Crowdsourced Advertising

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= Crowdsourcing applied to advertising


"I've always believed that the field of advertising is especially fertile ground for Crowdsourcing applications: the formats (short video snippets, one-page images, etc.) often lend themselves to amateur efforts and in many cases consumers have a much better sense of how to improve a brand's appeal than do Madison Ave executives. It goes without saying that I'm hardly the only one making this observation. Advertising was one of the first fields to put the crowd to work, and as such the models are reaching a degree of maturity we're not seeing in other fields." (


John Winsor in BusinessWeek on The Future of Advertising [1], "explores how the current advertising model is broken, and what happens when the world is your creative department".

"The old system of agencies employing a few creative teams to come up with agenda-setting ideas simply doesn’t make sense in a digital era where ideas can and should come from anywhere. Digital tools can be used to tap into the wider world of creativity, and can do so with a lean infrastructure. It’s a win for the client, who gets access to a diversity of ideas. It’s a win for creative talent, who aren’t bound to work on the particular accounts held by their agency.

Mass collaboration, co-creation, and crowdsourcing are becoming increasingly important vehicles for clients looking to engage the voices of consumers with brands. At last count there were more than 100 crowdsourcing platforms available for some kind of design or marketing work. Picking the right one is key. There are many factors to consider, from who is in a particular crowd to how talent is paid or how intellectual property is handled. Many times success will come from breaking a project into smaller pieces and tapping different crowds for the various different elements. In general, it seems it’s best to combine small private crowds (these days known as “expertsourcing”), where everyone working on the project signs a nondisclosure agreement, with bigger, more public crowds (crowdsourcing) to generate more ideas." (


Examples are monitored in this section of the crowdsourcing blog at


Emma Johnson:

"Mervis Diamond Importers, a third-generation chain of four jewelry stores in the Washington, D.C., area, employed crowdsourcing to generate a series of successful newspaper advertisements with the help of crowdsourcing facilitator Genius Rocket. For a $500 fee, Jonathan Mervis sent out a query looking for one-line ad copy to accompany the front page of the local edition of satirical newspaper The Onion, which is popular with young adults. Genius Rocket publicized the contest, and Mervis spread the word through his company's blog and his own contacts.

The query promised to select between five and 15 responses and award $100 to each.

The query netted more than 500 responses, many of which were outstanding, Mervis says. He personally read all of them and wrote checks to 10 entrants, which were "brilliant" and many of which are often quoted by customers in his store and strangers on the street. Standouts include, "She likes the Beatles, but she loves the Stones," and "Conflict-free diamonds for a conflict-free bedroom."

"This doesn't even compare with working with my usual ad agency," Mervis says. "If I just sit down with my agency to discuss an ad in The Onion, it costs me $1,000 and it doesn't get me 500 options, it only gets me two or three. Often I don't really love those two or three, but I don't want to pay for more so I just go for it."

He says the return on investment is tough to calculate, but he plans to launch more crowdsourcing queries. The time and monetary investment were minimal, quality of responses phenomenal, and the ability to control the creative process rewarding and productive, he says. "It's almost like a free shot."

Tips include giving potential responders lots of information about your company, the type of responses that you're looking for, and your target audience. Also be careful to attach an appropriate fee. Mervis sponsored a second crowdsourcing competition for an online video advertisement he hoped would go viral. The eight responses were so-so, and Mervis wonders if the $1,000 reward was too small to attract top talent.

"What if I doubled the reward money? Would I get double the number of good videos?" he asks. "That's the thing: There are no statistics to support any of this."

Low budget? No budget? Doesn't matter. With the right choice of crowdsourcing venue and the proper incentive, even a small company can achieve ad agency-like results. Open innovation may just level the playing field." (


"Trada Inc., which recently emerged from stealth mode private beta, offers crowds of pay-per-click experts who create paid-search marketing campaigns. Each vetted crowd member generates his/her own keywords, ad copy, and deep links to attract prospective pay-per-click customers to the client site. The result is a much broader span of keywords with less chance of overpaying for over-used common keywords. By giving access to the long tail of keywords, Trada executes campaigns at lower cost and with greater success than do traditional agencies with in-house employees." (


Harley Davisdon's campaign through Victors and Spoils,

"After the success of the campaign, late last year Harley-Davidson and V&S together decided to extend the creative call, creating a ‘Fan Machine’ app on its Facebook page, as below, tapping its almost 3 million fans on Facebook." (

Victors and Spoils case study: an advertising agency based on Crowdsourcing

Ross Dawson in Getting Results from Crowds

"When it was launched in October 2009, Victors & Spoils was described as “the world’s first creative ad agency built on crowdsourcing principles”. Founded by three par tners including CEO John Winsor, it has built considerable success, including creating campaigns for clients such as Harley-Davidson, Virgin America, GAP, and Levi’s.

The company has close to 500 people from 126 countries in its contributor pool, all attracted through the firm’s significant media and online visibility. Within this pool, it regularly interacts or works with around 200-300 of them, though none work predominantly for the firm at this stage.

The firm has built a reputation system to make it more efficient to find the best people for projects. Contributors are given points based on factors including how far their submissions go in the filtering process and client opinions, while creative directors can also allocate points based on their views of creative talent or collaboration capabilities.

One model they use is running an open brief, prepared by Victors & Spoils on the basis of the brief from the client. This is open to contributions from anyone. None of the submissions are visible to other contributors. In the initial round, contributions are ranked as A, B, or C. The client can then go through the submissions and choose the ones they want to pay for and use. However the majority of the client work done uses what Winsor calls the ‘pick and pay’ model. Here, Victors & Spoils picks 10-25 people to contribute to the project, each of whom signs an NDA and is paid a small amount upfront for their submission. From this pool around 4-5 are selected to go into a further round, attracting additional payments. The company collaborates with these winners to further develop their ideas to meet the client’s brief. There are 12 people at the core of Victors & Spoils, including traditional agency roles of Creative Director and Strategy Director, as well as a Technical Director responsible for the platforms.

At the outset, fee levels for Victors & Spoils were around a quarter of traditional agency fees, but have risen to half to three-quarters of market rates. The partners started out with a ‘better, faster, cheaper’ philosophy, but now believe that the crowdsourced model often provides superior results to traditional agency models and so merits commensurate fees. In charging clients more, they can pay the crowd more and in turn attract better talent."

More Information

  1. Crowdsourcing
  2. Victors & Spoils: "the world’s first creative (ad) agency built on crowdsourcing principles" details
  3. Ross Dawson on crowdsourced advertizing,


  • Berthon, P., L. Pitt, et al. (2008). “Ad Lib: WHEN CUSTOMERS CREATE THE AD.” California Management Review 50(4): 6–30.