Don't be fooled: Crowdsourcing has more to do with cost-savings than fan-rallying

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Crowdsourcing is the equivalent of Mommy and Daddy enlisting 12-year-old Katie to babysit her 10-year-old brother Jimmy.

Allow me to explain.

Harley-Davidson Motor Co. launched a crowdsourcing application on Nov. 8 designed to source advertising ideas from the company's Facebook fans. The “Fan Machine” application enables fans of the motorcycle company to review ads, submit ad ideas and vote on ideas submitted by others.

On Nov. 8, Doritos also announced the final call for entries in the “Crash the Super Bowl” contest, which enables fans to submit homemade ads. The winning ad will air during Super Bowl XLVI and compete against a spot created by entertainment group The Lonely Island for a chance to win $1 million (provided the consumer-created Doritos ad scores No. 1 on either the traditional USA Today Ad Meter or the recently announced USA Today Facebook Super Bowl Ad Meter).

Neither of these announcements signifies anything earth-shattering. Doritos and Harley-Davidson have previously leveraged crowdsourcing to generate ads and fan engagement, and way back in 1936, Toyota Motor Corp. held a logo contest that received 27,000 entries and was the source of its current emblem.

I suspect we'll see some copycats launch in the coming months.

Why?

If you ask brands, they'll tell you it's a great way to get fans involved in the action. Who better to represent and celebrate brands than those consumers who are passionate and loyal to their products?

"This is not a publicity stunt, or a limited time engagement. We're committed to crowdsourcing, because these ideas naturally flow from our passionate fans," said Mark-Hans Richer, Harley-Davidson's CMO, in a statement. “As the true stewards of our brand, our fans now have a huge new platform to share their ideas.”

Yes. Sure. Lovely.

But please forgive the curmudgeonly among us who suspect these initiatives might be geared more toward cost-saving than fan-rallying. With major holdings companies suffering quarterly losses and media firms revising and lowering previous ad spend estimates, perhaps crowdsourcing — like yesterday's Facebook sweepstakes and email marketing campaigns — represents a cost-effective attempt at quality communications.

As for Katie: She's always been mature for her age and she loves her little brother a ton. She's doing a decent job babysitting. She knows that the emergency contact numbers are taped up on the fridge. She knows Jimmy is allergic to peanuts. And she knows not to let strangers into the house. But what happens when the power goes out and there's a knock at the door?

Surely Mommy and Daddy would rather have had a trained au pair come in to do the job. Unfortunately, with the economy tanking and Opera ticket prices skyrocketing, Mr. Belvedere is no longer an option.  

Somewhere a room of idle advertising executives is collectively nodding.

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