DIY advertising threatens the health of ad agencies

ANALYSIS - As if life weren't tough enough for ad agencies at the moment, a new trend appears to be emerging -- DIY advertising.

McDonald's in the US has just said it wants customers in the Kansas City area to have a crack at coming up with two-word billboard headlines to promote a new burger -- the Angus Third Pounder.

The news follows Unilever's decision to drop Lowe from the Peperami account and open up the brief to the general public.

Spotmixer, which is a sort of online business card designer but for television ads, is offering a prize of $25,000 free airtime in conjunction with Google TV Ads for the most creative films made using its software.

Arguably three isolated incidents do not make a trend, but these clients are not the first to turn away from the agency in the hunt for creativity.

Channel 4's digital TV station E4 has a regular 'E Stings' competition, allowing young creatives to make idents for the channel with a £5,000 prize at stake.

Doritos recently had £20,000 on offer for someone making a great TV ad for the brand.

Oxo took a slightly different approach by coming up with a script, but asking the public to shoot the ad for themselves. At least they had the decency to retain ad agency MCBD for the job.

Jeremy Garner, creative director at Weapon7, said: "Sending out briefs to the general public can be an interesting approach to capturing ideas -- and I think over time it will continue to increase.

"But, however the ideas are generated, there are two aspects that I believe will not change. First, they still need a relevant context. And second, they still need the informed stewardship of a good creative director. So agencies need not be worried at all."

With agencies not shy to borrow an idea or two from YouTube and then happily submit their work for creativity awards, it's harder for them to argue they're the provider of unique expertise. After all, as any member of a creative team will tell you, an idea can come from anywhere.

Garner agrees the ideas generated by such competitions can be refreshingly "unburdened by over-examination and industry science" but points out the likelihood is that a lot of dross can be submitted as well.

"The trick is in the sifting through, and knowing how to pick out and build on the good stuff," he says.

In reality, Spotmixer's technology is more likely aimed at businesses whose miniscule budgets would have Saatchi & Saatchi's new business director laughing down the phone at them.

And even McDonald's new DIY ad campaign is only going to be seen on 13 billboards for a 24-hour period in Kansas City while the idea came from agency Bernstein-Rein.

But Weapon7's Garner warns about the impact the DIY approach could have on brands. "I'm sceptical of turning public briefs into competitions. This route seems a well-worn path already, and feels the quickest way of playing up the novelty factor."

So maybe the ad industry isn't over yet, but it might be time to start coming up with some reasons for clients as to why they shouldn't turn their marketing problems over to the hive mind to solve.