Q&A with Neil Perry of Poptent, a Video Crowdsourcing Company

Neil Perry, President of PoptentThe cost of creatives is one of the main barriers to entry for prospective video advertisers. One possible solution is crowdsourcing. Neil Perry is President of Poptent, a company that specialises in crowdsourcing video content and creatives. Here Neil talks about how crowdsourcing is changing the industry and about the effect it is likely to have on the role of agencies.

What does Poptent do?

We’re a crowdsourcing video production company and we’re probably the largest one out there. We’ve got a network of about 50,000 creators who are in our system in 140 countries. People are using us for three different reasons. First, we’re able to give a client/advertiser 20/30 great videos to choose from for whatever their purposes might be.

Secondly, we can get those videos done quicker than a traditional agency – we can usually get videos produced in two to four weeks. Finally, we’re only about 20% of the cost of a traditional agency so we save our clients and brands a lot of money.

The brand line up right now is pretty significant. We’re a US-based company, and about 80% of our creative base is in the US and about 90% of our clients are US-based, so we do a lot of work with brands such as Anheuser-Busch, Procter % Gamble, Unilever, Nestle, American Express and Jaguar. So we have lots of companies who we work with but its mostly the Fortune 500 brands who are carrying us.

What kind of videos are Poptent typically producing?

The vast majority of what we’re producing are 30 second commercials that are used primarily online, but there’s also a percentage of them that make it to television. So it’s a very traditional video format that we’re producing. At the same time, the fastest growing portion of our business is in producing videos for brands that need web content, such as how to videos.

For example, a video explaining how to put together a surround sound system. Or someone might want testimonials, and the great thing about crowdsourcing is that we can do those anywhere in the country because we have people all over the country.

What’s in it for the video creators?

Most of the creators are earning some money. We paid out almost $5.7 million dollars to creators for the work they’ve done. Not only have we given out money to people whose work is selected by the brands, but we also give out some other prize awards to keep our creative community engaged.

So even if you don’t get selected by the brands, you still have a chance of getting a couple of hundred bucks from Poptent in recognition of your fine work.

Creators also have an interest in doing this because it gives them a chance to build out their portfolios. If you’re a young, aspiring filmmaker, or even a small boutique shop, and you want to get an ad for Snickers or for Bud Light on your demo reel, this is a great way to do it.

The most successful people in the Poptent network are small boutique agencies. So these agencies might be located in small cities in places that tend to lie outside of the mainstream advertising industry. So doing a few Poptent assignments gives them a chance to build out their reel and have a chance of earning some money.

We’re obviously a disruptive force within the industry and as a result we get our fair share of criticism along the way, but the reality is that brands need so many more pieces of video than they ever did before, for everything from their social media engagement, their websites, microsites, Facebook pages, YouTube pages etc, and you simply can’t be paying $350,000 for every one of those pieces of video. It’s just an unworkable model.

So we’re able to step in, get them what they need, and then let their primary agency take care of their prime time TV spots. We don’t need to be in that area of the business. What we get to do is fill in the gaps and provide them with the video content they need. Interestingly, we also work a lot with agencies right now. We just did a deal with Edelman, a major PR agency. We’ve also done some work with OMD. Ogilvy, Rosetta and Razorfish.

However, we have had one ad for Dannon (see below), feature on TV during the Super Bowl and that was rated in the top 10 ads, which was pretty amazing. We also had some spots appear in the coverage of the European Championships which we did for Brown Forman for their Southern Comfort brand.

Then we also had an ad for Dell appear during some of the college ball games here in the US. So we’ve had a lot of success with our commercials that have featured alongside high profile TV and sporting events, but about 80% of our work is used online.

How much does an ad typically cost?

On average we’re just under $50,000, which will include the commercial and all of the fees. However, if you want to buy a second or third commercial out of the pool of ads submitted, each of those additional ads will only cost you $7500, so you could walk away with three commercials for under $70,000 which is unheard of.

So the economies of working with Poptent really kick in when you’re using three or four ads in different locations. For example, you could have one on YouTube, a different one on your Facebook page, one on your website and then another one shows up on TV. But because they’re all written to the same creative brief, the messages are all identical.

That’s a real benefit to marketers. I worked with McDonald’s for 25 years and our big problem was that one commercial would be perfect for primetime TV, but when you want to run something on, for example, the Nascar telecast, it really doesn’t feel quite as relevant if you run the same spot on that venue, where ideally you would have something with a racing theme. Poptent gives you the option of having different themes for different locations.

Which markets are you currently working in?

We have an office in Sao Paolo in Brazil and that was our first international expansion. We’ve done some work down there for Netflix Latin America and for Scholl beer.

At the moment we’re talking about London and we’re aiming for the first quarter of 2013, which we hope will be our next international expansion. We think there’s a big growth opportunity in Europe and would love to do more work over there. My partner Tony Romeo worked with Unilever in London for about ten years, so it should be a reasonably easy move for us.

What do you think is going to be the long-term impact of crowdsourcing on agencies?

The landscape is changing quickly although I firmly believe the agency model is going to continue, they’re still going to be trusted by brands and they’re always going to be needed for strategy, creative development and media placement. But moving forward brands are going to need so much more video and so many more storytellers, that it seems inevitable that the whole model is going to change.

I think crowdsourcing, or some iteration of crowdsourcing, is really going to take things over and change the game pretty significantly, so it’s an exciting time and it’s going to be fun to see it all evolve. I think the smart agencies are going to embrace crowdsourcing and evolve into a more strategic role over time.

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