Crowdsourcing Gone Wrong

Every now and again I come across something that really chafes my hindquarters, so to speak. Today, it's ill-conceived crowdsourcing. A London ad agency is, apparently... well, let's just quote the site:

Seriously. We’re giving our name away.

You’ve got six weeks to come up our new name and logo. The winner will be chosen by the community and, whatever the winning name is, that’s what we’ll be called.

Crowdsourcing is not an inherently bad thing. I've done it myself for projects like The TSA Choice, and I plan to do it again with Intimacy. But this is crowdsourcing gone horribly, horribly wrong, for a multiplicity of reasons. Let us count the ways.

First, this agency, currently called Golley Slater, is all but admitting that they do not internally have the creative chops to come up with their own name and logo. Holy moly. Who would want to hire such an agency? One that doesn't even have the fortitude to manage their own branding in-house. 

Second, this is an ethically dubious practice. Oh, sure, it's been done before. There are even whole businesses relying on it. But at the end of the day it devalues creative work, and exploits the people who do it. Creative work should rightly cost money, it being, after all, work. But by framing this as a "contest," this agency (and others like it) are trying to get substantial amounts of work from designers for free, on the promise that it miiiight pay off, if you happen to win.

You'll note that there is a cash prize mentioned on the site. You'll also note that they go out of their way to not tell you how much it is.

I'm not fond of companies that ask me to do substantial work on the premise that they might pay me if they like it when I'm done; particularly not work that could only ever be sold to a single client. A novel is speculative, to be sure, but a novel also has multiple potential buyers. In a pinch, I could even distribute it myself. A logo and company name... yeah, not so much.

Finally: The whole thing smells like a publicity stunt. "Ha ha, you guys, we are totally going to let the community decide what we'll be called! No, srsly!" But that's not true, as it turns out. Actually, if you dig a little deeper, they're going to pick their top five and let you vote from there. And sure, this prevents 4Chan from getting wind of it and renaming them Pedobear International. Still, it's kind of deceptive. This is not "the community chooses" by any means.

And in the fine print, they reserve the right for nobody to win, if they decide they don't like anything. Charming.

The crux of the problem is that in good crowdsourcing, all of the participants get value out of participating. The collective value of Wikipedia far outweighs its cost to individuals, for example. But this isn't asking a company asking for collaborators to chip in on creating a shared resource. This is a single company asking the public to do work that only the company will benefit from... for free.

They should be ashamed of themselves.

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