Crowdsourcing certainly is quite the buzzword these days, but it still has a long way to go in gaining much serious traction with the average company or corporation as far as a marketing or product development tool goes. You probably know that lots of people use crowdsourcing and it is changing the way things are done in various different industries, most notably investments. But even still you might ask, how exactly is crowdsourcing useful? Oh boy. There are just so many ways. The best way to answer this question is probably through a list of examples and a short little summary at the end. We promise to keep this list super fun and interesting though, not your usual run of the mill “top 3 crowdsourcing examples” list. What do you think? Good. Betterific likes that idea too.
Ancient history – Mars M&M’s runs their new color campaign in 1995 – Engaging your customer base and mega awareness
If you are at least 30, you probably remember this commercial:
That commercial had me running to a pay-phone (a what?) every 15 minutes to vote for my favorite color when I was in middle school. It was soooooo cool. In 1995, Mars ran this campaign to replace the old tan colored m&m candies (who actually remembers the tan colored m&m’s anymore?) and the world changed forever. Well, perhaps the candy world did. But, let’s just give this a moment’s consideration before we write this example off as just a lark. As you can see the M&M commercial hits a nerve in the American conscience… a democratic nerve. The election booth, the call to change the world through casting a vote, the question to think about what’s “best” for the future… quite an interesting marketing tactic don’t you think? Strangely enough, this ad came out a time when American voters had reached an all-time apathetic high. In the 1994 mid-term election year only 38.8% of the voting age population turned up to cast a ballot. Mid-term election voter turnout had been hovering in this range since 1974 and even the presidential election voter turnout hovered between 49%-55%. So why on earth did Mars choose this particular marketing tactic? The secret became the saving grace of the producers of American Idol and every other voting based program in the last decade…
In the realm of candy, who is your most avid supporter? Who is your target market? Children! Clearly candy is extremely relevant to a child’s daily concerns, so when Mars Incorporated ran this campaign they really capitalized on engaging with their target consumer. Although no official numbers were ever published by Mars listing the effects of the marketing campaign on their sales, some figures estimated that the total number of votes received for the campaign topped 10 million. That’s right… 10 MILLION votes. We could barely get together a crowd big enough to help us decide the fate of our country, but all be damned if we’d be stuck with pink m&m’s forever. Apparently an actual faction of tan colored m&m supporters also developed as a result of this campaign… thank god that party never got off the ground.
Blue won in the end with over 50% of the vote and as a result, here in the U.S. the Empire State Building got lit up in blue and in Australia the very popular Carlton Football Club donned pale blue guernseys for the first time in its history. The result? One marketing textbook says Mars, Inc. got “millions” in free publicity and that the campaign “certainly” added to the brand’s awareness level. This is just one way in which crowdsourcing creates huge advantages for those who engage in it.
Even more ancient history – The Longitude Prize of 1714 – Finding solutions in unexpected places
Back in the day, we traveled around the world in wooden ships with just a compass. Compared to a lot of the risks involved in life today, the risk involved in undertaking a sea voyage was considerable. Simply put, there was absolutely no way of knowing whether or not you would make it anywhere close to where you were attempting to go when taking off on a sea voyage. (Imagine, a world with no GPS, again if you’re 30 or older, you might remember a time like this…) This led to a lot of lost lives and money. In 1714, the British government established the Act of Longitude which formed the Board of Longitude and a considerable prize (20,000 pounds) for the individual who could determine an accurate way of calculating longitude.
Keep in mind that this was a problem that Isaac Newton, Edmond Halley, Christiaan Huygens, and Giovanni Domenico Cassini (all extremely influential scientists of the period) had failed to solve in a meaningful way. It took quite some time but a reasonable, although not perfect, solution was found, by a non-scientist. John Harrison was a self-educated carpenter and clockmaker who invented the marine chronometer, essentially a special sort of clock that allowed one to measure the difference in time between two geographic locations (Greenwich, England and wherever the ship was). Although the device did not offer a perfect solution to the problem, it was a huge step forward in the advancement of the technology needed to solve the problem. Not to mention the fact that Harrison became the underdog who toppled all the high-falutin’ scientists of the era… we like that part. Harrison was eventually rewarded 15,000 pounds for his invention.
The fact is that if the British government had not offered an incentive for someone to attempt to solve the problem, it is uncertain how long it would have taken for someone to invent the needed technology that ended up speeding along the colonization of the western hemisphere. You never know where that magical solution might come from unless you ask the crowd.
Modern answer to a centuries old question – Mysterious and illegible margin notes in Homer’s Odyssey – Oodles of press and validation
This 1504 Venetian edition of Homer’s Odyssey was donated to University of Chicago in 2007 by M.C. Lang. Mr. Lang knew that these mysterious notes were only on a few pages of the book and appeared to be written in some strange shorthand, possibly French. (Hmm… should of paid more attention in French class). But neither he nor anyone at University of Chicago knew what it was or how to figure out what the heck it said, let alone who might have written it. Now, in the greater scheme of things it’s a rather unimportant question, but it is one of those things that stares you in the face taunting you with your own ignorance… really annoyingly. So, on April 28th 2014, University of Chicago made an announcement on NBC stating that a $1000 prize would be offered for the person or persons able to decipher the writing. Just 6 days later they had an answer. That’s right, this unknown writing which had been on the pages for, oh, close to 200 years was suddenly no longer an itch the academic world couldn’t scratch.
The outcome? An Italian computer engineer, Daniele Metilli, and his colleague Giulia Accetta were apparently the perfect pair with the perfect set of knowledge and skills to find the answer. Daniele is a digital humanities student and was able to search vast archives of information to find similar scripts and shorthand versions to those on the page within hours and Giulia is an Italian stenographer fluent in French. So as it turns out Lang’s hunch was correct, it was an 18th century form of shorthand created by a Frenchman. It turns out that the writings are mostly translations of the greek text itself into French, only not written in straightforward French, but crazy cryptic shorthand French (go figure). But the mystery remains of who wrote them. Needless to say, University of Chicago has gotten a huge amount of press as a result and lots of street cred in the academic world for (inadvertently) showing how helpful technology can be in a world that typically reveres dusty bookshelves and old school library catalogs. The crowd just might change the way you do things while simultaneously validating what you thought you knew.
There’s lots more where that came from
We hope you have enjoyed this list of crowdsourcing examples. Clearly there are quite a few more, especially from the “contemporary age.” Pepsi crowdsources superbowl ads, a crowdsourced GPS app called Waze might just oust Google Maps, and Amazon might be changing the face of outsourcing through its MTurk program. The fact is, crowdsourcing rocks and that’s why we do it at Betterific.