Advertising Agencies

Jeff Howe Didn't Mean To Be An Asshole

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I briefly met Jeff Howe during the kickoff party for his book Crowdsourcing. He's a good guy. Very charming, very intelligent. It's not his fault he's an asshole, having coined the term "crowdsourcing". I read an opinion piece on PSFK today by well-known author, blogger, critic, and fabled ad man, George Parker. In it, he pretty much lambasted the Boulder, CO-based agency, Victors & Spoils, for further perpetuating the argument of "What are agencies for?" To their credit, however, according to @BBHLabs, they've already gotten 5 letters from Fortune 200 CMOs in the first few days of them opening their doors.

The great debate of the effects of crowdsourcing on ad agencies is something I've always been fairly agnostic about. I was always a supporter of Jeff Howe, so I didn't immediately write it off as the bane of creative agencies. But after hearing George Parker's criticisms of Victors & Spoils, I think I might have to side with the agencies. And it's not because I think agency creatives would be out of a job otherwise. There's more to the argument than that.

First off, crowdsourcing your work does NOT guarantee quality product. Fast Company's Cliff Kuang published a piece that took a look at some of the mediocre work that has come from crowdsourced efforts. I'm not suggesting that crowdsourced work can't be good. And I'm not saying that it doesn't help in shining light on many talented people who might otherwise be overlooked. Honestly, at its core, I don't believe crowdsourcing, as a marketing vehicle, is such a bad idea. It promotes consumer interaction; celebrates their creativity; and all that other good stuff we like to say about the benefits of crowdsourcing.

Where I've decided to put my foot down is exactly where Victors & Spoils has decided to venture: crowdsourcing all of your work as a creative ad agency. I was impressed by the attention that they've been getting, but after further thought, I'm not so sure it's well-deserved. Under this business model, can they legitimately call themselves a creative ad agency? I'm not so sure. If anything, an agency of producers and project managers sounds more apropos. Isn't that what they essentially boil down to? And that's the problem that Parker cited in this business model.

If you act as though getting agency quality work is as easy as logging onto crowdSPRING, then what the hell are we being hired for? Clients have their own project managers to oversee crowdsourced initiatives if they really wanted to. I don't think the creative ad agency will go the way of the Dodo, especially considering there's simply a different grade of work you get from dealing with "accredited" (for lack of a better word) creatives. I just think that it's a bit pretentious to put yourself on a high horse and label yourself as forward-thinking when in reality, you aren't doing any of the heavy lifting.

Having started my career at a creative digital agency, I naturally have a high respect for the work that goes into agency developed creative. I don't think agency creatives have anything to worry about. Out of work art directors and copywriters aside, the best either already work for someone, or consider themselves too good to essentially work for free. And for those designers who do compete in crowdsourcing competitions, it's a good way to get noticed, and perhaps find yourself with a job where you don't have to forfeit valuable hours of your time contending with dozens of other designers working for nothing.

I'll leave you with this comment from V&S' announcement blog post:

You guys are kidding right?

You are not changing an industry you are helping hammer one more nail in its coffin. For years we fought the idea of advertising by committee and you are legitimizing it.

You are not calling creatives with spirit you are calling all those willing to be underpaid while you guys reap the rewards.

As John Lennon said, “How do you sleep at night?”