Can creativity be crowdsourced?

I’ve been thinking a lot about why the announcement of a new ad agency called Victors and Spoils got under my skin so much, and the simple truth is I don’t know.

Regardless, what of this idea called crowdsourcing, which is how VS plans to develop ad campaigns for its clients? Crowdsourcing is defined by Wikipedia as:

the act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to a group (crowd) of people or community in the form of an open call.

Personally, I think crowdsourcing is a fabulous way to gather as many ideas as possible in the shortest amount of time, but there are major caveats:

1) Crowdsourcing will only work if you can attract strong efforts from talented people. VS, because of its ties to Crispin Porter + Bogusky, will absolutely be able to gather lots of great ideas for every call it puts out. Creative folk from near and far will voluntarily subject themselves to great agony, as they wrack their brains to submit an idea that might win them favor with the glory that is Crispin.

2) Crowdsourcing will fail over time, unless there is a clear evidence that the public good is somehow benefitting. For example, crowdsourcing for open source software is sustainable because the end product is shared by all. Another example might be tech support bulleten boards, which essentially crowdsource fixes for annoying, usually minor problems. VS, on the other hand, seeks to crowdsource for individual gain (theirs, their clients’s and their winning contributors) and over time, as people realize that not only are they highly unlikely to submit the winning idea, their compensation is a pittance (guessing here, but I doubt I’m wrong) compared to the “spoils” enjoyed by VS as its clients. As a result, participation in VS’s efforts will drop in quantity and quality, as talented people try less often and put forth less effort when they do try.

So, to answer the headline of this post, I would say Yes (if you can attract ideas from talented people) in the short term and No in the long. In my opinion, the best ad agency model for coming up with really killer ideas remains the independent agency, small or large, staffed by talented people who know how to work together as a team and who have personal networks that can be tapped when the amount of work exceeds the internal teams’ ability to do it.

What the hell does all this have to do with music? Answer tomorrow!