Close-Up: Should Peperami go crowd-sourcing?

Unilever has ditched the brand's agency in favour of user-generated ads. Matt Williams reports.

Peperami has never been afraid to stand out from the crowd with its advertising - regularly decapitating your brand spokesman is not a strategy adopted by many.

But then again, neither is dumping your advertising agency of 15 years and asking the general public to create your next TV ad using the latest fad - crowd-sourcing.

From now on, the FMCG giant says, its ad briefs will be available to anyone who registers on Ideabounty.com, a website intermediary that aims to match ad briefs with creatives. Unilever will then turn the best idea into a TV ad, using the production specialist Smartworks, with the creator winning $10,000.

"Crowd-sourcing gives brands a huge number of different ideas from a variety of backgrounds," Nic Ray, the founding partner of Ideabounty.com, says. "That diversity of choice is appealing to clients who are looking for something different in this climate."

The method clearly has some advantages, the main one being cost. With a prize fund set at $10,000, Unilever is potentially saving huge amounts of money, at the expense of agencies, while the PR that the initial campaign is already generating should easily see a decent return on that investment.

And Unilever is not alone in this approach. Brands such as Budweiser and Cadbury's Wispa are also jumping on the bandwagon, meaning crowd-sourcing is making a bid to become mainstream.

But at what cost to the brand? Once the PR coverage fades away, how will the advertiser ensure its ads deliver brand equity over the long term? And isn't this just a marketing gimmick? Unilever is adamant it's not. It argues that because Peperami already has an obvious personality and brand character, individual creatives will be able to produce consistently great work.

"In the Animal character, Lowe created something so defined that we're confident creatives will be able to approach the briefs and take it somewhere special each time," Matt Burgess, the managing director of Chrysalis UK, the division of Unilever that manages Peperami, says.

The creative community, however, remains unconvinced. Unceremoniously ditching the agency that created such a successful strategy is not a way to win friends in advertising. That aside though, using crowd-sourcing to create your ads smacks of an utter disregard of the long- established benefits that an ad agency brings to its client.

"To even produce an average ad idea, you need a group of talented people with different abilities and interests who are willing to have arguments during the process," Alasdair Graham, the creative director of Ogilvy Advertising, says. "You won't get a collaborative process by sending a creative away on a brief and not hearing from them until the final idea is presented."

There's no denying that successful user-generated campaigns such as Walkers' "do us a flavour" and Doritos' "free Doritos" have proved popular in the past. But these campaigns make no excuses for being a one-off stunt - and are overseen from the beginning to the end of the creative process by the brand's agency.

There will be plenty of adland eyes eager to track the success, or otherwise, of this campaign. And Peperami is a relatively uncomplicated brand with less need for a long-term approach than many. But once the dust has settled, will Unilever continue to embrace the wisdom of crowds? Or will it once again look to an ad agency to build the long-term future of the brand?

- Got a view? E-mail us at campaign@haymarket.com

CLIENT - Matt Burgess, managing director, Chrysalis UK (the division of Unilever that manages Peperami)

"By using crowd-sourcing, we will potentially have access to 4,000 different ideas, and with more input, you're simply going to find a better idea.

"While anyone can enter, the key thing is that entrants need to be completely serious about their creative intent. We're not just looking for a one-liner, we're looking for someone who can come up with a serious idea that we can execute in a high-quality way.

"This is not a stunt. We feel that a brand like Peperami, which already has a very defined communications vehicle, can utilise crowd-sourcing to help it stay fresh and applicable to its target audience."

CREATIVE - Gerry Moira, chairman and director of creativity, Euro RSCG London

"When it comes to creating great creative work, it's the editing and collaborating that's important, and that's what you get with ad agencies.

"They can also provide a sense of professionalism, experience and continuity when working on briefs, which are invaluable for coming up with the right idea.

"I don't really think that a client wants to be sent 1,000 scripts either. They just want one really good one.

"Crowd-sourcing may work for Peperami because it's not a complicated brand, but I can't see any client launching or working in a competitive market being confident enough to use the technique."

WEBSITE INTERMEDIARY - Nic Ray, founder, Ideabounty.com

"In this climate, there's a large and very talented freelance community in the creative industry already, and crowd-sourcing allows brands to access a large and diverse range of them.

"I think the problem with agencies is that if the same creative team works on a client's accounts, they will eventually run out of ideas over time. Crowd-sourcing allows brands to keep work fresh and innovative.

"It's really a win-win situation. It's a low risk for clients because they only pay for an idea they like, and creatives will get paid more than they would normally get for just working on one idea.

"Big agencies will be griping about it, but they'll just have to get used to it."

AGENCY MD - Robert Marsh, managing director, Lowe

"If crowd-sourcing can work for anyone, it will be Peperami, as it's quite an uncomplicated brand and already has a very defined character, allowing Unilever to give a much tighter brief.

"They're also not looking for anything new - crowd-sourcing doesn't lend itself to the big idea.

"More complicated clients therefore need continuity to keep a brand on track. Crowd-sourcing does not allow people the access to the strategy and insights of a brand in the same way that an agency has. A brand needs to be forward-thinking, and plan in advance how it wants its advertising strategy to develop and evolve. All you'll get with crowd-sourcing is a bunch of one-off ads."

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