Creative Allies: Disrupting the Crowd, Optimizing Digital

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Creative Allies itself was born between 1980 and 1995, since the company is so immersed in the millennial experience. Creative Allies is an emerging platform that’s disrupting digital in the service of brands looking to crack and retain the millennial buying market in a big way.

Founded in 2009, Creative Allies is on the rise under the leadership of digital entrepreneur Donald Thompson. The company and its brand partners ranging from Dr. Dre to Ben & Jerry’s, is locked in on the largest market for entertainment and consumer products, the millennial generation that has emerged as the largest population bloc in the country and with massive spending power to go along with its numbers.

While reaching a particular demographic or generation is not a new challenge to the marketing world, the playing field has changed in the digital age. Digital is central to the lives of millennials, as the first generation to grow up in a world dominated by screens not necessarily related to television—desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. While Generation X left the Pac-Man and their Atari consoles at home and hit the playing fields, the millennials and their Gen Z counterparts are enjoying Pokemon Go, a video game played on mobile phones that integrates outdoor surroundings.

The advent of digital has brought two major pain points to bear on companies trying to reach their audience, according to Thompson. “Digital is demanding,” says Thompson, an industry veteran who has built multiple digital agencies with niche approaches to the marketplace, “Especially from two angles: speed and volume. The world of the internet, apps, and social is one that changes not only every day, but every minute. Along with that near-constant change in the amount of information people are processing, comes a natural demand for volume—people don’t want to see the same images over and over again. Making this dynamic even more challenging is the demand for more graphic representation of ideas.”

Central to the millennial generation, digital has created an arms race of sorts, as brands ramp up launches and campaigns. Campaigns no longer rely on a single image or concept to reach an audience, and their marketing departments and agencies may not have the human or financial resources to meet the challenge. Thompson and the Creative Allies team have positioned the company not as a competitive force in digital, but rather a complementary, capacity-building resource.

“Our place in the digital equation allows our corporate and agency partners to focus on the bigger picture,” said Thompson. “Through thousands of designers and fans, as well as our team of project curators, we’re literally ready to mobilize in the service of brands and agencies at a moment’s notice. A Creative Allies relationship empowers our partners to focus on the big questions they need to ask, and how to shape campaigns, leaving the execution to us.”

Creative Allies runs a nimble operation mindfully designed to cater to the needs of four unique stakeholder groups, including a host of brands and agencies, as well as legions of creative entrepreneurs and fans. According to Thompson, the model is disrupting the crowdsourcing space and optimizing digital marketing strategies by delivering a return on each group’s investment in Creative Allies.

“As we build Creative Allies,” said Thompson, “we have to view it as a gathering place—an engagement point—and think about why people want to show up and keep coming back.” For brands, it’s a place filled with opportunities for creative development and engagement with their core consumers and fans. For agencies, Creative Allies represents an army of creative talent, ready to ramp up at a moment’s notice in the service of a launch or campaign.

The model gets especially disruptive for creatives, says Thompson: “The knock on crowdsourcing in creative has been this notion of taking advantage of the talent, getting work done for free or on the cheap. We’ve been very careful to build an experience that places talent at the center, with multiple ways for designers to build their businesses.” Among the benefits for creative entrepreneurs are public portfolio-building, working on dream projects for entertainment properties in film, television, and music, as well as in the service of consumer brands.

But there’s also real money changing hands at Creative Allies. “Our client companies are paying hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars to contest winners, often multiple entrants at a time,” said Thompson. “In addition, we provide an e-commerce platform for designers to sell their work, and we are constantly sourcing work that they’re interested in doing. Also, we’ve already seen a dynamic with even our largest brands that they don’t view this as a ‘one-and-done.’ The winner of our recent Arizona Iced Tea contest has earned follow-on work with the company, which obviously thrills us from an economic development perspective.”

Also central to the Creative Allies dynamic are the fans. The model gives companies and their agencies opportunities to push forward creative outputs with thousands of fans giving campaign elements their stamp of approval before brands head to the larger marketplace. “The contest element truly gives brands the opportunity to leverage both the wisdom of the crowd and the competition of ideas,” said Thompson. “Campaigns routinely generate dozens and dozens of ideas that are quantifiably loved by millennial fans worldwide, and the crowd also performs as an instant, massive focus group that both validates and rejects concepts for their authenticity and imagination.”

Thompson sees a bright future for the platform, as the country continues to get younger and with more diverse racial and ethnic groups gaining prominence and buying power. As the millennial generation ages, and current brands follow them, more conventional consumer offerings come along for the ride. His team is ready for the challenge, too. “Our secret ingredients are the people behind the curtain—our curation team. They stand astride both worlds, as they are marketing executives themselves, able to be the eyes and ears of the client as contests develop, and they are authentically both elite creatives and fans as well. Our team will grow as our fan base, creative base, and client base grows, and we will ensure that our team reflects each stakeholder group in the future.”