Big, beautiful and amazing ? or stupid, bad and evil ? according to crowdsourcing site brandtags that is how Unilever are viewed by the gen...

A sheep in wolf's clothing

Big, beautiful and amazing ? or stupid, bad and evil ? according to crowdsourcing site brandtags that is how Unilever are viewed by the general public. Admittedly the sample involved in this study is probably small and pretty skewed but it will be interesting to see how people will feel the same about their new crowdsourcing Facebook initiative Unilever VIP.

Since 2006 when Jeff Howe first coined the concept of crowdsourcing it has given rise to songs, ad campaigns, recipes, companies, new products and, in the case of Iceland recently even a country’s constitution. So I guess it is no surprise that Unilever are moving on from the big splash they made dropping Lowe in favour of “social think tank” Idea Bounty, I just can’t understand why it took them so long.

After all their great competitor Procter & Gamble can be vaguely forgiven for their saccharine “proud sponsor of Mums” by the fact that they have been utilising crowdsourcing for a while via its own platform Connect + Develop and the open initiative Innocentive. Apparently this has resulted in more than 50% of its product initiatives and more than 1,000 active agreements including “World changing” inventions such as The Swiffer, and initiatives such as less calorific food and how to moisten toilet tissue for better cleansing.

So why does this initiative leave me feeling a bit cold? I don’t have an issue with this coming late to the crowdsourcing party, indeed I have a personal bugbear with people proudly announcing “I have worked in digital for over 15 years” or “I started blogging before blogging was even invented” or because of the hyperbole used in the site but rather because I am confused as to whether the focus is on crowdsourcing or simple coupon based rewarding.

Now don’t get me wrong I think both routes are entirely valid and I understand that they need to reward involvement but a quick search on Google for “Unilever VIP” results in a primary link to the cathedral of deals - Money Saving Expert, which features above even the Facebook page link. It only takes a visit to page 2 on Google to see it is filled with the usual suspects of rpoints, hotukdeals, freebiestuff etc. To me this means that the majority of contributors will be coupon junkie housewives leaving the minimum info they need to get their next voucher fix.

If Unilever were truly interested in crowdsourcing they would put their money where their mouth is and properly reward really innovative ideas in the way that Innocentive do with payments of up to $100k per solution rather than a £150 shopping voucher. However I may be proved wrong in which case it will be interesting to see how Unilever will deal with the results from this venture and show consumers that they have not only listened but also acted. Starbucks have been roundly criticised for only implementing 150 of the thousands ideas that mystarbucksidea has generated many of which are pretty anodyne.

If Unilever do “walk the talk” I think they need to carefully negotiate the fine line between giving their consumer a real say in their ongoing product development and a potential pyrrhic victory where they are forced to implement initiatives that could ultimately destroy their fantastic brands.

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