Genius TV Commercials at 1/100th the Price

In this blog I'm going to talk about how Tongal has revolutionized the world of video-content creation, and how it's been upending the closed world of advertising and Hollywood entertainment by opening up the creative process to the crowd.

I live in L.A., where every coffee shop is filled with scriptwriters, producers and directors. Mix that with the plummeting cost of 1080p high-definition cameras and the awesome software available on every Mac and you have the making of a video production revolution.

No one has done a better job of exploiting this for your benefit than Tongal. Tongal can help you create TV-quality video commercials 10 times cheaper, 10 times faster with 10 times the number of content options than by standard means. I caught up with James DeJulio, Co-Founder & President of Tongal, in Los Angeles at the X PRIZE headquarters.

Tongal, founded in 2008, helped spur the creation of groundbreaking video content by crowdsourcing creativity through contests. Tongal has 30,000 members worldwide, and will likely see a million within the next five years. In this interview, DeJulio briefed me on the company's origin and how it works.

DeJulio began his career in investment banking, but quickly realized that finance was not the kind of world he wanted to be in. So he tried Hollywood, "the traditional content development business," as he called it. Like a lot of gifted and highly qualified people in Hollywood, DeJulio started at the bottom. "I couldn't believe how hard it was to get a job that paid so little," he recalled. DeJulio eventually got a position in production at Paramount but grew as disappointed as he had been in the world of finance. "I was frustrated by how many good ideas never saw the light of day, and how there was a small list of people who tightly controlled all the creative work," he said. "It upset me how many talented people there were who want to do this work but couldn't break into the system."

DeJulio's experienced this Hollywood mentality firsthand when his boss, having received a pre-publication copy of Dan Brown's mega-best-seller "The Da Vinci Code," asked DeJulio to read it. He read it, thought it was a real page-turner and gave it to his boss, saying, "This is really exciting. The studio should make this film." At that point the studio passed it off to yet another person to read whose coverage read: "This doesn't have any real entertainment value." "That summer I was walking around airports and everybody had a copy of the book under their arm," said DeJulio. "I was getting really frustrated with where we were and how hard it was to get good ideas out there and how every production was based around a financial model."

He thought about how to tackle this challenge, knowing there had to be a better way to develop content. Eventually, DeJulio befriended Jack Hughes, founder of the crowd-sourcing software-solutions company TopCoder (more on TopCoder in a future blog), who helped him realize that the same sort of approach that TopCoder employs in helping companies with their software needs would work for creativity: unleashing the imagination and genius of the crowd (in fact, DeJulio used TopCoder to help build the first iteration of the Tongal website).

"I started to think about how we could turn Hollywood on its head and attack the video content creation problem in a very different way, an incentive-based, self-selected way," said DeJulio. "There are so many people who really want to do this work. It's our mission to unlock the world's creativity and make it accessible. That's very clear. So, we're doing that in a process that we call social-content development. Right now, that process is based largely around connecting global businesses with global creativity. At Tongal our creative workforce consists of 30,000 people all over the globe who are opting in to do this work."

For now, Tongal focuses on short-form content -- videos, commercials and such -- but concentrates on working with name-brand products.

So far Tongal has run about 150 projects. The average project runs from six to 10 weeks (but can be much shorter). Tongal's customers are typically the kind of companies that might normally hire a Madison Avenue advertising firm to create a TV commercial or a webisode for one of its branded products -- a short-form video running between 15 seconds to 2½ minutes. How does it work? To initiate the creation of a commercial the company puts up a purse -- anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000 that will be awarded in phases of a competition.

On the other side of the equation are the creative users of Tongal. What DeJulio calls "Garage Studios" -- a couple of guys with a 1080 HD camera and a Mac. For these creative users the service is free -- all they do is log on, browse through the projects and decide what they want to work on.

Tongal breaks down every project into three phases of a competition: (a) ideation, (b) production and (c) distribution. The site allows creative users with different specialties and talents such as writing, directing, animating, acting and social media promotion to focus on what they do best.

In the first competition, the "ideation phase," a client (say a large commercial brand) creates a brief describing its objective. For example, "we want a Super Bowl advertisement to promote product X." A small percent (say 10 -- 20%) of the total purse is set aside for this initial competition. Tongal members read the brief and submit their best ideas on what they think the commercial should look like. They are restricted to only 500 characters (about three tweets). The customer looks at the submissions and picks a small number of ideas they like, for example the top five, and pays a small portion of the purse to those five winners. Participants can track each other's progress on leaderboards, and there's a record on the site of each individual's winnings: an online résumé of creativity.

In the second phase of the competition, the production phase, any Garage Studio can choose one or more of the five winning concepts and submit a video (e.g., a commercial) into the second phase of the competition.

To make this more concrete, I asked DeJulio for one of his favorite winning video examples. That's when he told me about a $10,000 competition they hosted for ShureTech Brands, the makers of DuckTape. SureTech wanted a 30- to 90-second video to revitalize the DuckTape public image. After launching the "ideation phase" of the process, "SureTech received over 500 video concepts (each about 500 words in length), then used our site to down select and pick the five they want to see brought to life," says DeJulio. "About $2,000 of the $10K purse was split among the winners of this phase. This makes it possible that a person can earn money by winning different phases of the contest, individually or in teams."

Ultimately this second phase of the ShureTech competition drove the creation of 60 different completed videos. "My favorite winning video, called Duck Tron, used various colored roles of duck tape to replicate the Light-Cycle race from the movie 'Tron.' It was so good it became a viral Internet sensation. The Internet just took hold of this thing and it completely disseminated itself across all kinds of channels," DeJulio said. In summary, this $10,000 prize generated some 500 usable video concepts, over 60 completed videos created by people working in their garage studios, and ultimately led to millions of free video impressions for ShureTech. Everything was done outside of the standard operating procedure of an advertising agency and a client. "This was open to the crowd, and the results were far better, and far more cost effective," said DeJulio, "than would have been possible using the old way."

In my next blog, I'm going to explore how Tongal saves companies money, and DeJulio's five steps to keep in mind when considering working with Tongal.

NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.

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