There’s an intriguing new way for brands large and small to have their ads professionally produced by filmmakers and production companies. It’s called “crowdsourcing” and its popularity has soared in recent times since its inception only a few years ago. Today, crowdsourcing video production exists on a number of online sites that offer audio-visual services for brands. A review of these sites will be covered in a future post.
The idea is straightforward. Anything from a Fortune100 company to a local shop desire an attractive ad or corporate spot to fit their current campaign strategy. They want to put the ad on their corporate site, or their Facebook page, or even local TV – Wherever their marketing needs lie. But they’d prefer to see a selection of approaches rather than throwing their entire budget at a single production company. Maybe they want to try a different slant by avoiding expensive ad agencies. But perhaps most of all, they’d like to see a broad range of ideas from creative heads all over the world. After all, 400 heads are better than a few sitting around in an agency, right?
When crowdsourcing video production, a brand pays a third party company a sum of money to offer the job to 100s, even 1000s of filmmakers and international production companies to compete against each other for the loot. In other words, any guy with a video camera and an idea can tender a completed, fully produced ad to this third party company for purchase consideration by a massive brand. It sounds great. The brand can choose from hundreds of submitted entries, the third party host site earns a commission for organising the assignment and the (winning) filmmaker or Production Company gets their cut (which can often be up to $10,000 USD or more) for creating the brand’s spot.
Speaking as an ad creator, it would seem like a great way to earn dough for producing a great quality video. There are, however, flaws with this model and yes, it’s a great idea to begin with, until one discovers that their productions, which are expensive and timely to make, are getting nowhere fast. As you can imagine, 100s of “filmmakers” enter these ‘assignments’ but only one or two, or maybe even three will walk away with payment for their hard work creating the ad and the rest won’t get a red cent for their time and preparation, or production costs. In other words, you have to win one or two every so often to make this work.
“Only the strongest survive,” it maybe, but too simplistic. You would be forgiven for thinking it is all down to skill and the ‘best’ should win. But what exactly is ‘best’ and is there more involved here than just skill? Whilst there is little doubt that most assignments appear to be run efficiently, fairly and with professionalism (for many crowdsourcing sites), it’s more often the case that a hot looking ad is produced, but then another filmmaker’s spot is selected over yours.
Every opportunity to ‘get it right’ is presented to the creator, from the very announcement of a project, brand ‘assets’ are made available to all creators. These comprise of high-resolution brand logos, guidelines to follow, mandatory elements, what to avoid and (most importantly), the ‘Creative Brief,’ outlining in great detail, the requirements of the brand including the message it is trying to convey to the masses for their current campaign.
This is all well and good. If followed properly, the creator should have all he needs to deliver a video right on key, specific to the brand’s requirements. Yet, a fly in the ointment exists and it boils down to this; Creativity is and will always be appreciated subjectively. Engineering a killer advert will only be as good as the brand executive evaluating it. Therein lies the problem that throws the luck factor into something that should be, by rights, skill only.
Take my Autotrader advert as an example. I enjoyed early success at one such crowdsourcing site, Poptent.net by winning that spot on my first assignment there. Ten thousand US dollars was my prize. Fortunate? Oh Yes. But deserved? I’m not entirely convinced. Nobody was more surprised than me to come out on top of all the other entries. I’d be honest in saying it isn’t my best work. I slapped it together rather hurriedly and my camera assistant didn’t even show on production day so I had to manage all the setups myself. Although I deemed it ‘passable’ I certainly never thought it would be selected over 100 others. I saw other, more deserved entries in that contest, some of which didn’t even make it to finalist.
So winning my first assignment led me into a false security. It led me to believe that skill must be everything and my style hits the nail on the head. But hitting the right mark with brand executives doesn’t just involve skill. There is a rather large element left to chance and it’s this rather large chance element that doesn’t sit comfortably with me.
On to the future and I feel there must be more that could be done to make it fairer for Creatives. People who spend a great deal of time and money making a polished production should, after all, get paid something for their efforts. Poptent.net do offer ‘invite only’ assignments to the chosen few, those indeed who have made a big enough impression to be selected for assignments. Such invite-only assignments offer a small, guaranteed, ‘token’ payment (known as ‘seed’ payments by Poptent). This works great in principal as every participant in such assignments are guaranteed to earn a nominal amount. That does help to offset production costs. Invites to such assignments though are rare (I had one invite after producing roughly 10 productions), and are usually restricted to American nationals.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be reviewing each of the stronger crowdsourcing sites with pros and cons to each shortly, including a more involved (some would said ‘fairer’) model that’s somewhat kinder to Creatives – Tongal.com
My Autotrader win inspired me to enter a few more of Poptent’s assignments, hoping perhaps to replicate my early success. Surely worth a go at least? Only as I continue to enter them, the more I notice how different my entries appear to be against the general run of the mill. And I don’t mean this in a good way. It took me several entries to work out what it was and I think it’s really down to a culture difference between American versus traditional British advertising.
Whilst my first encounter with crowdsourcing video production enjoyed an incredibly successful beginning, it remains to be seen if similar successes could be repeated. The jury is out on that one! Indeed, the Breyers video that appears at the top of this page featuring the lovely Linda Lusardi was created by me as a crowdsourced assignment. For the money and time it cost me to produce, it didn’t even make finalist. Was it worth the effort? But for the brands it’s a no-brainer. They get the best of all worlds in an age where they can lean on international creativity and to see a selection of fully produced commercial spots – Something they have never been able to do until recently.
The future for me may be in crowdsourcing video production, but I know the model can be improved to make it a better working environment for hard-working creatives whilst at the same time, still giving brands what they want.