, however, wasn’t easy. Dinar Mhatre, General Marketing Manager, Johnson & Johnson, explains, "The challenge for Nicorette was to connect with the consumer. Smoking, as we have seen, is a personal thing and in such a case, logic or rationale seldom works. Therefore, we had to connect at an emotional level and present it in a compelling way. We wanted to show that quitting is an amazing thing. And, by bringing in a larger pool of directors, it was possible to make it more engaging.”

Mhatre believes that a crowdsourced campaign generally brings in a fresh perspective to the brand communication. If an agency has been handling a brand for a long time, the way they would create a campaign, and the way an ordinary user will look at the brand will be different, which may be beneficial to explore for the brand.

Carlos Anuncibay Carlos Anuncibay

Carlos Anuncibay, ECD, Saatchi & Saatchi, Sri Lanka, believes that crowdsourcing makes the industry more competitive. "In this industry, we follow a strict selection process. With all creative minds working, we are able to select and control things. All of us have a little creativity inside. And when the ideas come from outside, there is more competition. And healthy competition is always good,” he says.

Lloyd Mathias Lloyd Mathias

Crowdsourcing can also help brands save a lot of money. But money, Lloyd Mathias, Chief Marketing Officer, Hewlett-Packard, says, “is only a small part of it.” He goes on to say, “Consumer’s ownership of your brand increases, especially if there is any reward or gratification for the consumer, as the brand then stands to gain tremendously.”

According to Talenthouse’s Mehra, no research can surpass the power of a one-to-one engagement with consumers. He cites the example of Karbonn Mobile which crowdsourced its 10-second long boot-up animation for Karbonn ‘Smart’ devices. “The winner, Arun Swain, a motion graphic artist from Orissa, not only walked away with a grand prize of Rs 1.5 lakh, but also got his work showcased to 20 million consumers. That is a larger than life platform," he says.

Managing the Crowd

As is the case generally, managing a crowd can be quite a task. Mathias agrees, "For every idea that you decide to run, you ignore several others. People in thes communication process may feel ignored and that can affect your brand connect. The resentment is just part of the whole deal."

Plus, brands need to brace up for whatever comes their way – good feedback, negative comments, complaints et al. “In the age we are in, we can't necessarily control what people say. It is a good thing that consumers are able to react to brands. It keeps brands informed, and we have to be that much more responsible and efficient,” Dabral reasons.

There is gainsaying that crowdsourcing is probably the closest a brand can get to a consumer and know what he/she thinks of and expects from it. As things are shaping up, ‘follow the crowd’ seems to be the new mantra.

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