Is Crowdsourcing Turning Creative Directors Into Curators?

BBDO launches its own platform to retain business

"There should be no more creative directors. The job is dead and the title is wrong—it should be 'curator.'"

These words from KBS+ co-founder/former Victors & Spoils partner Jon Bond may strike fear into the hearts of copywriters and art directors because they concern crowdsourcing, or the act of farming out major portions of the creative process.

The idea is hardly new (see Doritos' "Crash the Super Bowl" series), but Omnicom enshrined it as a formal offering last month with the launch of London-based AMV BBDO's Flare Studio, which offers related services to clients and BBDO offices around the world. The agency essentially confirmed Bond's point in the press release by describing it as "curated crowdsourcing."

"[Flare Studio] is designed to disrupt the model from within, allowing us to be much more versatile," said AMV BBDO head of content Nick Price, who helped launch Flare as an in-house offering in 2013. The new platform works via a tiered model that "democratizes" the process by opening campaign bids to any YouTube creator, production company or independent director while reserving more significant projects for organizations ready to pay a higher premium.

"There's so much content needed today that any agency saying they do all of it is not going to keep all of it," Bond explained. More clients are therefore partnering with third-party crowdsourcing companies like Tongal and CrowdHere—and BBDO launched Flare Studio, at least in part, to retain more of their business. "Clients like Mars now have access to other parts of the world where there's not a strong agency presence," Price said, and BBDO hopes that many will choose to stick with the shop they know.

For Omnicom, Flare may represent the purest embodiment of BBDO global chairman David Lubars' "good, fast and cheap" maxim. But how good will it be if in-house creatives don't direct it? "Not everything can be perfect; it can be good enough," Price said. He noted that all of Flare Studio's campaigns will ultimately be BBDO products: "There's still a lot of love put into it. Line producers will be a critical quality control factor, and they will all be BBDO."

Price frames the challenge facing traditional creative agencies as such: "The very thing that makes them good at what they do counts against them at the lower end of the market," because the sort of work they produce is not economically viable below a certain price point.

Not every crowdsourcing company is out to steal your business. "I commend BBDO for trying to do something different," said CrowdHere CEO Nick Pahade, who has also worked at IPG's Initiative, "but I have no desire to compete with any agency. Think of us as a marketplace meets an array of content creation tools."

Vaughan Emsley spent 25 years with the Saatchi & Saatchi organization before becoming head of strategy and client development at Tongal, and he sees things differently. "The project load per creative head in a New York agency is twice what it was five to six years ago, and they can't keep up," he said. Emsley thinks creative studios like Tongal can fill that void: "Any company with an open source approach like ours is seen by agencies as a competitor. BBDO may be the exception that proves the rule."

Is the creative director of legend truly an endangered species? "It's certainly not going to be possible to provide the sort of hands-on creative directorship that agencies have traditionally offered," Emsley said.

Some prominent creative leaders beg to differ. "There is a huge difference between simply selecting ideas and leading ideas," said Crispin Porter + Bogusky chief creative officer Ralph Watson. "I don't believe a creative director should be just a picker or a curator. I don't believe they should just react. Creative directors need to shape, create and lead by example. The choice is more than being just a manager or a maker.

"The day creative directors stop coming up with ideas, their tastes in ideas stop at that point in time," he said. "They will forever be looking for solutions that were only valid back when they were actively trying to solve problems."

Watson also believes that turning directors into "curators" would negate their crucial role as mentors. "I have learned far more from witnessing great creative directors concepting in front of me and sitting down with me to solve a problem than anything else," he said. "The ones that do this will forever earn the admiration and trust of the younger creatives they are serving."

Price, however, argues that clients have already spoken. "Some creatives will embrace [the new model], and some will struggle with it," he said. "But if you ignore it, you will find that the majority of the market has passed you by."

This story first appeared in the October 24, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.
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