Can “The Crowd” Compete?

Just two and a half years after crowdsourcing agency Victors & Spoils was formed from Crispin’s rib in Boulder, Colorado, the company has sold a majority stake to Havas.

That’s rapid return on investment. Which begs the question what is so special about this agency and its controversial business model?

John Winsor, V&S’s CEO has one answer. “Collaboration, co-creation and crowdsourcing are the future of not only advertising, but business itself.”

Winsor, who also sold his two previous companies to bigger fish, adds that he and David Jones, CEO of Havas and his new boss, believe “that a deep dedication to becoming a social business can make the world a better place. We both believe that the new competitive advantage is a collaborative advantage.”

Jones told The New York Times that there are plans to open offices of Victors & Spoils in London, Paris “and potentially Hong Kong.” He also waved off any concerns that traditional ad men and women might have (which is interesting given how many of them he employs).

Jones said he was not surprised that “old-fashioned, traditional, legacy people” would complain about crowdsourcing. “Would the turkey vote for Thanksgiving?” he asked.

It’s a funny line, but it’s way off target. The turkeys Jones imagines are actually eagles, with talons able to rip furry little beasts to shreds. For instance, let’s look at what legendary copywriter, Ernie Schenck has to say (emphasis added):

I should point out here that I am a big fan of the virtual model. I think there are enormous advantages to clients on a number of levels and that includes lower fees than what they might typically expect to pay a mainstream agency. But it only works for me when the talent pool is on a very high level of excellence. The ideal situation would be a very limited group of creatives, planners, digital and social guys that could be drawn upon for a given project. Opening it up to a wider field than that wouldn’t work for me since I would lack the confidence that I’m going to get A-list thinking and if I can’t get that, I frankly would feel that I’m letting the client down. As far as fees, you’re not going to get talent like this for less than what they’re used to getting on the open market. That means a minimum of $1500 a day, and as high as $2000 a day. So the motivation to a client has to be something beyond their ability to get the work done for dirt cheap. In my opinion, this would go a long way toward countering complaints of demeaning and devaluing the profession. But of course, this isn’t the intent of crowdsourcing. By its very nature, crowdsourcing, for all the talk of a great idea can come from anywhere, is really little more than a thinly disguised smokescreen designed to lure clients in with promises of great work done on the cheap.

There are some great comments on Schenck’s post. Bruce Bildsten of Fallon wrote, “They bought the company their employees moonlight for, while sitting in the offices they pay rent for.” SSSSnap.

Given that Jones and Winsor think they’re on to something revolutionary here, it’s fair to ask if “the crowd” can really compete with A-list talent. If we use this Harley-Davidson commercial from V&S as a measure, the answer is no.

Editor’s Note: I asked Winsor via email to elaborate on the payment his firm makes to crowdsourced creative teams. There has been no reply as of this posting. Perhaps, he or someone who knows the score will chime in.



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.