Why crowdsourcing should be part of your creative strategy

Mark Ralphs

3 May 2018

180503 gr rebelthinking crowdsourcing wp 1

Defining crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is a bit like outsourcing, except instead of handing over control to another organisational entity, you’re relying on members of the public to innovate, gather information or perform tasks on your behalf. According to Jeff Howe, King of Crowdsourcing and contributing editor at Wired, “Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call, commonly using the internet.”

The two keywords there are ‘undefined’ and ‘open call’. The person you think would be most qualified to perform the job isn’t always the right person to do it – sometimes an ‘open call’ is your best bet. For nine years straight Doritos ads have ranked in the top five of USA Today’s Ad Meter rankings for the best Super Bowl commercials – due in large part to the organisation’s co-creation Crash the Super Bowl campaign. Done right, crowdsourcing can be an incredibly effective way of engaging with your audience, while at the same time increasing creative scope.


Why should I care?

Of course some things are better left up to the experts, but there are a number of benefits that can result from crowdsourcing, including:

Brand affinity

By involving your audience in campaigns, product and service development; you drive brand affinity. Consumers want to be a part of the conversation, and crowdsourcing can help to foster a sense of community.

An ideas engine

Innovation driven by diversity often results in a greater variety of ideas being put forward. The more people we involve in the process, preferably people already familiar with and enthusiastic about the brand, the wider our innovation base becomes. Not every idea is going to be a winner, but outsourcing to the public is often an efficient way of surfacing the best and perhaps unexpected concepts.

A process revolutionised

Humans are inherently collaborative and most are pretty competitive, so why not take advantage of that mindset? Crowdsourcing is a tool that can be used to revolutionise the idea generation process. Open Innovation often relies on that sense of competition to raise the profile of co-collaboration projects which reward the best ideas with recognition and prizes. Crowdsourced activity can increase rates of productivity without increasing cost. Crowdsourced science and journalism empowers members of the public with the ability to make an impact, while driving efficiency. Crowdfunding incentivises the public to invest in a new product or company, which helps to increase brand affinity, while at the same time helping startups off the ground.


Which type of crowdsourcing should I be focusing on?

There are four core types of crowdsourcing:


Basic crowdsourcing comes in two forms, co-creation and crowd labour. Crowd Labour is when companies outsource tasks that would usually be performed by employees or third party organisations, e.g. creating algorithms, designing websites or coming up with copy. Those who perform tasks on behalf of an organisation, unless that organisation is non-profit, are usually compensated in some way. Co-creation is when organisations work in collaboration with the public in order to generate new ideas, improve upon already existing ideas, or ask for feedback or suggestions via focus groups and polls.

Open Innovation

Open Innovation is an inclusive, more democratic way of problem solving and improving the idea generation process internally. Companies can maintain a competitive edge by encouraging the sharing of ideas between co-workers organisation-wide, or other innovators and companies within their industry. Open Innovation encourages collaborative community engagement. It is most commonly employed in order to solve a specific problem.

Shared Knowledge

Shared Knowledge crowdsourcing is crowdsourcing to gather information on a particular topic. It encompasses both citizen journalism and citizen science. Shared Knowledge crowdsourcing has been used for the quick distribution of information during a crisis and for general information gathering (e.g. data mining for insights).


Crowdfunding is when an organisation raises capital by asking a large amount of people for small amounts of money. Crowdfunding can be used to launch a new business or bolster existing projects or products within an already established business.


Case studies

Brand: UNICEF in collaboration with BETC

Type: Crowd Labour

Summary: UNICEF 2018 Game Chaingers campaign focused on recruiting gamers, eSports fans or anyone with a powerful graphics card, to mine the cryptocurrency Ethereum for the benefit of children in war-torn Syria. Game Chaingers is the first ever fundraising campaign to rely totally on blockchain technology.

Result: The campaign will continue to run until the 31st March, and they have so far generated €10,453.52 from 983 contributors.


Brand: Pret A Manger

Type: Co-Creation

Summary: Veggie Pret was opened as an experimental pop up in 2016 following a poll in which fans of Pret were encouraged to vote on whether or not they’d like to see an increased focus on vegetarian options.

Result: Pret received over 10,000 votes in total, 44% of participants believed Pret should open up a ‘Veggie Shop’. New vegetarian and vegan choices were introduced, and a national marketing campaign was launched. The pop up has since become permanent in response to thousands of positive customer reviews and successful sales. As of October 2017 a third Veggie Pret has launched in Clerkenwell.


Brand: ViiV Healthcare

Type: Open Innovation

Summary: ViiV Healthcare’s Positive Action Challenge is an open innovation platform which aims to focus the efforts of a global community of problem solvers on one single issue – the HIV and AIDS epidemic. ViiV awards prizes to the winners of specific challenges.

Result: So far ViiV have issued five challenges, each focusing on a different area of HIV and AIDS research. With five innovations funded, ViiV are now turning their attention to FGM, HIV infections in children and teenagers, and increasing stigma-free access to sexual and reproductive health services.


Brand: The Red Cross and OpenStreetMap

Type: Open Innovation

Summary: In November 2013 the Philippines was devastated by the arrival of Typhoon Haiyan. The Red Cross, in collaboration with OpenStreetMap, asked volunteers to build maps identifying those areas affected by the storm.

Result: Approximately 1,700 people answered the call and the Red Cross was able to load updated maps to the GPS devices of relief workers. This saved time and allowed relief workers to quickly assess which areas were worst affected.


Brand: BrewDog

Type: Crowdfunding

Summary: BrewDog began crowdfunding in 2011. Shares were sold at £23.75 and came with benefits like online and in-store discounts, as well as the opportunity to attend their Annual Shareholder meeting.

Result: Challenger beer brand BrewDog built a global brand on the back of an insurgent ethos and marketing innovation. In 2015 revenue leapt from 51pc to £44.6m. Sales in the UK increased by 131pc, and 16 more bars were opened. BrewDog currently has around 75,000 Equity Punk investors and have raised over £50 million in funding.


Crowd control

Crowdfunding is not foolproof. In March 2016 the National Environment Research Council (NERC) launched an online competition, open to the public, to name their new Antarctic research ship. By April the poll was over and the winning entry, RRS Boaty McBoatface, had amassed over 120,000 votes. In the end, despite overwhelming public support for Boaty McBoatface, the research ship was named for Sir David Attenborough, with a smaller autoship taking the winning name instead. The public was enraged.

Compare this to Walkers’ Choose Me or Lose Me campaign. Consumers of Walkers Crisps were asked to choose between new and classic flavours. The ‘new’ flavours were already popular in other countries (Lime and Black Pepper, Paprika and Bacon & Cheddar) and were being pitted against traditional British flavours (Salt & Vinegar, Prawn Cocktail and Smokey Bacon). Consumers could vote via an online poll, or by buying a single packet of Walkers ‘Choose Me or Lose Me’ branded crisps. In the end, 778,636 votes were cast over 10 weeks, and the campaign generated a 19% uplift in value sales for the core class flavours.

British flavours triumphed, and the public was delighted. Walkers maintained control by limiting the number of options on offer. Never forget the importance of crowdsourcing curation, or failing that, try to embrace crowd creativity, even if the result isn’t quite what you were expecting.

Crowdsourcing allows brands to tap into the knowledge and creative know how of the wider community. It’s not just a lazy way of outsourcing work, “If it was that easy,” explains Andy Nairn, co-founder of Lucky General, “the crowd would be setting up their own agencies.” And we should remember, that there’s a fine line between ethical crowdsourcing and asking your audience to carry out work for free without incentive. Crowdsourcing is a way of making consumers feel like they’re a part of the conversation. In some cases it’s about understanding what it is your audience really wants, and in some cases it’s about saving lives. Whatever the case, crowdsourcing is a fantastic tool and one which has secured its place in the future of advertising.