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Saturday
Sep192009

Unilever Testing the Value of Crowdsourcing

As the heated debate surrounding crowdsourcing in design and marketing rages on, another big name has decided to turn to the crowds for some help in branding.  Unilever, one of the world’s largest fast-moving consumer product companies, recently decided to offer a $10,000 reward on Idea Bounty for the winner of a competition to advertise Peperami, the company’s popular meat snack for children. 

Unilever owns more than 400 brands, including those pictured to the right.

Idea Bounty is a new crowdsourcing platform for designers and despite being less than a year old, it has attracted big names such as Redbull, BMW, and World Wildlife Fund.

Unilever claims this is not a publicity stunt.  In fact  the company believes that crowdsourcing marketing ideas might be a sustainable strategy they would be willing to consider for their other brands as well. The Peperami competition seems to be in some ways their pilot to test the value of crowdsourcing. Unilever’s Matt Burgess, (Managing Director of the division that owns Peperami) indicates that the company sees potential in creative platforms: "We want to get the creative back from 'good' to 'outstanding' again. The best way to increase our chances was to increase the amount of creatives exposed to this brief. This is the overriding driver."

Putting aside the debate about sites such as Idea Bounty or 99 Designs, it is interesting to see Unilever step into this space in such a strong manner.  Unilever is a company that is willing to take risks in the name of innovating ways to stay ahead of its completion.  One example is its Shakti program in India. By partnering with self-help groups it enables rural, poor entrepreneurial women to take on microcredit and purchase consumer goods from small retailers that they can then sell door-to-door and earn income. After several years, some pilots, and alterations, the program broke even, scaled rapidly, and increased revenues by cutting costs, reaching new clientele, and leveraging (while also supporting) local microenterprises to better market its products.   Could Unilver’s decision to crowdsource mark another such attempt to stay ahead of the competition? And if such an attempt is a success, what could it mean for sites like 99 Designs and Idea Bounty?

The truth is that companies like Unilever are not the typical “clients” one might expect at crowdsourcing sites.  Their entry into this field may mark a transformation for creative platforms, (from platforms generally catering to the small guys to ones that have real value for companies earning annual revenues in the billions) and it will be interesting to see the implications of such a transformation.

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