Why crowdsourcing is wrong.

August 15th, 2014

This post is a guest contribution from copywriter Tom Albrighton. Tom responds to the news that independent brewery Brewdog is crowdsourcing the copy for its beer labels.

No-one’s fooled

Crowdsourcing is self-interest masquerading as democracy. Whatever Brewdog say about ‘more involvement from the dedicated, committed craft beer community,’ everyone can see they’re cynically exploiting customer goodwill to obtain a business asset on the cheap. Arguably, those negative perceptions outweigh the benefit they’ll get from their free creative.

Everyone suffers

Healthy competition is one thing; getting something for nothing is something else. Crowdsourcing erodes the value, both actual and perceived, of skilled labour. Everything is commoditised and the whole concept of quality is degraded. Talented, professional people get disillusioned and desert the industry, lowering the standard of work available to everyone. It’s a race to the bottom where nobody wins.

You won’t know it when you see it

Crowdsourcing encourages lazy, passive thinking in place of creative partnership. By sitting back and inviting proposals instead of putting thought into developing a brief, you embark on a journey with no destination. If you don’t think upfront about what you need, how will you recognise it when it arrives?

Low commitment, low quality

Asking people to have a go at your brief for no reward practically guarantees weak, half-formed or even derivative ideas. Nobody reputable will give their skills away for free, so anyone who responds will have little to lose – and little to gain too. What’s their motivation to deliver when they have no ‘skin in the game’?

Pros go further

Crowdsourcing generates thousands of ideas from people who’ve considered the brief for one minute. But what you really need is one idea from someone who’s considered it for thousands of minutes. More choice just means more uncertainty, while focusing the rays of thought makes ideas catch fire. That’s the sort of single-minded commitment you only get from a professional.

Fools rush in

Just because you can get involved with the creative process doesn’t mean you should. You wouldn’t scribble all over an architect’s plan, or tell a chef what to put in their recipe. By making yourself judge and jury, you’re usurping the role of the expert – and without a strong creative force to push you in new directions, your choices will just end up reflecting your own ideas.

What to do instead

Creative work is based on the idea of the one right answer. Somewhere out there is the perfect solution for this brief and this client at this time. When we see ‘great work’, we feel it gets close to this ideal.

Michelangelo explained his genius by saying he ‘cut away everything that doesn’t look like David’. To get better work, you have to let creatives to do both parts of their jobs: generating ideas and rejecting them. In other words, believe in creatives and trust them to create.

Tom Albrighton (@tomcopy) is a professional copywriter, founder of ABC Copywriting and co-founder of the Professional Copywriters’ Network.

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