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November 27, 2006

Five Questions For James Sherrett, AdHack

James Sherrett is the man behind AdHack, a new "Do It Yourself Advertising Community”.  Hailing originally from Winnipeg, he moved to Vancouver in 1998, and began working in large companies, at the intersection point between technology, culture, creativity, and communications. In addition to creating AdHack, James is a published author, an amateur photographer, and runs his own consulting firm; Work Industries.

One Degree: You describe Adhack as a “Do It Yourself Advertising Community”.  What the heck does that mean?

First of all, ‘do-it-yourself.’ To me, do-it-yourself means:

  • The masses (all of us) have seized the tools required to make professional ads
  • We’re voicing our opinions in public spaces: blogs, review sites, word of mouth
  • We’re connecting with each other in innovative ways
  • We’re looking at existing ads and thinking, “I can do better than that.”

AdHack is the manifestation of our collective conversations about the things we buy. What does that mean? Here’s a real-world scenario. My brother Scott and I do triathlons together. We’re beginners but we’re keen. He’s just earned his annual bonus at work and wants to buy a bike. He asks me about my bike, a Trek 1200. I tell him it rocks my socks: I love riding it, it was the right price for me, I can upgrade the components when I want, it’s light and sturdy and I feel like I can fly when I’m on it.

That quick conversation with me about the bike is the way my brother and I, and most people, make many of our purchase decisions. We ask people we know, people we trust about their experiences. It’s also how lots of us love to share our experiences. By adding my story to AdHack I can help other people who are also looking for a bike.

Enter the ‘advertising community’ part of AdHack. I love the bike so much that I add my story of the Trek 1200 to AdHack – as a video, a written note, photos, audio. It doesn’t matter, AdHack accepts all media. My story is credible, my other opinions and offerings to the site make me a trusted source, other members of the AdHack community back up my claims regarding the bike, and my story gains a certain popularity. AdHack can then approach Trek and show them the community and excitement around this particular bike, and basically sell the ad or ad concepts to Trek. AdHack splits that payment with the community member(s) who contributed the ad.

Or, my story of buying a Trek 1200 could have been scathing. The gears stick, the frame rivets are starting to rust and I feel nervous descending hills because the bike feels like it’s coming apart at the seams. I tell that story on AdHack and it resonates, building a momentum, because it’s the real deal. AdHack takes that feedback to Trek and helps them drive product innovation from it, delivering the real-world feedback on their product. All kinds of other opportunities can then present themselves. Companies can commission ads from the AdHack community. Companies can test ads in the AdHack community. We can make t-shirts. The possibilities become pretty endless as long as keep it authentic for the community.

One Degree: What’s wrong with the way we make ads now?

There are plenty of folks doing great thinking and writing about what’s wrong with the way we make ads now (Russell Davies, Umair Haque, Scott Karp, the folks at Leo Burnett Toronto, Joseph Jaffe) so I’ll defer to their expertise on that question. My focus with AdHack is on how to get better ads – ads that mean something to the people who make them and ads that mean something to the people who watch / read / see / listen to them. Today almost every single ad I see has no value to me. I don’t know the person or people who made it. I don’t trust the message and I frankly don’t care. I think that AdHack can change that and invert the current structure so that we get ads that mean something.

One Degree: Do you think there are limitations to what crowdsourcing can be used for?

Today, definitely. The current flavour of crowdsourcing is pretty basic in how it’s implemented and in the way it’s conceived. And the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about is control and ownership. The instances of crowdsourcing I’ve seen are mostly about getting input without giving up control or ownership. So today’s type of crowdsourcing isn’t too interesting to me except in limited ways.

I’m interested in more sophisticated means of participation that put control and ownership in play and tap into the social behaviour of people. Any creative endeavour is a mix of collaboration, imitation and origination. How do we break down the barriers between people to foster the best creative environment? That’s what I think AdHack can do.

One Degree: Where are you at with the concept?

I’ve written on the AdHack blog that AdHack is in loud stealth mode, which is the best way to describe our idea so far. We’ve built a starter site at AdHack.com and I’m blogging irregularly. Under the covers we’re working pretty hard developing a technical platform to meet the promise we see in the idea. A buzzworthy site will be rolling out in the coming few weeks to a select cadre of inquiring minds and solicited smart folks. We’re pretty gentle with the rollout so far because if the idea’s going to work it has to work for the community. So we’re working hard to get the right site for the right folks to set the tone. So stay tuned!

If you want to join up early as a member of the select cadre, send me an email and I’ll hook you up. First one’s free – james[at]adhack[dot]com.

One Degree: You’ve been blogging in advance of getting Adhack going. How has this helped you with the launch?

Blogging has gotten the word out. More importantly, I think, it’s helped us articulate our ideas and point to examples. So we’ve used the blog mostly as an outboard brain – a place to think in public about AdHack. We also served a bunch of free beer at BarCamp Vancouver, and that seemed to get people excited. If anyone’s looking for a big marketing win, here’s a cutting edge tip: serve free beer.

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