The end of crowdsourcing, long live crowdsourcing

John Winsor is CEO of ad agency Victors & Spoils and chief innovation officer of Havas

It might sound strange coming from the founder of an agency built on crowdsourcing, but we’ve reached the end of the initial phase of crowdsourcing. Now the interesting part starts.

The problem with crowdsourcing is the the word itself. It’s grown amorphous and begun to lose its meaning. I started writing about co-creation and collaboration in 2003 in my book, Beyond the Brand. The core of the idea: People are co-creators not consumers. It was a concept before its time. The power of social media and networking made it a reality. But its power could be seen in back then in the success we had Radar Communications and CP+B, as co-creation became the central to our planning practice.

Since its introduction to advertising in 2007 (with Ben Malbon pioneering the tool and crowdsourcing the BBH Labs logo), crowdsourcing quickly became a powerful concept, but unlike co-creation, the word “crowdsourcing” caused a powerful cultural tension. The tension and vitriol associated with it when we launched Victors & Spoils – the first ad agency based on crowdsourcing principles – was amazing. It set us apart.

From the beginning, we believed a small group of experienced agency folks could manage a distributed global community/crowd to develop strategic and creative ideas. The biggest technical problem was identifying the talent and curating the abundance of ideas.

That was until Facebook and Twitter exploded in popularity just as we were building our first platform to recruit people for projects. We quickly realized massive communities of creative people were already out there: brand’s fans. That insight inspired ideas like Fan Machine ( for Harley Davidson and Fan Field Testers ( for Smartwool. We understood these might be more dynamic ideas than sourcing from our proprietary community.

It was clear the digitally distributed workforce was more powerful than we ever imagined. The term “crowdsourcing” doesn’t capture the breadth of change in our culture. Connectivity is disrupting the way that every company works.

At our core, at Victors & Spoils we believe that if you ignore the world when you create advertising, the world will ignore your advertising.

Now four years into the V&S journey and doubling in size each of the last three years we’ve realized that crowdsourcing is one tool in the greatly expanding toolbox to solve our client’s challenges. It will remain important but we’re open to using all kinds of tools from open-sourced research to brand community collaborations, collaborating with other great agencies (like with EVB on JCPenney) to finding the right one or two people solve a problem. The constant is that we apply an open philosophy to everything we do.

Still we’re not sure what to call this larger movement. We’ve had the good fortune to spend time with the best thinkers in the “open” space that encompasses collaboration, co-creation and crowdsourcing, including Karim Lakhani and Michael Tushman from Harvard Business School who built a HBS case study on V&S. Talking with Karim and Mike helped us to realize that this movement of a digitally distributed workforce is much bigger than the words we use to describe it. “Open,” “Collaboration,” “Co-Creation,” and “Crowdsourcing” don’t capture the breadth of what is happening as the digital connectivity changes the way that every company works.

It is our vision that every brand and agency must stay relevant by reorganizing around the power of digital democracy, involving people everywhere in the creation process, or risk their very existence.

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