If you’ve ever read my little author bio in this blog section, you would see the mantra, “If you don’t have anything nice to blog, don’t blog anything at all.” So this will be short. A few of us from the agency attended the AAF – Cleveland luncheon yesterday to listen to guest speaker Mark Walsh of GeniusRocket, one of the better-known crowdsourcing outfits in the biz. I was hoping he would explain how this practice isn’t devaluing the work we do for a living. He didn’t. He couldn’t. Because it does.
I won’t go into the many downsides again – our Joseph Hughes eloquently blogged about them last Thursday. I wanted to discuss the positive aspects. Guess what? Unless you’re the crowdsourcing agency collecting the nifty 35% commission, there aren’t any.
Here at the agency, we love new things. New gadgets. New music. New cereal. But nothing gets us more excited than adding a new member to our team. This week we welcome Brian Kowalczyk, our new Motion Graphics Designer/Final Cut Editor, who comes to us all the way from Rochester, New York. Brian will be adding a whole new level of depth and breadth to our in-house capabilities – but what will he bring to the ping pong table? For this and other burning questions, we turn to the new guy himself.
What sort of capabilities will you be adding to the Melamed Riley mix?
I have a background in a lot of different areas of graphic design, but I’m primarily interested in the scale and sequence of motion graphics. I’m looking forward to designing a lot more of the motion projects at Melamed Riley.
First impression of life at Melamed Riley?
The folks at Melamed Riley have real fun doing what they love to do. What really jumps out at me is the unwavering amount of support that is given to everyone. Everyone is more than willing to help one another, and you are provided with the tools to be successful.
Craziest job you ever worked?
A NOTES Radical Prostatectomy. I can’t get into details but let’s just say that it involves a lot of scopes and unpleasant odors.
What about Cleveland has really surprised you?
Believe it or not, the people are a lot friendlier here. In New York everyone is on some kind of a mission. Here in Cleveland, people stop and say hello.
I would have loved to have worked with Michael Crichton. I closely follow the work of graphic designer Chip Kidd who has designed several of Crichton’s book covers. Kidd produces amazing work and Michael Crichton has been one of my favorite authors. His novels lend themselves quite well to the kind of designs I love to create.
What are you most passionate about?
I constantly try to redefine my own work, and expose myself to new areas of art, music, and the world around me. I enjoy getting lost, drawing random objects of sudden interest, and escaping into a good book. I love discovering new places and have really enjoyed exploring Cleveland so far. In my free time I illustrate and write my own comics.
One of the myriad job requirements incumbent upon creatives is staying atop the latest trends and newest technologies. The longer I’ve been around and designing/writing – I’m a fresh-faced 32, full disclosure – the more I’ve realized that this requirement also comes with a corollary: Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should do something. In other words, not every tactic that’s out there is either worth it or right for everyone (or anyone). Today’s tactic du jour that I hope to never hear about again: Crowdsourcing.
Before we go any further, I want to say what crowdsourcing is not. Crowdsourcing is not a blanket term used to define the many ways companies are able to actively and appropriately engage with their customers. Asking folks who own your product to submit videos about the unique ways in which they use it is not crowdsourcing. Nor is asking them to take “action shots” of your product in use that they would, in turn, post on their company blog. Just two of the many healthy ways companies interact with their customers, to say nothing of using social media outlets like Facebook or Twitter to start a conversation. For our purposes, I’ll narrow down what crowdsourcing is to this: Asking people to compete against each other to produce significant branding collateral for only the promise of pay to the ultimate winner.
Here’s how it works: Let’s say, for instance, a company needs a new logo. That company turns to the “crowd” – you, me and everyone else out there who wants to participate with the promise that, if chosen, there’s money waiting at the finish line. We submit our designs, the company picks a “winner” and they get the money. The company gets what they want, most likely at a very nominal cost. Sounds good, right? Some lucky designer might get a really prominent piece for his or her portfolio. The company gets new creative for a small price that also comes with the feeling that they’ve grown their brand by involving potential customers and, perhaps, fostered a grassroots vibe.
It’s fool’s gold. Crowdsourcing amounts to putting lipstick on the pig that is spec work. The AIGA, design’s professional association, defines spec (speculative) work as “work done without compensation in the hope of being compensated, for the client’s speculation.” In other words, not being paid for the job you do. Or, in the rare case that your work does make the grade, often being paid very little for it. What’s $1,000 to a company worth millions or billions for a logo when it would normally cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars if not more? There’s usually the promise of “exposure” attached to some crowdsourced projects (bigger companies) or “more work in the future” (smaller companies). But, last I checked, exposure doesn’t pay the mortgage and “maybe” is often just a delayed “no.”
Apart from hurting yourself by taking part in such a charade, there’s the reality that you’re hurting other creatives, too. Your participation in a system that so poorly values the creative process represents your vote for that system to continue in the future. Every logo or tagline you give away for free or cheap ensures that, in the future, creatives will continue to be expected to undervalue their work. And it also guarantees that companies will have a diminishing sense of what good creative work costs. One of the reasons that crowdsourcing works is that creatives allow it to work. We allow the mirage of a tidy payday to distract us from the fact we’re being taken advantage of. And if we as creatives aren’t more vocal about respecting our craft, how can we expect others to respect it? Or us?
Crowdsourcing is just as harmful to clients. One of the reasons companies work one-on-one with creatives/agencies is that not only are they getting a well-crafted final product, but also that they are benefitting from the in-depth research that led to that final product. Crowdsourcing doesn’t provide those opportunities, nor does it recognize the symbiotic relationship that exists between creative/agency and client. Our value isn’t solely in delivering amazing final products; it also comes in our years and sometimes decades of institutional knowledge about the client. We’re paid to know everything about our clients and to produce work that reflects this knowledge. You get what you pay for. And when you don’t put a proper value on creativity, don’t be surprised when the results aren’t worth it. Nor should you be surprised when the goodwill you think your decision will engender looks more like anger from those who recognize a raw deal when they see it.
Consider what happened to The Gap. When the company announced a new logo that was universally panned – often in terms unfit for polite company – they responded by abruptly announcing that they’d throw the design open to everyone, crowdsourcing their identity. The seemingly impromptu move, which they later reversed by going back to the original logo, smacked of desperation and was met with as much acrimony as was their initial redesign. In fact, when Mike Monteiro from Mule Design Studio penned an eloquent defense of good design in opposition to crowdsourcing and spec work, the link flew across the internet faster than the latest YouTube video of a kitten falling asleep. The Gap looked bad not once, but twice; turning to a tactic they didn’t understand only made matters worse.
The path forward is clear. Creatives, remember that your work has value. Don’t sell it – and your colleagues – short. And companies, don’t confuse active customer engagement with using your clientele as slave labor. Let’s agree to leave the crowd behind and do the kind of standout work that makes us all proud.
There’s nothing wrong with a little friendly competition. Here at Melamed Riley we work hard and take work very seriously, but it can’t be all work and no play, eh? So, in order to keep the creatives creating creative creative, we like to partake in a rousing game of table tennis from time to time. Official ping pong hours are from 12 p.m. – 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. Monday – Thursday, 4 p.m. – 5 p.m. on Friday.
We value good sportsmanship, however, that’s not to say a “BLERG!” or “NERDS!” doesn’t slip out occasionally. I think most of us here are competitive by nature. Whether it’s art director vs. art director or copywriter vs. art director or creative director vs. graphic designer or account coordinator vs. project manager, it’s impossible to decline a challenge. No one has bet the farm yet, but I do owe Jim my firstborn. Regardless of who takes home the dubya, as good sportsmen, we end each match in a courteous round of sweaty handshakes or fist bumps.
As the days and weeks go by, I have noticed a vast improvement in the overall play. And to tell you the truth, if I was the wagering kind – and I am, e.g. firstborn – I would venture to say, we may be regional tournament ready in a year’s time. Call me optimistic, but I’ve gone ahead and created playing cards for the MR team.
With that said, if there are any other ad agencies out there who would like to participate in a neighborly challenge, please let us know – we would love to show you our skills. Oh snap! Let the smack talk begin – in a good sportsmanship kind of way, of course.
OK, if you were born between 1963 and 1974, you most likely would have had at least one cousin, or brother, or sister or neighborhood kid that would claim his fully poseable action figure (or doll) could kick the literal hair plugs out of yours. Ever see a group of GI Joes with the Kung Fu grip go after Ken while innocently hanging out with a couple of Barbies in the Malibu Beach House? Evel Knievel unmercifully crash through a pile of little green army men? Wonder Woman fly her invisible plane into a Kiss concert? It happened all the time. At least it did at my house in the ’70s. Let’s settle the score. This is round one. Vote on who you think should advance to round two and in a few weeks, we’ll have a champion!
Gene Simmons vs. GI Joe
Gene is dressed to kill but don’t forget about Joe’s incredible Kung Fu grip (and, if you look closely, not only is he the forefather of bling, he’s also packing a .45 in his shoulder holster).
Wonder Woman vs. Captain Kirk
Set … your … phasers … to … Stunning! Are Wonder Woman’s bracelets laser proof? It’s your call.
Evel Knievel vs. the Six Million Dollar Man
Hmmmm … lots of similarities here. Seems crashes only made them stronger. Both can reach scale speeds of 300 miles per hour and both are wearing the sweetest jumpsuits ever created. Flip a coin if you gotta.
Planet of the Apes vs. Malibu Beach Ken
Maybe I should have put mild mannered Cornelius up against Ken instead of the militant foot soldier. You never know though, Ken was mighty ripped back in the day!
When I’m not watching reruns of Teen Mom on my 19″ Zenith, I like to channel swerve in search of new shows to add to my DVR roster. Just the other day, I came across a station entitled AMC. A quick Google search revealed that AMC stands for “American Movie Classics.” Now I’m not much for networks that receive the bulk of their ratings from nursing home lobbies, but I decided to give it a chance. Lucky for me, this really cool program entitled Mad Men was on. As a member of the advertising community, I was fascinated by the series’ portrayal of Madison Avenue in the 1960s.
But one aspect of the show that I just couldn’t wrap my head around was the ease with which the creatives at Sterling Cooper came up with BIG ideas. In fact, just the next day, I was handed the responsibility of coming up with a BIG idea on a BIG project for a BIG client. The problem was, my mind was _____. So, I tried a number of different techniques (seven to be exact) to escape from my mental ditch and brought my camera along for the ride.
I tried rockin’ out to some Cudi, but it just didn’t cut it.
I played a few rounds of table tennis, but it wasn’t much of a hit. (And for your information, this is an action shot. That most certainly isn’t tape holding the ball onto the paddle.)
ESPN just led me to another dead end.
A gift from my girlfriend (Really!), this “stress reliever” was supposed to help me think clearly. It didn’t.
Hoping a cup of Joe would put me in the zone, I quickly downed a cup and a half. Unfortunately, I soon became over-caffeinated, which gave me the urge to multitask. (And for your information, that is a chocolate chip in my coffee cup. It most certainly isn’t a dead bug.)
I tried to find inspiration at the bottom of a few cans and bottles, but I just ended up sending drunken messages to every lucky lady who happened to be in my contacts.
7. The Magic Wand
Running low on time and hope, I turned to my magic wand, a battery-powered children’s toy I received from a coworker last year. Soon after I gave it a whirl, the world’s greatest BIG idea appeared in my brain! I should’ve known all along.
This last Christmas, more than one gift under the tree was manufactured in China. These days, that’s not too surprising. What is surprising, however, is how little care is sometimes taken in translating some of the packaging and instructions copy that comes from overseas manufacturers. Even if their design firms aren’t full of multilingual employees, there are plenty of very reliable translation services available around the world. So I’m not sure what the reason is. Additional expense? Laziness? Ignorance? All the above?
However, I’m not complaining. Since we live in the frozen tundra of the north coast, the outdoor RC helicopter, airplane and high-speed racing boat all have yet to see any real action, to quote one of the packages. Nonetheless, the huge fun started as soon as we saw the boxes. And, because I’m framing them to hang in my office, they’ll continue to provide Delight Infinite! I hope you find them delightful, too.
I’m not a self-described “trendcaster” – in fact, the term itself makes my throat itch (see our policy on phony words and proprietary processes). But as a creative in the ad biz, I feel a certain responsibility to keep my finger on the pulse of both our industry and pop culture, as the two are perpetually intersecting. Plus it gives me an excuse to watch videos of cats wearing sweaters getting their heads stuck in mason jars all morning. With that said, here are some of my predictions (read: educated guesses) for 2011.
The Death of the Flash Mob
As this past Christmas drew near, the fine people of my hometown mercy killed the flash mob phenomenon when they took to the streets and performed “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Police blocked the streets, music blared, and about twelve people looked on from their cars, utterly confused. The individuals who organized it were well intentioned and I have to admit it was very sweet, but it was like running into your mom at that tiny little hole-in-the-wall bar you thought only you and your friends knew about. Sure, I was pleased that small-town Ohio had embraced the flash mob craze. But it was hard to hear the music over the death rattle of a trend taking its final breaths before disappearing into irrelevancy.
Comic Sans will reach its ironic apex this year as hipsters the world over will pay tribute to the font in poster design, apparel and even tattoo art. The “ugly Christmas sweater” of typefaces gained notoriety this past summer courtesy of a venomous e-mail from Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. Now you can find it on t-shirts like this awesome specimen from Veer. There are even helpful (and wonderfully-designed) online tutorials that tell us when the use of Comic Sans is appropriate. Enjoy the whimsy while you can friends, because the Comic Sans renaissance will soon pass. What will take its place? Papyrus? Jokerman? Word Art? I shudder to think.
One thing that won’t be going away, regretfully, is our collective obsession with combining two words to create a new word that we probably don’t need. As if the English language isn’t difficult enough to learn, we’re adding words like “collaboneering,” “recessionista” and “blingkini” to the mix (Trademork has some pretty entertaining options listed here). I, for one, find this practice grossnoying, but it doesn’t show any signs of stopping.
A lot of marketers have taken to the YouTube frequency to post viral videos that subversively sell their product. For those who have done it well, I salute you. But for those planning to do it this year, expect a little more cynicism from viewers. YouTube users have developed a keen eye for marketing disguised as content submitted by “just another user.” Check out this doozie that uses a poorly-shot flash mob (go figure) in a thinly-veiled attempt to communicate “Hey, we’re Microsoft! We’re just as cool as those Apple geniuses. We dance in our store!” Notice that the video has amassed over 5,000 dislikes. For a brand desperate for affinity among the YouTube generation, this is not good. And is that the Electric Slide? Oy vey.
On behalf of the whole Melamed Riley crew, here’s wishing that 2011 brings you good health and prosperity. Or should I say healthsperity? No, no I should not. Cheers, friends!