Crowd-Sourcing: A Fancy Name for Micro-Advertising, Still the Same Thing

By Matt Van Hoven 

In November of last year we put together a list of all the crowd-sourcing shops we could find. We missed some, like GuidedByVoices, aka, GuidedCollective, which has made an English-voice-overed-so-you’ll-think-they’re-smart video (after jump) explaining how they do. But come on, let’s call crowd-sourcing what it is &#151 the micro-advertising model.

Like most crowd-sorcery, GuidedByVoices relies on a bunch of people putting ideas into a box and then the shop picks which is the best and then they pay everyone who has good ideas. In a run-of-the-mill shop, this is the part where the agency puts out the RFP to a few digital agencies (if they don’t happen to do digital), then after competing for weeks and spending a few grand, some never-before-mentioned shop wins the work and everyone gets screwed. Crowd-sourcing is a bit more accountable here, and since it’s more one-to-one, our gut is that the best person is more likely to win.

But still, a lot of players enter the race, only one can win.


Crowd-sourcing attempts to make each “good sumbitter’s” time worthwhile &#151 paying the best ones an equal sum at every step. At the end, the winner gets another, larger payment and maybe the other players get an additional check too. Depends on the shop. But if five people get paid, hundreds more (potentially thousands) get nothing. It is what it is. This is how it’s done in many crowd-sourcing shops. But when you’re a peon working at the small digital shop, you get a check regardless. Not that you should, but hell, every idea can’t be a seller (let’s note here that work good work and work that sells are not always equal).

So crowd-sourcing agencies have like, zero overhead. Big deal. All that means is that a few key players take home a wad of cash for essentially farming out the work &#151 which is exactly how it’s done inside normal shops. And then the people who do the work get either a few lumps of highly taxed cash or nothing at all.

For the client using crowd-sourcing, the benefit is “ideation” from a broader group of participants. But that doesn’t mean the people behind those ideas will work well together. Half of the agency-model battle is putting together a team that won’t kill one another.

And when you have a team of freelancers in different time zones, with individual processes and styles &#151 making it all come together is still a bigger, scarier challenge.

We’ve only scratched the surface here, but the takeaway is the crowd-sourcing model doesn’t appear any more effective than the standard agency. There are pros and cons to both. It certainly isn’t an alternative, really &#151 it’s a lower-overhead model that pays out only to the best ideas. In that way it’s a bit cannibalistic; competitive in a way that wouldn’t sustain an entire industry. It also prevents freelancers from making whatever the agency gets off the top, and assumes that the agency principals are really good advertisers. But hell, with a good enough salesman and a couple former Big Agency creatives, you too could start your crowd-sourcing agency. Call it Ideas’R’Us and make a million bucks.

My advice is if you can make money, do it however you can &#151 but only if your mother would be proud of how you did it. I should probably get a new gig.

Guided by Voices process animation from Guided by Voices on Vimeo.