“The video contest landscape is like the Wild West” says an experienced participant


Image via Gerard Elmore (vimeo)

I recently read a very interesting blog post from Jared Cicon (a.k.a. Video Contest King) about participation in crowdsourcing. Jared is a pioneer participant in video contests; he was one of the finalists of the first Doritos contest in 2006, and has taken (and won) a lot of contests since then. In his blog post “You…against the rest of the freelance world“, Jared shares his point of view about the current video contest lanscape. In his blog post, he says how much more competitive it is now: “what I’m hoping to demonstrate […] is how difficult it can be to freelance in our video world, and that we are clearly facing ongoing increased competition with every passing week“. As a consequence, he says, brands’ expectations are getting higher and it is therefore more difficult to win contests and earn money.

While it is always tempting to do those things that feel more ‘artisitic’ and which are more personally fulfilling, they must be balanced with content that the brands can use and that ‘get the money to pay the bills’

The crux of his blog post is “Evolve or die” – much like in the Wild West. I invite you to read the great post that he wrote on his blog if you want to find out more. After reading his insightful post on his blog, I thought it would be great to talk about crowdsourcing “from the other side”. He nicely took the time to answer a couple of questions about himself, his activity as a producer and about crowdsourced video production in general, and it’s my pleasure to publish the interview here on the blog.

Hi Jared, could you briefly present yourself? What’s your background?

jared cicon

Hi, I am a 40 something married father of four children (three teenage boys & eight year old princess). I spent almost 20 years as a full time wedding photographer, before realizing I wouldnʼt be able to deal with bridezillas the rest of my life. I made a career change from creating still images of brides to directing moving pictures of anything. The transition was pretty seamless: both require an eye for composition, both look through a camera lens to story tell, both are required to organize a cast of characters to be captured in aesthetically pleasing imagery, both have time restraints for production, both are required to deal with people of various personality, both experience feast or famine paydays, both allow for creative expression but with commercial directing allowing a disproportionately greater amount of it. During a four year period of teaching photography in an adult educational setting, I shared with my students that…

 If you canʼt afford to travel the world, become a wedding photographer and the world will come to you

When and how did you start to participate in online video contests? Why?

In fall of 2006 I entered my first commercial video contest. It was the inaugural Crash The Superbowl (Doritos) contest. I prevailed as one of the five finalists flown to Miami. I didn’t score the winning ad which aired during the SuperBowl, but was stoked when Doritos decided to use our four runners up as regular TV advertisement. It was my first national commercial. It was kind of cool, because they provided us with broadcast schedules, so I knew exactly when it was airing and on what network/channel. Really cool way to pull pranks on people.

Do you see yourself as a consumer? A production professional? An amateur?

The biggest mistake crowdsourcing portals make is treating their communities like ‘consumers’ instead of aspiring professionals

I consider myself a production professional. However, knowing what I know now, I can reflect that when I started 6 years ago I was very amateur. Iʼve learned a lot over the years and have come to appreciate the things that I might have learned had I gone to school, mostly in my terminology deficit. It is very embarrassing to be working with a client and be on a conference call and not understand what the three other people are talking about. For example, about 2 years ago I was on a call with my first Fortune 500 client and they started talking about ʻsupersʼ. About one minute in, I couldnʼt bluff anymore and they realized they needed to educate me. It is these small details that can tell so much about you as a professional. The learning curve for me has been fast and requires so much absorption. At almost 50 years of age, it is not always easy to teach this old dog, but

Iʼm game and a fast learner when I want to be

According to you, what are the best contest platforms out there? Why?

The four contest platforms I am most familiar with are Tongal, Zooppa, Poptent and eYeka. As I see it, there are two types of crowdsourcing portals

  1. One type of portal heavily encourages multiple creatives to work on the same assignments, from the thumbnail synopsis, through script development and on to the actual production. Tongal is such a portal
  2. The alternative model (eYeka, Poptent and Zooppa) allow for a single auteur to see production through from beginning to end. Though to be fair, they are also cool with multiple members collaborating on single assignments, which seems to be the current trend these days. It makes perfect sense to me.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both crowdsourcing models. The major downfall of the collaborative model is that the profit sharing dictates smaller paydays for everyone involved. Currently constituted, it is already extremely difficult to do this type of work ʻfull-timeʼ, and can be disappointing to see multiple college students teaming up to work on projects, because after all, a few $100 is kings ransom when you are freshman at university. Problem is, come graduation day when they start looking for gainful employment they discover they have been their own worse enemy.

So regarding the future of the industry where we freelance creatives are concerned, the more hats you can learn to wear with great style, the better you will be able to compete. Also it seems there is an advantage to age, in that the more life experience a creative has, the more brands (creative briefs) they are going to be able to relate to and produce meaningful content for.

What was the best contest you’ve ever seen? Why?

The best contest I’ve ever seen happened to be one I also won. Big surprise there huh?

About four years ago Taxslayer.com held a contest for a legit national television commercial in which the brand itself would determine the winner and which the winner would earn $25,000.00 for their work. I really, REALLY liked this contest because it was the first contest that deviated from the social network ‘get-out-the-vote’ type contest. It also had a respectable payday, one in which freelancers could feel respected for their creative and intellectual investment.

As a result of the brand’s commitment to this call for content, I was willing to invest quite heavily in production values.

I spent about $1,500.00 in the front end and after winning paid out contracts of several thousand dollars to those who helped. Here is a link to the commercial. I think what is missed by a lot of brands is the potential for much higher production values in the submissions if they are willing to provide for higher paydays to the creatives willing to go out on the limb for them.

According to you, how has the video contest landscape evolved? Where are we now and where is it heading in the future?

In my opinion the video contest/assignment landscape is very much like the Wild West of the mid 1800’s. Anything goes and usually does, and brands are willing to pay a bounty of anywhere from one thousand to one million dollars for an advertisement. There are brands who could care less about quality of submissions, who rely on buzz and social networking to proliferate their brand (not the ad itself). There are brands who are testing the waters of crowdsourcing as a cost alternative to the traditional ad agency model. Some of these brands are having their needs met. Others are not.

There are also brands that use both social networking and legit crowdsourcing to get brand content: Doritos is a good example

In the final analysis though, I think that brands the world over are discovering that through crowdsourcing, as the size of the freelancer legion continues to grow, portals will be a very viable alternative to how they used to acquire their video advertisement. I also think that as the volume of brands discover the quality they can reap with the crowdsourcing model, there will be more and more pies to be sliced for the growing number of my peers. I’m talking now about the brands who want legitimate content from creatives who can interpret a brief and bring something legitimate to the table. If Doritos is any measuring stick, for every 1,000 video submissions, only about 50 have any kind of shot of being seriously considered by the brand. Of those 50, only about 10-20 will be considered national quality content.

Ten years from now, the serious content which brands seek will regularly come from creatives like myself who have made a career decision to learn as much as we can about branding and who regularly sharpen and expand our skills

As we move into the future, the content most often utilized by brands who are seeking legitimate advertising will come from creatives who can professionally interpret a creative brief and deliver on that interpretation with very focused, polished production value-based video. This quality branding content will not, and I repeat, will not come from the average customer, consumer or YouTuber.

By downsizing and learning multiple skills, the small freelance production companies will still deliver the content and entertainment that the viewing public has come to expect over the years, with the only real change being that now it will be executed for anywhere between 1-10¢ on the dollar as opposed to the Saatchi & Saatchis of the current but fading Madison Avenue model. One day there will be portals that will demand as much as the current agencies […] and there will be those of us who will be able to deliver on those expectations because of the culture, the compensation and the respect that those portals foster. I think it’s important to remember that this new age of advertising doesn’t provide ‘gifts’ for people who don’t deserve it. It does however provide access to brands that had previously been denied. We will still have to earn our keep as freelance creatives if we expect to survive and prosper.

Thanks a lot Jared for your very insightful answers, and good luck in your next contests!

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