Claire Beale On Advertising: Unilever is turning to a crowd of bounty hunters

Hot news, trend watchers: the age of user-generated advertising is over. Admit it, you're relieved. Phew, you're thinking, no more ads made by lonely pubescent punters in their bedrooms – the stuff made by the pros is bad enough.

Well, sorry. User-generated advertising is only over because it's been reborn and rebranded as something altogether more significant and – if you work in advertising – something altogether more pernicious: crowd-sourcing. You can probably tell from this fashionable new name (less functional, more conceptual) that crowdsourcing has become the latest thing, darling, in advertising and marketing circles.

And this time it's serious. Instead of a bit of playful dabbling – which is really what so many marketers did with UGA – advertisers are starting to embed crowdsourcing into the DNA of their communications processes. I don't say that with the usual hyperbole of a columnist struggling for something to write about. Take Unilever. Back in the summer the global household goods company (Persil, Dove, PG Tips etc) – one of the world's biggest advertisers – decided to ditch Lowe, the advertising agency on one of its brands, altogether in favour of a full-blown crowdsourcing approach.

So the Peperami account says bye-bye to Lowe and hello to Idea Bounty. Idea Bounty describes itself as, "the simplest way to hire thousands of creatives and only pay for the ideas you want". It's crowdsourcing in its essence: advertisers post a brief, and anyone – you, me, freelance writers, illustrators, art directors, film-makers, students – can submit an idea. If your creative idea is chosen, you get paid a bounty. The Peperami brief was to "crack the new Peperami print and TV ad" and the bounty is $10,000. The winning idea will be unveiled next week. Meanwhile Unilever is looking at extending the crowd-sourcing approach to some of its other brands.

Just to prove there's a trend emerging here, a similar crowdsourcing website has also just launched, Talenthouse.com. This time it's not just big brands that are looking for fresh creative ideas but musicians, fashion designers, artists, film-makers. Again, the philosophy is that the best creative ideas can come from anywhere, and who needs all the expensive infrastructure of a traditional creative company when you can just pay per idea.

Also last week a couple of defectors from one of the world's best advertising agencies – Crispin Porter Bogusky – launched a crowdsourcing agency called Victors and Spoils that offers insight and advice but without all the expensive creatives in trainers and T-shirts. All creative briefs will be thrown into the crowdsourcing ether.

Now if I was an advertising agency, I might be feeling a little uncomfortable at this point. Victors and Spoils, Idea Bounty and Talenthouse are all owned and run by experienced creatives and marketers more than capable of offering brands advice on the right sort of crowdsourced creative approach to choose, and at a fraction of the cost of a traditional ad agency relationship. Ad agencies take note: these companies are sniffing your lunch; look the other way and they'll be eating it in no time.

Crucially, unlike the old, so often embarrassing user-generated advertising model, crowdsourcing has the potential to offer brands access to a more professional and global creative resource. Because, if UGA was really about finding new ways to engage ordinary punters with a brand, crowd sourcing is more about leveraging brilliant creative ideas from anywhere and everywhere, often from freelance or time-rich professionals.

All of which is good news for us ad consumers too because it will hopefully spell the end of all those homemade ads created by untalented punters. Who knows, there might even be some bounty in it for you.

Best in Show: Department of Health (DDB)

This week perhaps one of the most disgusting ads on TV: the Department of Health's new television commercial on swine flu. With the virus back in the head-lines it's time for us all to start thinking about how to deal with it. And that means containment. What the new campaign by DDB does brilliantly and not a little stomach-churningly, is illustrate (by use of a sort of vile green slime) how the swine flu germs are spread.

The image of a young boy slowly sucking his green, germ-riddle thumb is guaranteed to have you reaching for the anti-bacterial hand gel. And it's a powerful argument for the role of advertising.

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