I recently saw a commercial for the new Ford Focus that had me instantly intrigued. This commercial is the first-ever spectator-filmed commercial; it features professional drivers Tanner Foust and Greg Tracy racing in Ford Focuses through narrow streets in Key West, Florida. People line the roads, filming the race on various types of smartphones and video cameras. Ford even chose eight people who were particularly active on the Ford Facebook page and flew them down to Key West to experience the commercial shoot. The finished product is a short commercial that features many spectator-filmed clips.

After seeing this commercial, I investigated Ford’s marketing strategies and discovered another Ford campaign: the Random Acts of Fusion initiative. Making use of Ryan Seacrest (whose ever-pervasive media presence makes him kind of like a contemporary Dick Clark figure), Ford launched the first phase of their campaign in June. They posted a teaser video featuring Seacrest on the Ford Fusion Facebook page. The campaign reached the next phase after 1,000 people signed on to watch the video. People can enter for chances to drive the Ford Fusion before it reaches dealerships and star in an online documentary filmed by Ryan Seacrest and Joel McHale (see: The Soup, Community, also a 1998 episode of Bill Nye The Science Guy). People film 30-second videos describing where they would drive with their Fusion and upload it to the Random Acts of Fusion site.

I see a trend in Ford’s marketing campaigns: giving the power to everyday people. Ford took a hackneyed, ordinary advertising technique (commercials), and made it innovative and interesting by placing the control in consumers’ hands. This technique, known as crowdsourcing, is well established, but I think Ford’s approach is inventive and creative, as is the Random Acts of Fusion initiative. The Fusion campaign marks a dramatic change in Ford’s marketing efforts. In 2009, Ford promoted the Fiesta by having 100 “agents” serve as brand ambassadors and drive around the U.S. in Fiestas, broadcasting their adventures on social sites. Now, Ford has widened their reach. They’re not focusing just on a small group of influentials; they’re trying to reach the everyday consumers, the people that will (hopefully) end up buying the Fusion when it rolls out on dealers’ lots in the fall.

Crowdsourcing 101

Ford’s campaign prompted me to start thinking about crowdsourcing as it relates to social media. The term “crowdsourcing” was coined in a 2006 Wired article written by Jeff Howe, and here is how Howe defines it:

Crowdsourcing is the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent (usually an employee) and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call.

Businesses tap into the power of “the crowd” rather than carrying out tasks themselves. I recently read a New York Times article that mentioned crowdsourcing. Guillaume Jesel, a senior vice president for global marketing at MAC, describes the strategy as letting “the consumer take the steering wheel for a while.”

Many businesses have used social media to crowdsource; a personal favorite example is Sam Adam’s crowdsourced beer. People shared their ideal brew with Sam Adams, and the brewing company then crafted a beer based on the most popular color, clarity, body, etc.

I wanted to investigate how other companies are handing over some control to consumers. Here are what I consider the best recent examples of crowdsourcing campaigns. They include Lay’s potato-chip-flavor creation, a logo design, a handsome crooner, and a pro football player.

Crowdsourcing for Foodies: I’d Eat That

Lay’s is currently running a contest called “Do Us a Flavor” (Ha! Puns!) in which they’re asking people to create the newest potato-chip flavor. People submit their creative concoctions through a Facebook app on the Lay’s page. A judging panel comprised of chefs, foodies, flavor experts, and Eva Longoria (aka Gabriele from Desperate Housewives) narrow down submissions to three flavors. Facebook fans then vote for one of these flavors through an “I’d Eat That Button.” The winner receives one million dollars (or 1% of the chip’s net sales in 2013—whichever is more).

Image Courtesy of quickmeme

Jason Mraz

Jason Mraz is a crowdsourcing genius (secondary to his role of lyrical poet, of course). He has actually run two social media crowdsourcing campaigns: he asked fans to capture his irresistible, swoon-worthy (my words) single “I Won’t Give Up” in one Instagram photograph. He then picked the top 25 images, put them on canvas, and organized a gallery-type event for the public.

Currently, Jason Mraz is running a campaign in which he’s giving Twitter users the chance to create plotlines for his “The Woman I Love” music video. People tweeted ideas to Jason Mraz with the hashtag #MrazingTheVideo (I think this hashtag might be subpar considering Mraz’s gifted lyricism, but to each his own). The director of the music video takes the best ideas and creates a storyboard for the video.

Thanh Nguyen, digital marketer at Mraz’s label, Atlantic Records, told Mashable that “It’s an idea that’s never been done before in terms of fan-sourcing on Twitter…This gives them a chance to participate in the creative process with the artist and see their tweets transform into art.”

Mraz’s campaign is innovative and ground-breaking, but it also interactive: it lets fans take direct part in the creation of one of their favorite musician’s music videos. It strengthens that celebrity-fan connection.

TimesSquare.com, a New York publication, ran a logo design contest via DesignCrowd, an online marketplace that provides logo services by giving people access to a team of designers from around the world. People post “design challenges,” in which they solicit logo designs. Any designer can submit a logo, and the winner receives a monetary prize. TimesSquare.com offered $10,000 for the person who designed the winning logo. Venture Beat reports that 1,300 designers submitted over 5,000 entries. TimesSquare.com will be looking at logos for the next four months.

Why four? Because the winning logo will be revealed on 12/12/12 in Times Square, New-Years-Rockin’-Eve style, I suspect. Maybe TimesSquare.com can contact Ford and see if Ryan Seacrest is available? If he can carry a Ford Fusion campaign and rock out with Dick Clark every New Year’s, he can certainly do a logo reveal justice.

Your Victory Dance on Primetime

DeAngelo Williams, a running back for the Carolina Panthers, put his own unique, creative spin on crowdsourcing when he posted a video on his Facebook page asking fans to post videos of their personal “end zone celebrations.” Williams promised to choose the best dance and perform it in the end zone if he scores a touchdown during preseason. I personally think Williams should enlist the help of Kristen Wiig and do some type of variation of this dance post-touchdown, with a football in hand, obviously:

Why So Cynical?

I was initially cynical of crowdsourcing, because I thought it was simply a way for companies to slide by on doing less work. I thought the title of the Lay’s contest, “Do Us a Flavor,” an obvious spin on “Do Us a Favor” was telling. Consumers really are doing Lay’s a favor, because they’re doing the work for the potato-chip company. Lay’s doesn’t have to devote money to coming up with a new flavor, developing a recipe, and taste testing said recipe. They can just ask fans to develop a chip flavor for them!

But then I remembered: they are giving away $1 million. Yet, if this prize is less than the amount Lay’s marketing and research teams would have spent concocting new flavors, then crowdsourcing really is a great way to save money and do less work! Sure, Lay’s has to promote its crowdsourcing campaign even more than Kris Jenner has to promote her “memoir” (I use this term loosely because I don’t think a trashy tell-all deserves the classification of a memoir. How on earth did this woman get a book deal? I want her agent), and that involves money, money, and more money. But, Lay’s would have to engage in similar promotional efforts if they had simply come up with the new flavor themselves.

I think the same goes for the TimesSquare.com logo design contest. Rather than paying graphic designers, they can crowdsource to designers all over the world and then have 5,000+ designs to choose from. Though, again, I wonder if $10,000 is more or less than the publication would have shelled out if they chose to hire graphic designers rather than crowdsource. And it looks like I’m not the only one who is cynical when it comes to crowdsourcing food campaigns like Lay’s. I read this comment on a New York Times article that mentioned the “Do us a Flavor” contest.

Twinkie sounds good to me, but Bacon Surprise? I think Burger King has bacon covered.

Crowdsourcing for the Future—With Kristen Wiig

I’m not completely cynical, though, because I do think that well-executed crowdsourcing campaigns have benefits. I think it’s a great way for brands to stay in touch with consumers’ wants, needs, and interests. I think it can deter any group-think-like phenomenons, because it brings in new, fresh, original ideas. Plus, any contest in which individuals create or design something for a monetary prize generates buzz and attention for brands. Lay’s is certainly generating attention with their contest. They’ve even received some very unique flavor submissions:

I’d eat that.

Now, everyone would love to win $1 million for creating a new potato chip flavor. But, apparently money and coining a new flavor is not enough. People want to see their faces…on bags of chips.

Perhaps we’ll see a bag-design crowdsourcing campaign in the future? My entry:

(view original post via Mainstreethost Search Marketing)

Read more: Successful Social Crowdsourcing