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The dark side of cocreation

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During the EMAC2010 Johannes Gebauer (Innsbruck University, Austria) presented an interesting and quite unusual topic. Under the title « the dark side of co-creation » Johannes presented the results of a research carried out on the Spar business case. For those who don’t know Spar it’s a European group of proximity stores under franchising agreements. I thank Johannes who kindly accepted to put his slides at disposal to make them available to my blog’s visitors.

The business case goes like this. Spar was absent from the online community scene and was wishing to legitimate his presence. It was therefore looking for an event-like action that could mobilize an online community and involve customers. The idea which was chosen for this action was to launch an online contest and let customers design shopping bags. At first sight the initiative seems to make sense. And indeed it was; Johannes reported that ca. 5000 proposals were received, some of them graphically very elaborated. The strange thing was that contributions from 100 countries were received although the action was supposed to be local. Strange …

Anyway … things began to go wrong when the committee (made of Spar’s representatives) had to choose the winner. The choice was made without involving the community which didn’t understand the committee’s choice. Reactions were very loud as you will read from Johannes presentation.

My take:

Wasn’t it a little bit naïve from Spar to hope to create an online identity and to legitimate it from scratch in such a short period of time? Shouldn’t have Spar started with smaller actions to build expertise and know-how?

I think there’s one major lesson. When your customers’ involvement is high (and it definitely was the case judging from the time which was spent on elaborating graphical contributions) the ownership for the action tends to go to the customers rather than remain in the firm. This switching process in the ownership can lead to some overreactions because it is also based on emotions. It then becomes counter-productive or at least it doesn’t’ fir with the original intention of the firm. I feel this is what happened to Spar.

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Author: pierre-nicolas

Pierre-Nicolas is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations.

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2 Comments

  1. Hi,

    This is an interesting case and highlights the fact that co-creation efforts need to be managed very carefully. When it comes to product/brand/logo/ design, the processes for consumer involvement need to be thought through completely before the initiative is undertaken. I believe that if the terms and conditions of the contest had been explained at the very start and the juding process was fair and transparent, such extensive consumer backlash less likely. Sure, there will always be those that are unhappy with the choices made. Left unmanaged, such co-creation initiatives can certainly generate much bad WOM, devalue the brand and result in much negative sentiment.

  2. You’re right saying that co-creation efforts need to be managed carefully.
    However, the question remains for me if this case can really be called “co-creation”. Actually, you know very well that there is not really a definition for co-creation. At least there’s one VERY positive aspect in the Spar case; customers were emotionnaly engaged and this is proved by their reactions.

    Pierre-Nicolas

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