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Get This: Crowdsourcing as Marketing Campaign

Get This: Crowdsourcing as Marketing Campaign

By Sophia Agtarap

Crowdsource (ˈkraʊdˌsɔːs): A common marketing practice in the age of social media; the result of lowered barriers to the production-consumption cycle in the age of DIY; a response to a weakening economy and dwindling staff; outsourcing (some say); a creator’s nightmare; the most genuine marketing tactic to date.

The phrase “crowdsourcing,” coined in 2006 by Jeff Howard of Wired magazine, is not a new concept. Though it continues to remain a buzzword in the marketing world, the notion of crowdsourcing was practiced in towns across the globe, from creating the first editions of The Oxford English Dictionary (Marsden, 2009)[1] to Savannah, Georgia’s city planning efforts (Spector, 2009[2]; Whitla, 2007). Today, some of the clearest examples of crowdsourcing are seen in cause marketing efforts[3], or those mutually beneficial marketing tactics that link for profit and non-profit organizations around a relevant social cause (Cause Marketing Forum, 2010)[4].

Coca-Cola Crowdsources Happiness

In 2009, Coca-Cola joined the ranks of big brands like Charmin[5] and Ford Fiesta[6] who are jumping in the crowdsourcing game. Coca-Cola’s goal through their Evolution 206 project: to find happiness in the 206 countries that sell Coke. After narrowing down the competition to 9 competitors, Coca-Cola opened up the final selection process of the three-person team to the crowd. The winning trio, equipped with laptops to enable social media sharing, travel the world in search of happiness, and get to include the 2010 Winter Olympics and the FIFA World Cup to their list of destinations as they wrap up the trip in Atlanta, Georgia—home of the World of Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola, like many multinational corporations (MNCs), have been on watchdog lists for years for repeated environmental violations[7] in countries such as India and Columbia. Crowdsourcing the rebranding of Coca-Cola is doing more for the company than it probably wants to spend. Taking a concept as sugar-coated as happiness, it has crowdsourced market research and built a marketing plan that spans the globe, using social media savvy, ordinary citizens as brand ambassadors. Their findings: human contact brings the most happiness in a digital world[8]. Duh.

Pepsi Refresh: Bigger than the SuperBowl

Instead of spending $20 million on SuperBowl ads at the XLIV games, Pepsi did the unthinkable: it pulled out of its 23-year tradition of advertising with the biggest sports event of the year, to kick off the Pepsi Refresh Project: a grant application system that crowdsources awards based on online voting[9].  PepsiCo’s site states that they’re looking for people, businesses, and non-profits with ideas that will have a positive impact, and encourages site visitors to look around their communities and think about how they want to change it. In amounts of $5k, $25k, $50k and $250k, PepsiCo grants projects with the most votes within the given cycle[10], associating public good with Pepsi.

What results will Pepsi get by investing in the Pepsi Refresh Project (and not by paid media)? First, they get brand loyalty. Even though I don’t really drink Pepsi, I’m more likely to look at the brand as “good.” Those who have applied for grants have also likely converted to fans as they value the company’s attempt to use their millions for social good. Second, word of mouth advertising, or earned media is as powerful if not more powerful than any ads you could buy. Any brand that solicits public commentary gets this. Emma Johnson of Entrepreneur.com put it best: If you don’t crowdsource, you’ll be crowdsourced[11]. Essentially, whatever seemingly self-serving image Pepsi may have had, is now being replaced with generosity[12]. According to Beth Kanter[13], non-profit and social media consultant, generosity is the future of marketing[14]. That, and synergy between financial gain and addressing social and community concerns[15]. Third, and definitely not last, crowdsourcing is inherently social, which could mean instant community. Weber, in Marketing to the Social Web (2009)[16] says approximately 78 of visitors to online communities join to communicate and build relationships, while 23 percent join to share, discuss, debate theirs and other’s ideas. Visitors are looking for ways to engage. To be heard. To communicate. Whether crowdsourcing an organization’s rebranding, testing for new products or soliciting areas of improvement, marketers have willing pools of brand ambassadors at hand. Not only do organizations have access to brand ambassadors, but they have established communities who have built themselves from the ground up around issues that are important to them. Instantly, brands have already segmented their audiences.

A question that continues to leave me scratching my head is: How does it work? When it comes down to it, you have to ask why it is that strangers are willing to participate in this practice of offering commentary, or even original thought about a topic that they may or may not care about, with no real reward? Is it because deep down, we are looking for connection? Opportunities to contribute to the populous? The flip side of that is wrapping my head around how brands begin to sift through the ginormous amount of content submitted by the crowd. Marsden attributes a crowd’s willingness to participate to “Getting the Motivational Mix” right: the 4Fs: Fame, Fortune, Fun and Fulfillment.

Threadless, Kickstarter, Wikipedia, Apple apps and Foursquare are prime examples of the power of crowdsourcing as marketing. In an age when attention is dwindling and the need for authenticity and transparency is even greater, crowdsourcing provides organizations and the general public with opportunities to hold one another accountable in maintaining a stellar brand.

[1] Marsden, P. (2009, September 16). Crowdsourcing: Your Recession-Proof Marketing Strategy? Virtualculture.com. Retrieved on July 20, 2010 from http://www.viralculture.com/?p=12

[2] Spector, J. (2009, August 19). A Moment in Crowdsourcing History: 1887. JasonSpector.com. Retrieved on July 20, 2010 from http://www.jasonspector.com/2009/08/crowdsourcing-history-1887/

[3] Cause Marketing. (2010). In Wikipedia. Retrieved July 20, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cause_marketing

[4] Definitions. (2010). Retrieved July 25, 2010, from http://www.causemarketingforum.com/page.asp?ID=80

[5] http://www.charmin.com/en_US/enjoy-the-go/index.php

[6] http://www.fordvehicles.com/fiestamovement/

[7] http://www.alternet.org/water/110365/coca-cola’s_latest_environmental_scam/

[8] http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/presscenter/nr_201005010_happiness_barometer.html

[9] http://www.cnbc.com/id/34465594

[10] http://www.refresheverything.com/how-it-works

[11] http://www.entrepreneur.com/marketing/article200350.html

[12] http://beth.typepad.com/beths_blog/2009/12/what-lessons-will-pespi-learn-about-crowdsourcing-for-social-good-from-chase-bank-contest-fail-.html

[13] http://www.bethkanter.org

[14] http://beth.typepad.com/beths_blog/2009/02/generation-generosity.html

[15] http://rosabethkanter.wordpress.com/supercorp/

[16] Weber, L. (2009). Marketing to the Social Web. New Jersey: Wiley & Sons, Inc.

This article was written to fulfill an assignment for COM 546: Evolutions and Trends in Digital Media, on explaining the concept of crowdsourcing as a marketing tool.


About Sophia Kristina

Theology student seeking to understand how emerging media shapes the church, community and social justice [or vice versa]. I love to travel. And photograph. And eat. And repeat.


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