Campbell's Hack The Kitchen Shows Anyone Can Have An Innovative Idea, And Anyone Can Screw It Up

from the ideas-and-execution dept

We’re just about to start experimenting with a variety of new advertising setups here at Techdirt, which means we’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming about opportunities for creative, interesting campaigns in keeping with our philosophy that good advertising is good content. One thing we’ve been noticing over and over is that the most innovative online marketing pushes don’t just come from the usual suspects (tech companies and online services) but also from unexpected places—like a century-old soup company.

Campbell’s is running a very cool campaign called Hack The Kitchen, for which they’ve developed a full-fledged recipe searching API that pulls data from their Campbell’s Kitchen repository.

This is your opportunity to revolutionize dinners everywhere: Develop a breakout idea based on the Campbell’s Kitchen API that helps people decide: what’s for dinner tonight?

After seeing all the ideas, we’ll choose up to thirty semi-finalists and give them our API for three weeks to bring their ideas to life.

Up to ten finalists will then be invited to present their projects at Google’s HQ in NYC to compete for the championship and launch their ideas into the world.

It’s a fantastic concept, and the API looks genuinely useful. Not only is the contest itself a great marketing opportunity, it’s setting Campbell’s up for ongoing exposure through the apps that are developed.

But, having said how cool this is from a marketing perspective, it’s time for the disclaimer—and it’s a big one. The moment you get past the initial idea and into the details, things really start to fall apart from an innovation perspective. Firstly, as you probably noticed, the API is not being opened up to the public—only to the contest semi-finalists. That severely limits the amount of innovation that will happen, and the amount of exposure the company will get as a result—it also limits the number of developers that will even want to participate. Unfortunately, Campbell’s reason for this is clear: they intend to take total ownership of anything that comes out of this campaign.

In fact, they are so concerned about this that the fine print states the cash prizes ($25,000 plus a development contract for the winner, $10,000 to runners up) are not prizes at all—they are a fee for your work:

*Paid by Cambell for ownership of all ideas, concepts, code and intellectual property.

Setting aside the fact that you cannot own an “idea”, this just stinks. On the one hand, it’s not uncommon for creative contests to take ownership of submissions (though that’s hardly universal), but it is the complete antithesis of what appears to be the spirit of this campaign: hacking and innovation. This is actually a big problem with corporate-run hackathons and coding contests, which frequently demand total ownership at the end. No smart developer with a truly great app idea would give it away for $25,000 for the copyright plus another $25,000 to build it—a popular app with a long tail can be worth way, way more than that.

There’s nothing wrong with Campbell’s trying to get an official app or two out of this—but when you look closely, the people who are submitting these ideas don’t seem to be getting much in return. They want everyone to submit their best ideas for free, then they want 30 people to actually build those ideas—then Campbell’s will plunk down $10k to take total ownership of any that “could be developed by Campbell in the future” (thus stopping all those runners-up from moving forward with their apps independently, and presumably cutting off their API access) and toss $50k to one developer to make their app market-ready. The winner gets an okay deal, while the runners-up pretty much get screwed.

So, for the next time Campbell’s or another company tries a genuinely cool and innovative idea like this, I suggest a few tweaks to make the execution less distasteful. Firstly, open the API up to everyone, and leave it open; have sensible limitations like any public API, but let people build what they want. Secondly, give away modest but genuine prizes with no strings, while offering a bounty for ideas that you want to own without making that rights transfer a requirement of the contest. Thirdly, promote the submitted apps in a public gallery, and encourage all developers to move forward with building, deploying and marketing their apps—you’ll get a hell of a lot more exposure, and you might even find your API becoming the de facto standard for such development.

In the mean time, to anyone eyeing the contest while an idea ferments in their brain, I suggest letting the Friday deadline for submissions lapse, and looking into some of the free and open recipe APIs to power your app.

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Companies: campbell's

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Comments on “Campbell's Hack The Kitchen Shows Anyone Can Have An Innovative Idea, And Anyone Can Screw It Up”

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Spaceman Spiff says:


Let’s see, as a software consultant (with 30 years experience), I get paid $200 USD per hour to design and write software for clients. As a full-time employee, I get paid almost 1/2 of that. Assume I spend 100 hours to build an awesome tool for them. That comes to $20,000 USD, twice what they are offering for ALL of their submissions! Sorry Campbell, but I don’t think I will enter your campaign!

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Re: Cost$

SS, they are not looking to hire an experienced and qualified person they are looking to get software produced for them by some inspired young coder that lives and breathes code because they enjoy it.

And then reward them in a way they have not been rewarded before.

If all you have ever gotten from your coding is a wow cool then $10-$25K is pretty large.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cost$

Yes, that’s all true, but it doesn’t take away from the main point: these terms will cause most of the best & brightest to take a pass.

This may be an intentional decision on their part. The software industry has a long and sad history of taking young, energetic, naive developers and screwing them while they work 16 hour days. It’s pure scumbag behavior, but there it is.

squall_seawave (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Cost$

this is accurate i have heard from one of my friends he went to job hunt and landed a small job optimizing software apparently the hours were 8 hours a day and weekends off
well the problem began later when they began to add extra unpayed time 9 hours later 10 hours and then consuming saturdays and next were talking about getting sundays too when he began to made his calculations 12 hours everyday and 8 saturdays for 260 usd a month he decided to leave his job and to look for greener pastures so i see how those $25K can be tempting
still not enought carrot for me thought

jsl4980 (profile) says:

Is it much different than the Huffington Post?

I don’t see how this is very different than the Huffington Post where writers write for free to get exposure. I’m sure there are plenty of unemployed/underemployed programmers out there who would love an opportunity like this. They can work on a fun project that will look good on a resume and they might even get paid for their efforts.

The deal is kinda bad for the programmers but it’s still an opportunity if you play it right.

bob (profile) says:

campbell owns the pot

it actually reminds me of the govt spending money to pick winners and losers, except they are often wrong.
letting it all be open, one of those people bumped from the first round might have the idea that the populace actually prefers, but campbell, thinking they know better, will choose the one that THEY like, not the one the public necessarily likes.
don’t let a room full of people decide, put it into the wilds of the internet and let the best of breed, or, since people have different preferences, the several best of breeds that best serve their particular type of consumer, thrive.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

speaking of ads...

while i use adblock/noscript/ghostscript etc online, they don’t have an app for that on the tee vee (actually, seriously considering talking SWMBO into getting a dish hopper/slingbox thingie, which *does* allow skipping ads), so we are ‘forced’ to watch ads on the teevee…

*of course* 90-99% of ads are crap (sturgeon’s law, after all), the ONE organization which CONSISTENTLY puts out entertaining/funny commercials, is ESPN…

while you might have to be a medium sports fan to appreciate a lot of the inside jokes and sports celebrities making fun of themselves, they consistently run self-deprecating, mocking commercials which -from my perspective- endears me to them as a whole…

(*hate* that they are now owned by dizzywhirled, and also VERY disappointed in their ‘droid app:
1. does NOT tell everyone in the description that you have to be subscribed to only a handful of cable providers in order to use it (i get 10 million espn channels through the satellite, but *that* is not enough to qualify!)

2. not only that, but they have diluted their brand/goodwill by having a two-tiered system: those who have the handful of approved tee vee/cable providers are good to go; and those who get *some* services based on a partner ISP (which mine is)…
(so, i *can* get it online on ESPN3 or WatchESPN or whatever the fuck they are calling it this week; but i can’t get it on my ‘droid!)
not only that, but half the time watching online, the signal is degraded so much it is not worth watching…
(of course, the paranoid in me wonders if that is not purposefully done to destroy the online viewing experience and force us back into the lockeddown teevee…)

dog almighty, it will be a happy day when Big Media dies…

art guerrilla
aka ann archy

Andrew (profile) says:

Disappointing twitter comment from Campbell's

I was extremely disappointed and put off by Campell’s response to a blogger making point similar to this on twitter.

In brief – Jamie Smyth suggested that the competition was just Campbell Soup ‘inviting’ people to do their work for them and (mostly) not paying for it.

Campells head of social responded by rather snidely threatening, “noted. I’ll assume we shouldn’t send you or your organization any RFPs in the future. Thanks.”

Retaliating in that manner suggests to me that the whole exercise is not in any way a genuine engagement with the wider programming community – just another large corporate attempting to exploit “social media” and blindly punishing criticism instead of responding to it.

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