Written by Edward Parshotam, Content Producer at Team Ingenuity.
There isn’t a huge amount that links the late Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek with Netflix’s romantic comedy The Kissing Booth, but one thing that does is a shared appreciation of the importance of dispersed knowledge.
Similarly, it might not appear there’s a great deal of overlap between the UK government’s bailout of RBS – costing the taxpayer billions – and Pepsi’s ad featuring Kendall Jenner, which overstated the brand’s potential role as community peacemaker during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests.
The RBS bailout and the Pepsi ad are linked, however, because they show the damage that can be caused by a lack of diverse viewpoints.
Meanwhile, efficient economies and successful films provide a counterpoint, illustrating the value of diverse views.
Hayek identified that a national economy was too complex to be adequately overseen by a central body. Gaining a full picture that would enable truly informed decision-making was simply beyond any government.
This crowdsourced creativity, which successfully gathers insight from a broad range of consumers, offers some key lessons for marketers and should inspire new approaches to their internal creative processes.
Gathering diverse perspectives is not only a powerful way to deliver popular creative work through the cross-pollination of ideas, but can also help avoid damaging groupthink and provide a corrective against clumsy errors.
It’s perhaps those campaigns where there’s been a clear lack of diversity during the brainstorming process, like the Pepsi and Kendall Jenner ad, that most help us appreciate the value offered by the wisdom of many.
Alongside the aforementioned Pepsi ad, accused of trivialising the Black Lives Matter protests, we’ve recently seen an Ancestry.com ad accused of romanticising slavery, while Burger King was slammed for “cultural insensitivity” and “racism” for a campaign promoting the Vietnamese Sweet Chilli Tendercrisp burger by showing people struggling to eat it with chopsticks.
The latter even follows a similar campaign by Dolce & Gabbana in China, in which a Chinese model struggles to eat pizza with chopsticks, causing the brand’s perception among Chinese consumers to fall to an all-time low.
We can say with near certainty that these ads were developed in boardrooms lacking diverse perspectives. In each example, someone with the relevant life experience could have anticipated and flagged the potential backlash. Had Burger King’s ad been developed by millions of Wattpad users instead, someone would have almost certainly flagged the poor reception D&G had received for its similar campaign in China.
Instead, a development process featuring too narrow a range of perspectives – the opposite of crowdsourced creativity – resulted in campaigns that produced the opposite outcome as intended, and only served to damage brand reputations.
RBS’ bailout offers a parallel because the risks the bank took prior to its taxpayer-funded rescue, including an ill-judged attempted merger, were driven by a top team of middle-aged men of similar backgrounds, beliefs and management styles.
A more diverse senior leadership team at RBS, with a more Hayekian commitment to gathering and collating information dispersed across the workforce, would likely have provided a useful corrective to the overriding appetite for risk among the bank’s top team. And this could have saved the taxpayer billions.
Digital media has to some extent already enabled ad land to incorporate the wisdom of many into its creative process.
Ads are no longer solely developed in a top-down way, but instead are served programmatically using data and A/B testing, which means millions of consumers play a role in shaping the final creative.
Such an approach is trickier offline, which is why agencies should structure themselves internally to maximise opportunities to bring a more diverse set of viewpoints into their creative process.
In practice, this means:
The data already proves the value of diverse teams in any business, and we can expect this to be of even greater importance in agency land.
Common sense corresponds with what the data shows – an agency is significantly more likely to succeed if it is as diverse as the consumers it seeks to engage. The wisdom of many understands how best to reach different consumers and guards against the risk of clumsily causing offence.
RBS wasn’t just undone by its lack of diversity but also an overly hierarchical workforce. Agencies need to ensure that people across all levels and within all teams feel able to freely share their views.
This might mean making use of software that allows colleagues to submit honest – and possibly anonymous – feedback about the agency, including its strategic direction and alternative ways of working. It could also mean incentivising the best suggestions for how to work smarter.
Likewise, a ‘reverse mentoring’ scheme, in which junior team members are invited to share their expertise with senior leaders, could be effective. This could involve new grads teaching the board how to make use of Twitch or Instagram, for instance, which helps to communicate that the agency properly values and acts upon the knowledge that exists at all levels within the business.
All of this is to say that a diverse team is only effective in an environment that encourages people to share their different perspectives.
RBS, by all accounts, operated with a top-down leadership style, in which those with different views to the senior leadership team were too intimidated to share these.
It’s said that when Steve Jobs ran Pixar Studios, he placed the toilets in the centre of the office so that designers would naturally walk past and might interact with the engineers.
Jobs had hit upon a novel way to foster cognitive diversity and the cross-pollination of ideas.
Once agencies have a diverse work force that feels empowered to speak out, it’s also important to ensure the scope for sharing ideas is as expansive as possible, across teams, departments, levels of seniority and different office locations.
Mixed team brainstorms, instant messaging software tools, such as Slack, and company-wide Q&A sessions can all play a role here – along with the location of the toilets.
All of these things can enable agencies to unleash the power of crowdsourced creativity – internally – and produce work that resembles well-run economies and successful films, as opposed to failed banks and brand-damaging gaffes.