How crowdsourcing is making consumers part of brand story

Crowdsourcing, coupled with the magic of social media, has emerged as the perfect way to make consumers part of the brand story and earn their loyalty.

ranbir kapoor pepsi ad
Each month, Pepsi announces new challenges on social and digital channels through these ambassadors urging consumers to take on global and local challenges that combine popular culture with social good.

For a concept that has been around for 10 years, crowdsourcing is finally getting the recognition it deserves. Whether one talks of media houses crowdsourcing TV serial scripts, start-ups sourcing business ideas or brands getting consumers to coin their taglines for them, crowdsourcing seems to be the new buzzword in innovation hallways.

Loosely put, the term crowdsourcing—a mix of ‘crowd’ and ‘outsourcing’—involves getting creative or other work, or funding, from a crowd of people, usually through online media.

Take note of brands which are increasingly celebrating users, featuring them in their communication, or asking them for ideas on branding, design, funding or even how they can optimise value on the brand. The latest ads for Apple’s iPhone celebrate the users behind the technology. Apple had crowdsourced photos taken with its phone, by regular people around the world—in order to emphasise how the iPhone has democratised technology. Apple gathered the images via social media and wound up with shots from 77 people in 24 countries, which were subsequently displayed on billboards, bus stops and train stations. Nokia forayed into virtual reality with its Ozo camera, going to online platform Tongal to ask filmmakers to submit proposals for a short film that demonstrates the capabilities of the new camera. Amazon Studios, the films division of develops television shows, movies and comics from online submissions and crowd-sourced feedback.

Perhaps one of the oldest programmes in crowdsourcing was the Procter & Gamble (P&G) ‘Connect and develop’ programme which commercialised over 2000 ideas sourced from individual creators. But any area in the value chain can lend itself to crowdsourcing, says media consultant Paritosh Joshi.

Gillette’s ‘Women against lazy stubble’
Gillette’s ‘Women against lazy stubble’ was a Facebook phenomenon and women created enough content to sustain it for the next few years.

Global statistics reveal that there are as many as 191 crowdfunding platforms in the US. The percentage growth of crowdfunding platforms worldwide is as much as 60%, while the worldwide crowdfunding volume is $2806 million.

There’s even a crowdsourced Hedge Fund now, Quantopian. Crowd funding platforms such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter are widely used by new businesses in search of early stage funding. An advertising agency called ‘Victors and Spoils’ crowdsources creative ideas from anyone who would care to contribute them. Intuit, maker of the eponymous Accounting software brand, now has an ‘Intuit Community’ that enables business to crowdsource their accountancy requirements. “To put it simply, anything can and eventually will be crowdsourced,” Joshi says.

In India, too, many brands have taken recourse to crowdsourcing. Aviva’s ‘Great wall of education’
initiative collected and crowdsourced more than 2.5 million books from many volunteers. Similarly Gillette’s ‘Women against lazy stubble’ was a Facebook phenomenon and women created enough content to sustain it for the next few years. Ariel’s ‘Share the load’ and Whisper’s ‘Touch the pickle’ saw users contributing millions of stories.

Ariel Share the load ad campaign
Ariel’s ‘Share the load’ saw users contributing millions of stories.

The first rule of crowdsourcing is engagement: if the idea is engaging, people willingly partner with it. “They will want to participate and contribute willingly, and they want you to tell them how they can get more involved. As a brand leader, you decide how you want to leverage this following, or what you want to source from this eager crowd,” says Josy Paul, chairman and chief creative officer at BBDO India.

Closer to the consumer

Crowdsourcing, coupled with the magic of social media reach, empowers youth and brands to stay connected. In today’s world, brands that choose crowdsourcing as a tool are clearly letting their consumers know that their opinion matters and that their choices are intrinsic to the business. PepsiCo globally has a property called ‘PepsiChallenge’ which has celebrities such as Serena Williams and Usain Bolt enlisted for it. Each month, Pepsi announces new challenges on social and digital channels through these ambassadors urging consumers to take on global and local challenges that combine popular culture with social good. Ruchira Jaitly, senior director – marketing, social beverages at PepsiCo India, says that the PepsiChallenge has been the most ambitious consumer call to action ever for Pepsi, inciting consumers to take on different challenges. “It also gives a sense of ownership to the consumers, with user-generated campaigns successfully helping to break the clutter thanks to creative that is culturally relevant, disruptive, and original,” she says.

A crowdsourced promotional campaign can give international brands an opportunity to connect with local audiences. When apparel brand Lacoste embarked on a crowdsourced campaign called #mylacostepolo for its Lacoste Polo shirt, it featured a lot of Indian people sporting the Lacoste Polo. “Lacoste also ran visuals from this campaign in overseas markets,” says Rajesh Jain, managing director and chief executive officer at Lacoste India.

Brand consultant Harish Bijoor says that companies are increasingly tuning in to crowds for branding ideas, scripts, designs and often, funds. Social causes and corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects attract a lot of funds and co-operation through crowdsourcing. “What is conceived through a crowdsourcing initiative invariably commands a lot of respect as it is non-partisan and non-agenda oriented. There is a democratic aspect to it, and it gets quick acceptance,” says Bijoor. For instance, if it is a corporation or a particular individual funding an initiative, the firm or the individual involved is bound to exert influence on the decisions.

In the creative and ideas business, it pays to open doors to the crowd. “Five quick creative ideas from crowdsourcing and you could be pleasantly surprised at what you get. It keeps the brand vibrant, and challenges the creative team at the ad agency. It pays to keep the creative chief on alert,” Bijoor quips. This doesn’t necessarily see crowds replacing ad agencies or production houses, but crowd-sourcing attempts can surely augment their efforts.

Sunil Kataria, business head at India & SAARC, Godrej Consumer Products agrees with this. “While an ad agency has dedicated professionals for the job, there could be breakthrough creative ideas from consumers or even from within the brand’s organisational structure. Creative is not the sole bastion of an agency. It can come even from the non-marketing fraternity.”

There are pitfalls to using crowd-sourcing though. Some would think that the brand is bereft of ideas, and has to take the help of customers. Bijoor states that it is possible that jaded or copied ideas come through. “There has to be due diligence. Some of the ideas can be rip-offs,” he says.

A collage of voices and the viral effect

Godrej Consumer Products recently launched its fragrance product Musk After Smoke to counter the after-smoke smell. But it did not want to be seen as a brand that essentially condones smoking or couches its ill-effects. It wanted to send out a strong anti-smoking message with the hash tag #Don’tsmokebecause campaign which invited people to send in entries and culminated in India’s first ever crowdsourced song and video on Youtube. The video got over 27,500 views on various social platforms, says Kataria.

The company also launched #ChallengeVirat which allowed young Indians to throw challenges at cricketer Virat Kohli. This campaign managed to get about 22,000 challenges and reach more than 3 million individuals.

“Crowdsourcing allows people to channelise that passion. We have used crowds earlier as well to suggest names for our brands. An idea can come from anywhere,” says Kataria.

Crowdsourcing in the case of creative ideas or designs can result in cost savings of as much as 20-25%, in comparison to the conventional agency or design house route, say brand experts. KV Sridhar, chief creative officer at Sapient Nitro however says that in the marketing communications business, the purpose of crowdsourcing is not so much cost savings, as greater engagement with the people through an idea that people can own and relate to. And that is the real reason for it gaining popularity, he adds. The real challenge in crowdsourcing, however, is staying true to the brand persona, especially in multiple attempts.

Crowdsourcing’s tango with entertainment

Sony Entertainment Television (part of Multi Screen Media) has turned to crowdsourcing for its flagship crime based show CID. The channel has announced a contest called ‘Shaatir Lekhak Contest’ which allows people to write the endings of three incomplete stories that have been uploaded on the website The contest asks people to conclude a story in their style with the requisite twists and turns, and upload the completed version. These are then made into episodes. A channel spokesperson said that considering the response for this, they have announced another crowd sourcing activity.

Balaji Motion Pictures is also exploring a crowdsourcing model for scripts. Shubhodip Pal, the chief executive officer of Balaji Motion Pictures says that the way people are consuming content on the phone today, most of the content is user generated. Of the more than 600 million phones used in India today, 35% are smartphones. Consumption of content today, especially in media dark places, is through the mobile phone. It could be a simple YouTube video, or a full length movie, but it’s all through the mobile. “We will ensure that a platform is developed, through which the public can approach us with scripts and we will give them a hearing. This also goes for novelists who may want to sell the rights to us and convert their work into scripts,” he says.

Vikram Malhotra, former CEO of Viacom18 Motion Pictures and founder of production company Abundantia Entertainment says crowdsourcing has been used in two ways in film making—raising production funds for small films, and sourcing scripts. However, fund raising through crowdsourcing has seen very few examples and has not evolved as a tangible source of generating film or content funding. “I see limited potential in its growth as a lot of funds are diverted towards start-ups in the consumer internet and tech sectors that tend to promise bigger and faster returns. The real promise of this mechanism rests on the talent and content side as an open platform truly provides easy access and democratised opportunities.”

Abundantia Entertainment, which raised an undisclosed amount from strategic investors RW Media and Callista Capital, sees itself as an incubator of talent and is set to unveil a crowdsourcing platform. “We are developing a platform that will provide opportunities to fresh and young talent to submit their scripts and ideas to us. Abundantia will not only source work from such talent but also mentor them and take such scripts and ideas to the market as finished products,” Malhotra says.

Coca-Cola launched personalised bottles in overseas markets and invited people to ‘Share a Coke’ with loved ones. The company’s Share a Coke campaign invited people to share stories, selfies and videos. There were over 998 million impressions on Twitter and more than 235,000 tweets from 111,000 fans using the #ShareaCoke hashtag. Closer home, Pepsi invited people to create ads to be aired during the Indian Premier League (IPL). Hindustan Unilever, Zomato and Hyundai are known to favour user- generated content. Maggi, before its fall from grace, had invited people to share stories on ‘Meri Maggi’ which were featured as ads. Even the NDA government had crowdsourced ads on occasions such as the Independence Day. There are online platforms such as Kickstart, which allow crowd-funding for start-ups. An online review site called Yelp displays crowdsourced information on everything from the Yellow Stone Park to Rome’s Colosseum and is fast emerging as a tool for international tourists.

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First published on: 18-08-2015 at 00:28 IST