Thursday, January 23, 2014

Of Contests and Competitions

I imagine it starts like this:

Agency Pitch to Client: Let's do a contest where we contact a bunch of artists and have them do artwork pertaining to our brand. We will give a cash prize/internship/pony to the winner! It will be good PR! We will get to see a lot of great artwork and ideas.

What a great idea! Let's do it! Crowdsourcing is awesome!

I get many, many emails for contests like this. When I was younger, I even entered one or two.

Why on earth do so many companies think this is a good idea?

I suspect they think they will get a lot of great stuff on brand they can use and it will cost less than having an experienced branding agency come up with ideas and commission an artist to do the art.

Consider this anecdote: I recently talked to a friend who does online video for some big companies. One of his clients (probably after a day of watching YOUTUBE) said: "Lets have a 'viral video' contest. People can make cool films using our product!"  

"We will give away this $40,000 dollar object we are advertising to the winner! It will cost MUCH less than paying someone who knows what he/she is doing!"

What was the result? They got very few videos, most unusable and off-brand. They did not even name a winner.

Why? Even with the best of intentions, most people do not have the skill to make good videos. Even if they do have skill, it is not on brand

As an artist is it a good idea to participate?

  • Read the Fine Print: Many contests own the rights to the art you create for them. This means, even if you do not win they can still use it and you get no compensation for your efforts. 
  • Read it again: Some of the details are murky in these contests. It is probably either not well thought out at best or written by lawyers at worst.

Does it save them money?

I have not seen any numbers, but so many agencies are trying crowdsourcing now, I have to wonder if it really is a shortcut.

I am sure many artists enter a couple of these things earnestly and do some great work. At the end, it is unlikely they will win anything and they have spent a lot of time that they could have used to make money.  

After a couple failures, how many artists will continue to go after this unpaid work?

It is like a time consuming lottery and you know what those odds are. When you are attempting to make a living as an artist, getting paid by lottery is the worst way to do it.

Frankly, it seems to me it would be easier to just commission an artist whose work you like rather than negotiate the paperwork of having a contest.
What do you think?


  1. I totally agree, I will never enter a contest

  2. I have been sucked in many times and lost everytime ... either they don't tell you enough to really make a design they will like or they already have someone they have in mind.For example I entered a contest years ago for a local fair, and by coincidence one of my siblings lived next door to a lady who was on the committee that picked the winner. They said they really liked mine but they already had a lady on the committee that lost last year they "had" to give it to. I should not have wasted my time ... very frustrating ... !!!

    1. That is another aspect to these things. The work may be amazing but there are other factors at play.

  3. I've never went so far as to think about the agency's bottom line on contest campaigns for 'free' artwork, but something good must come from it because I've too been bombarded with them on a regular basis. So many that I no longer read them. Just press the delete button and move on.

    What I think when it comes to crowd-sourcing art is that they tag commercial art related words to the email campaign on a mass scale. For if they didn't and developed the contest to just entice artists who could successfully interpret their brand, the email would narrow it's target and the chance of a rookie commercial artist taking on the challenge becomes very small. Too many seasoned artists just won't take the bite. And how many seasoned artists really want to deal with people who don't know what they do?

    What I trying to figure out is it okay for, say a high school student who does amazing work after school hours, to enter and win these contests? Could it be seen as a valuable reference to help them get into a great art school, perhaps give them the kudos to enter the industry part time? Or is it, once again, enabling that whole modern culture on the lack of value for today's illustration standards?

    1. I am not sure the campaigns are that successful so much as many agencies have a lemming mentality. Crowdsourcing is a buzzword on fire.

      Contests are probably an easy pitch and they position them as something that helps artists get discovered so there might even be a 'feel good" component.

      I would like to see some of the results of these though. As you said, they are so common that there is a fatigue that sets in.

      It seems like one saves money until you look at the mechanics. Who sorts through all these entries and decides? Let's say it is a logo competition. Even if you pick something it will need to be altered and you will need to pay someone to do that.

      I think many forget the ease of using a professional who knows what they are doing and will give you want you want efficiently how you want it.

      Perhaps this high school student knows how to make a pretty image. But can he alter it to the specification needed? Will they get the art in the format needed?

      There is a reason you hire a professional for these things.

  4. Here is an additional reason they do this beyond the ones you mentioned:

    Not only free branding but free marketing. Not only do they have you do the work but now they are encouraging you broadcast your work and in effect their brand via social media to either get people interested in your work or vote for it.

    1. Chuck had mentioned that on FB too. That definitely is a factor.