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December 18, 2010
Crowdsourcing and the Creative Ego
I’ve written in the past about how excited I am by the possibilities presented by digital communications in regards to consumer crowdsourcing. In my mind, crowdsourcing represents the ultimate method for engagement, in that it instills in consumers a sense of ownership in a brand. That ownership fosters loyalty and personal connections. On the flip side, consumer crowdsourcing gives us communications folk a direct line to what the public really wants from a given brand. Regardless of the inherent benefits, crowdsourcing is still viewed cynically, and not without a tinge of contempt, amongst some advertising professionals. In this regard, I have a message for my colleagues: “We need to get over ourselves!”
Is that harsh? Maybe. However, it is certainly not as harsh as what is coming from our community at large. With every consumer crowdsourcing campaign there is commentary that mitigates that campaign’s results. Most often this commentary is little more than industry people making fun of what the consumers create. Truthfully, a lot of these comments are funny. I admit that. However, underneath the humor I believe that there is actual disdain for the work of those we view as amateurs.
We create, we innovate, we communicate, and many of us are pretty damn good at it. But we should be; it’s our job! The kid who creates a logo or the mom that suggests a new line of baby food is just trying to have some fun or offer an opinion. Is much of what results from consumer crowdsourcing amateurish? Absolutely. Is some of it downright stupid? Sure it is. Why should we expect anything else?
Granted, consumers are not privy to the behind-the-scenes information that we are. A great idea to a consumer might be preposterous for us to conceive, given client restrictions and real-world application. Yet, perhaps that preposterousness is where we might find the kernel of genius in these campaigns. Instead of resenting the consumers because they are not us, let’s embrace that fact. Isn’t it possible that we might be too far entrenched in our own professions that we often miss out on the layman’s perspective entirely?
There is another aspect to consider here, and it has nothing to do with consumers. In the advertising community, crowdsourcing is a four-letter word. The idea itself is subversive to the status quo we’ve been operating under for decades. This is an ego-driven industry, and people work hard to achieve the recognition that comes from putting in their time and creating great work. If I were a creative-type or a strategist who had dedicated a better part of his/her life to becoming a go-to person for ideas, I would probably be resentful of crowdsourcing too.
But fear not, my fellow egotists! Crowdsourcing will never, ever replace the outstanding work you do. The sooner you embrace that fact, the sooner you will be able to see it for what it simply is: an effective tactic. 
Regardless of what they actually create, consumers are interacting with brands, and that is what is most important. What we need to accept is that the environment in which we operate has changed dramatically, and that the real ownership in the brands we represent now lies with the consumer. Everyone has a voice now, and we need to pay attention ... even if the result is sometimes stupid.

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Justin Celko is a digital communications professional based in Chicago, IL. Follow him on Twitter.

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