Close-Up: Making a stand for crowdsourcing 2.0

David Alberts caused a stir by joining MoFilm but he believes internet communities are the future.

David Alberts has worked at some pretty big advertising agencies during his career. Best known in the UK for overseeing Grey London's creative department for five eventful years in the noughties, the 46- yearold has also spent time at Bates Hong Kong, Ogilvy & Mather Sydney and BBDO, where he was the creative director for Asia-Pacific.

But now Alberts is giving up agency life (or did it give him up?) and taking on the newly created role of chief creative officer at the crowdsourcing agency MoFilm. So is this a poor man's creative role or bold acknowledgement of the way communications are changing?

What convinced you to join MoFilm?

For many years, I have been interested in exploring new ways of tapping into a wider creative department.

I have collaborated with documentary makers, animators, photographers, artists and production companies looking for new and fresh creative interpretations of ideas.

MoFilm has more than 38,000 creative film-makers on its roster and works with more than 80 brands. It is very current, very relevant and incredibly exciting. Working with them feels like the natural next step for me.

What does your role entail?

My role is to act as a conduit between our brands and our creative community.

As well as being the "shepherd to the MoFilm flock", as Jeffrey (Merrihue, the MoFilm founder) likes to call it, I have started working with brands to create and shape briefs in a way that's open and will stimulate a wide range of ideas from our film-makers. The better the brief, the better and more strategically relevant the response.

I am also sitting down at the end of the competitions with the brands to help identify long-term creative and strategic opportunities from the films that have come back in.

To me, this is where the real value to the brands is starting to come through. The interest from clients has been fantastic and I am currently looking to recruit a number of creative directors and planners from around the world who are interested in working in the same way.

How do brands currently view crowdsourcing?

Like me, I think, first and foremost brands are blown away by the production values and turnaround time of the film-makers.

The Mountain Dew spot that won the Barcelona competition is so well executed yet it was written, shot and finished in a week for what amounts to no more than a normal ad production's catering budget.

However, it is afterwards when the brands sit down and evaluate the films they are really intrigued by that they start asking the questions about how they develop things further.

How does crowdsourcing fit into a brand's marketing mix? Are you there simply for creative execution?

It is now widely accepted that crowdsourcing and competitions are a wonderful way of finding one-off ads.

I think we are entering a new phase - call it crowdsourcing 2.0 - whereby clients are looking at the wider community and the ideas that are being sent in as an even wider resource.

One brand, for instance, is using the community as a form of creative and strategic R&D, whereas another is using the community to reshoot existing ads.

Do you see crowdsourcing as an absolute alternative to agencies? Or are there cases when you can work with them?

I see no reason why we could not collaborate with any agency. To be honest, I have been really surprised by the reactions from the industry since the announcement that I was joining and I suppose they fall into two camps.

The creative agencies, the agencies that are always looking at new and interesting ways to work, have been so supportive and see MoFilm as a wonderful way to potentially add depth to their campaigns or even explore new ways to execute a long-running campaign. A colleague who worked on Cadbury's Glass and a Half Full Productions thought it would have been a wonderful way to keep the campaign fresh and interesting.

On the other hand, the "closed agencies" have reacted in what I can only describe as a kind of defensive anger trying to cling on to the old way of working. These same agencies that claim to have embraced the internet and digital worlds seem to want to shy away from collaborating with an internet community.

Should production companies fear you? How do you envisage MoFilm's relationship with them in the future?

I would have to believe that production companies, especially the good ones, would love MoFilm because MoFilm is all about discovering and providing opportunities to emerging and undiscovered film-makers.

I would expect that production companies would be keeping a keen eye on the film-makers coming through the system and, at the same time, use the brands that MoFilm works with in order to give opportunity to their own young directors who are hungry for the chance to work on a global brand.

The competitions are open to everybody and if I was a young director (or creative, for that matter) who wanted the chance to work on a big brand, I certainly would be looking at the MoFilm competitions as a way of moving ahead.

WHAT IS MOFILM?

MoFilm was launched in 2007 by the former Accenture boss Jeffrey Merrihue and the DX3 chief executive Andy Baker, initially as an artistic project in collaboration with the Sundance Institute and GSM Association.

The company has since grown into a global community of film-makers, running competitions and events that challenge its community to create advertising campaigns for partnered brands.

Anyone can download a brief (which has been set by the client) from the MoFilm website, and they are then put to work on devising and producing their own film.

A winner is usually awarded a cash prize, as well as the opportunity to have their ad included in an upcoming campaign.

The companies that MoFilm has run competitions for include Pepsi, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Best Buy and Lego. The competitions have usually been centred on key media and advertising events, such as the Cannes Lions or BFI London Film Festival.

"Every brand is engaging with consumers in the social space differently, so we felt that working with MoFilm was a good way to look at how we at Unilever can work in this sector," Debbie Weinstein, the senior director, global media at Unilever, says.

Some, however, remain unconvinced. "MoFilm's competitions can result in a decent one-off ad, but they aren't going to be able to provide a long-term strategy that a brand needs," one ad agency executive says.

For Merrihue, the best way to tackle this criticism is partly to keep growing (he says that MoFilm effectively has the world's largest creative department and boasts a client list as good as any agency) and partly to start acting more like a traditional advertising shop.

"Brands see the value of working with us, and because they want to build stronger and more long-term relationships, we've started hiring account managers so we can facilitate that," he says.

"Now we've got a chief creative officer too, we're definitely ready to make the next step on the journey."

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