When The Creative Product Is Just A Commodity

Just as news of Havas’ acquisition of  Victors & Spoils brought everyone’s favorite buzzword, crowdsourcing, back into the spotlight this week, I received an email alerting me that one of my neighbors had chosen a logo for his new business. Where did he get it? From the crowd, of course, via 99designs.com. Check the screen grab: for $295 he got 151 designs from 26 designers.

I’m not sure what portion of the $295 actually goes to the designer once the website takes its cut, but it can’t be much. Especially after taxes. Which makes you wonder who can really afford to “compete” in these contests. My guess is the bulk of them are students and others just looking to build a portfolio. Maybe the rest are just really fast on the keyboard, taking one day a week to knock out six or seven ideas, then submitting them and crossing their fingers.

Hey, money is money, so if it’s worth your time to work that way, go for it. Yes, it would be great if we lived in a world where craftsmanship always trumped convenience and people valued on-on-one, verbal communication over email and iChat, but I’m sure my neighbor is very happy with his new logo and the warehouse store-approach he used to choose it.

The truth is, while the technology surrounding crowdsourcing may be new, there have always been clients who just don’t care about craftsmanship. Many jobs simply don’t warrant the extra time and money that the best work requires. It’s not a judgement about the value of creativity, just simple economic reality. Should bands not print their flyers at Kinko’s out of respect for the skills of high-end, offset printing companies? Of course not. There’s a time and place for both.

Actually, it would be great if more clients and agencies were this honest about the creative requirements of each project. Think of the time and aggravation it would save. Not to mention the money. After all, many clients pay ad agencies tens of thousands of dollars a month for their “thinking” even though the conceptual quality of work the clients actually approve and run rarely warrants the cost. (Which causes clients to overcompensate in other ways, of course, by over-thinking every project and holding countless meetings, internals and brainstorming sessions while still ultimately producing the most run-of-the-mill work imaginable. The kind any decent creative team could knock out in a couple of days—plus a bonus idea or two—at a fraction of the cost.) Those clients could learn a thing or two from my neighbor, perhaps. As for the rest, the ones who actually do care about quality? They’re smart enough to know that whether your source is a crowd or a true craftsman, the old saying still applies: “You can have it fast, cheap or good. Pick two.”

 

About Wade Sturdivant

Creative Director/Copywriter at The Richards Group, Wade spent his formative years in Chicago (DDB, Leo Burnett) and has worked on accounts as diverse as BMW, Firestone, Bud Light, McDonald’s, Kellogg’s and the U.S. Army.

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