Fast Company

Crowdsourcing 101: Why Vitaminwater's Facebook App Can't Lose

When it comes to game-changing ideas, is there really wisdom in crowds? Given several efforts at crowdsourcing creative content and product development in recent years, more than a few companies seem to think so. What's less clear is why some crowdsourcing efforts are wildly successful while others fall flat. Vitaminwater raised the question again this week when it released a new "flavor creator" app for Facebook, inviting users to vote for a new flavor and vitamin formula for a new product release, even offering $5,000 to the fan who creates a winning packaging design. The crowd gets a product of its own creation, and Vitaminwater gets a pre-approved-by-the-crowd product for release in March. Everybody wins, right?

VitaminScreen

Letting history be the judge, the answer is at best a "maybe." Doritos has enjoyed measurable success crowdsourcing Super Bowl ads with its "Crash the Bowl" contest, notching the No. 1 most watched Super Bowl ad on YouTube in 2006. But a nearly identical marketing initiative by Chevrolet asking users to create their own Tahoe ads online turned into a forum for the anti-SUV set to bash the product on Chevy's own Web site. More recently, advertising powerhouse Crispin, Porter + Bogusky learned the hard way that crowdsourcing can go seriously awry, drawing fire from its own creative community after issuing an open call to designers to create a logo for one of its clients, essentially soliciting free design work. So how will Vitaminwater avoid Crispin's crash and burn and turn its crowdsourcing experiment into a success?

The greatest advantage of crowdsourcing is that it costs relatively nothing. While Crispin failed to recognize that crowdsourcing from a professional group--that is, asking people to do something they do for a living for free--would be taken as an insult, it did garner hundreds of submissions for a logo design, gratis (the winning design scored $1,000, a pittance for graphic work). In that sense, Crispin succeeded, but at the expense of its reputation (and that of its client, a major faux pas in for a company hired to build up brands). Companies like Doritos or Vitaminwater, appealing to non-professionals who are nonetheless experts on the topic (ask a child why she like Doritos and you'll likely get a reasoned answer) for creative ideas holds far less potential downside as long as the anti-vitamin lobby doesn't sabotage the project.

But the real difference between Crispin's backfire and Vitaminwater's likely success is what the companies are really getting from the crowd. The biggest thing Vitaminwater has to fear from its initiative is that the crowd won't produce a winning product. When Crispin's logo experiment flopped, it flopped hard. But even if its product fails, Vitaminwater has a catalog of other popular flavors to fall back on, as well as tons of priceless, free market data gleaned from the "flavor creator" app that can be rolled into several future products (keep in mind, downloading the app gives Vitaminwater access to all sorts of data on your page). Couple that with the heightened brand visibility the app will create as its nearly 600,000 fans access the app and invite their friends to participate, and even a complete bust on the product development side becomes a coup for Vitaminwater's marketing team, as well as for its product development crew.

Call it hedging. Even had Crispin succeeded in crowdsourcing its logo design without the ensuing black eyes, thousands of man-hours of logo design were left in the rubbish bin. A complete failure for Vitaminwater's crowdsourced flavor, while a bummer, is still a huge success for the company. For Vitaminwater's flavor app, crowdsourcing isn't a win-win. It's a can't lose.

[via Wall Street Journal, CNET]

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8 Comments

  • Ludovic Delaherche

    Well ..
    It's not a real Crowdsourcing operation.
    It's a PR operation using a Crowdsourcing "pretexte"

    Crispin is a good agency but not a crowdsourcing expert.
    CS can create value, we can create real products and a real engagement; The value of the CS is not to create some people hitting a "fan" button ...

    i let you see real 147 CS campaign here : http://www.eyeka.com

  • Ludovic Delaherche

    Well ..
    It's not a real Crowdsourcing operation.
    It's a PR operation using a Crowdsourcing "pretexte"

    Crispin is a good agency but not a crowdsourcing expert.
    CS can create value, we can create real products and a real engagement; The value of the CS is not to create some people hitting a "fan" button ...

    i let you see real 147 CS campaign here : http://www.eyeka.com

  • Ludovic Delaherche

    Well ..
    It's not a real Crowdsourcing operation.
    It's a PR operation using a Crowdsourcing "pretexte"

    Crispin is a good agency but not a crowdsourcing expert.
    CS can create value, we can create real products and a real engagement; The value of the CS is not to create some people hitting a "fan" button ...

    i let you see real 147 CS campaign here : http://www.eyeka.com

  • Michael Rowley

    Note the word 'exploit'. Telling.

    6. License: By entering a Submission, each Entrant grants Sponsor, its parent and affiliated companies, the exclusive, perpetual, unlimited and irrevocable right and license to reproduce, distribute, publicly perform, display, exhibit, post, publish, adapt, edit, stream, edit, alter, modify, make derivative works of, exploit..

  • Jackie Prince

    Hi there, great post.

    It's also interesting to look at other brands who have called on the masses to select or eliminate flavours from their product lines, such as the Walkers Do Us a Flavour campaign and Revels Eviction. Both were interactive and successful attempts at crowd sourcing, however 'I like Vitamin Water's tone of voice the best.

    My favourite part of this application, apart from the smooth integration of RSS, gaming, and crowd sourcing, is the cheeky tone of voice, which permeates the Flavour Creator. The application’s copy is consistently humorous and demonstrates a good understanding of their target audience.

    While this isn’t a revolutionary concept by any means (indeed, nothing here is new - RSS feeds, voting, gaming), Vitamin Water has integrated these elements nicely in a fine example of how to engage with your audience by speaking their language and encouraging a dialogue. The $5,000 incentive can’t hurt either…

    I've posted an article about this application on my blog, for more info: http://bit.ly/14jceq
    www.sosticky.co.uk

  • Ben Mediacurves

    MediaCurves.com just conducted a study on 305 viewers of Vitamin Water’s new campaign on Facebook. Results showed that the majority (95%) indicated that reaching out to its fans through Facebook will help brand image. The study also found that among the respondents who claimed to be users of the social networking site, Facebook, more than half (54%) reported that they would consider becoming a fan of Vitamin Water’s Facebook Fan Page, and participate in its new Flavor Creator promotion. More in-depth results can be seen at:
    http://www.mediacurves.com/Adv...
    Thanks,
    Ben

  • Tom Mullaly

    I respectfully disagree that getting a new Vitaminwater flavor, and the low cost of getting it, is the actual benefit here.

    The real benefit is in the way that customers or potential customers become just a little more involved with the product. This 'conversation' pays long term dividends that are hard to measure, but very real. It's not about tweaking the product or expanding the product line: it's a marketing exercise, about customer acquisition. In a real way people aren't even buying 'water with vitamins', but an idea represented by Vitaminwater.

    http://www.digitalmediaminute....

  • Nathaniel Salzman

    Interesting parallel, although I think cost is always the motivation.

    "The greatest advantage of crowdsourcing is that it costs relatively nothing."

    That is why companies turn to it. Brammo probably couldn't afford to hire CP+B outright, so they got the interns. The interns, in turn, hired out the actual work to a hive of freelancers, wannabes, and professionals on CrowdSpring — reaping the rewards of hundreds of free work hours and getting a logo designed on the cheap. The outrage in the creative community is understandable, as this is how we make our living. When experience, expertise, and the client-creative relationship is devalued, everybody loses in the long run. It's one thing if a company crowdsources its own design needs, but for CP+B (one of our own, if you will) to do so is pretty reprehensible in my opinion. What it says to the design community at large is essentially "we'd like you to do for us — for pennies — what we charge through the nose for."

    I think what Vitaminwater is doing is subtly but significantly different. First of all, they are the client, so the incest at the heart of the CP+B fiasco isn't there. But what they're getting from the crowd is also very different. Crowdsourcing design solutions and user-generated content are different animals. One is a cheap route to often mediocre design solutions, the other is involving your tribe of customers in where your brand is going. This time, that happens to involve a packaging design contest element, but it's not really any different than back when I and millions of others helped Mars bring blue M&Ms into the world. Doritos found success in UGC precisely because what they asked for (and ultimately what they got) were fan-made commercials. There is an authenticity there that makes that sort of thing work. It's not that they turned it over to the crowd, it's that they engaged their fans in something fun. That something happened to be making amateur commercials with a chance to wind up on the Super Bowl.

    I definitely agree that they "can't lose" on this one.