Jul 3, 2008

The customer is the ad agency

Tripletz.com is an on demand publishing service for user created greeting cards. But that's not all. The designs one creates can also be made available for sale to others too. If a particular design sells 111 times, Tripletz will pay the creator $111.

Threadless is a T-Shirt company that sells designs that are contributed by a community of consumers/t-shirt designers. These designs are voted upon by the community. The winning designs get produced and the winning designer receives a cash reward along with a cut of the profits from the sale of the design.

Distributed co-creation - that's what it's called - is here to stay. And the above two are just some of many such business opportunities being pursued with great gusto all across the world. (Threadless already is a big success story and a poster boy for the phenomenon.)

Which brings me to the heresy in the title of this post.

I don't see why something that works for software, greeting cards, t-shirts, Lego kits and even cosmetics (a brand called Missha in South Korea) can't work for advertising. In fact, I don't just think it could work - I think its a development that's inevitable.

Here's how it could/should work.

A brand or more likely, a group of brands, will build an online social network/community of designers, communicators and non-professionals who will be then provided with the inside dope about a brand - the product, the service, the offer - in effect, the brief. These co-creators will also be provided an 'advertising' kit with the necessary tools to help them put their ideas in shape - these could include photography, video clips, etc.

The advertising submissions generated are then subjected to a vote - both by the community and the consuming audience at large. This will happen under the supervision of the brand custodians - who will weed out profanities and controversial stuff (and who hopefully will go easy on less-than-mainstream messages.)

The submissions that score well will then be placed in the relevant media - and tracked for results. The ones that don't generate responses will be weeded out - and the ones that do will receive more airtime. The success of the later could also convince the co-creator or the brand to seek extensions of executions, which will then again go through the same process.

When a piece turns in a pre-agreed number of responses, the creator gets paid. And the cycle continues.

This will result in two things. A) There's a huge variety of messages and strategies that are generated for each task - all for no cost. B) Advertising that works will be rewarded.

Who can argue with that? Apart from agencies, ie.

Admittedly, distributed co-creation of advertising works better for direct/demand-generation/online messages where the tracking of consumer responses is easier and implicit. But as tracking abilities and models increase in sophistication, there's no reason why it shouldn't work for all kinds of advertising - and across all media.

But what about the brand and its core essence? Won't rampant co-creation destroy the singular positioning a brand has fightingly carved for itself?

You wouldn't worry about that, if you know what happens when the long tail collides with the Victorian world of brand-building.
About the author:
Iqbal Mohammed is Head of Innovation & Strategy at a digital innovation agency serving the DACH and wider European markets. He is the winner of the WPP Atticus Award for Best Original Published Writing in Marketing & Communication.
You can reach him via email or Twitter.


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