Harnessing the creative potential of consumers: money,
participation, and creativity in idea crowdsourcing
Oguz Ali Acar
Published online: 26 April 2018
#The Author(s) 2018
Abstract Given the growing importance of innovation and consumer engagement,
many firms are strongly interested in finding ways to encourage their consumers to
generate creative new product ideas for them in their crowdsourcing initiatives. To that
end, managers often use monetary rewards—one of the most commonly used mana-
gerial tools to stimulate desired behaviors. A critical question in this respect is whether
the use of monetary rewards is effective in stimulating creativity and, if so, how large
those rewards should be. This study aims to answer these questions. The results of an
experiment suggest that introducing monetary rewards does not contribute to the
number of new product ideas generated by a single consumer or the novelty of his/
her ideas, and when the reward is relatively small, it can even be harmful. Monetary
rewards, however, are effective in encouraging widespread participation in
crowdsourcing initiatives and improving the appropriateness of the new product ideas.
As a whole, these findings take us a step further toward better understanding the
motivational mechanisms of consumer creativity in new product ideation.
Keywords Reward .Motivation .Ideation .Consumer creativity .Crowdsourcing .User
A growing number of firms are using crowdsourcing to involve consumers in their new
product ideation efforts (Bayus 2013; Huang et al. 2014). Such practices not only hold
great potential for tapping into consumer creativity but also help firms to build stronger
Mark Lett (2018) 29:177–188
*Oguz Ali Acar
Cass Business School, City, University of London, 106 Bunhill Row, London EC1Y 8TZ, UK
connections with their customers (Acar and Puntoni 2016;Bayus2013; Fuchs et al.
2010; Poetz and Schreier 2012; Stephen et al. 2016).
Leveraging these benefits of
crowdsourcing depends of course on being able to motivate consumers to take part in
crowdsourcing initiatives. To that end, some firms offer extremely generous rewards for
creative ideas. For example, Frito-Lay organizes BDo Us A Flavor^ideation contests
where $1 million is offered for the best new flavor suggestion for potato chips. Other
firms, however, offer only modest rewards for comparable tasks—e.g., on the eYeka
crowdsourcing platform, Knorr offered 2500 Euros for a revolutionary idea for a hot
savory snack. Other firms such as Starbucks and Dell provide no monetary rewards at
all for creative ideas that are submitted to their online communities (i.e., MyStarbucks
Idea and Dell IdeaStorm).
As the examples above clearly indicate, managerial practices in terms of rewarding
consumer creativity in ideation activities are far from uniform. In addition, research on
the relationship between rewards and creativity has not provided a clear answer
regarding the effectiveness of providing monetary rewards for creative tasks. As such,
it remains unclear whether firms should offer monetary rewards in their crowdsourcing
initiatives and, if so, how sizable those rewards should be. Drawing on an experiment
in which participants generated new product ideas in return for real prizes, this paper
aims to answer these questions and explores whether money can buy participation and
creativity in crowdsourcing platforms. The results suggest that monetary rewards
(compared to no monetary rewards at all) can be effective in (1) stimulating greater
participation in crowdsourcing initiatives and (2) motivating consumers to create more
useful ideas, provided the rewards are large enough. In terms of stimulating novelty and
motivating consumers to generate multiple ideas, however, even sizable rewards
appeared to have no effect, and smaller rewards could even be detrimental.
2 Related literature
2.1 Monetary rewards and creativity
Psychology research on the relationship between rewards and creativity divides broadly
into mainly into two opposing camps and provides conflicting recommendations (see
Byron and Khazanchi 2012 for a meta-analysis). While some scholars, often drawing
on self-determination theory, have postulated that rewards are detrimental to creativity
(Amabile 1996; Hennessey and Amabile 2010), others have argued that rewards in fact
enhance creativity (Eisenberger and Armeli 1997;EisenbergerandAselage2009). In
one of the few studies focusing specifically on creativity in the new product ideation
context, Burroughs et al. (2011) found that the positive effects of monetary rewards on
creativity were dependent on creativity training being provided in conjunction with the
reward. It is worth noting that earlier experimental studies on the link between rewards
and creativity focused almost exclusively on comparing the effects of offering or not
offering a reward (i.e., on the presence of a reward). Very few of the experiments which
compared the effects of different sizes of reward (Eisenberger and Armeli 1997;
Eisenberger and Selbst 1994) also involved creativity training before tasks were
Crowdsourcing may also have other benefits such as helping firms gain publicity.
178 Mark Lett (2018) 29:177–188
undertaken. Given that creativity training has already been found to moderate the
relationship between rewards and creativity (Burroughs et al. 2011), it was not possible
in these studies to determine which of the effects may have been particular to reward
size and how reward size may have influenced creativity when no training was
2.2 Monetary rewards in crowdsourcing
This line of research has focused mainly on identifying the optimal prize structure for
incentivizing contest participants to do their best in crowdsourcing contests. More
specifically, scholars have examined whether a fixed sum should be provided to a
single winner (a winner-takes-all award structure) or whether the prize money should
be distributed among various participants (i.e., a multiple-prize award structure) (e.g.,
Ales et al. 2017; Terwiesch and Xu 2008). Terwiesch and Xu (2008) found, for
example, that for ideation projects (the type which we focus on in this paper), a
winner-takes-all structure is the best strategy. Ales et al. (2017), however, showed that
multiple prizes may work better than winner-takes-all prizes in certain circumstances—
as, for example, when the crowd perceives that popularity with consumers is important
in assessing ideas (which is often the case, as most crowdsourcing initiatives allow and
indeed encourage other consumers to vote on the ideas put forward—e.g., Lego Ideas,
BDo Us A Flavor^contest). As a whole, although this research extended our under-
standing of how prize money should be distributed among winners in crowdsourcing
contests, it did not answer the question as to what role the presence and size of
monetary rewards play in driving the generation of creative ideas.
2.3 Monetary rewards for noncreative tasks
In the context of noncreative tasks, there is extensive evidence from the economics
literature to suggest that the size of monetary reward enhances people’seffortand
performance in the activity for which the reward is being given (e.g., Lazear 2000;
Prendergast 1999). However, this view has been challenged recently (Gneezy and
Rustichini 2000; Heyman and Ariely 2004). In their seminal paper, Gneezy and
Rustichini (2000) provide an account of how rewards can have different effects,
depending on their size. That is, unless it is sufficiently generous, a monetary reward
might lead to a poorer performance than no reward at all. It is, however, not clear
whether this can be extrapolated directly to creative tasks. This is because motivating
individuals to be creative may be different from motivating them for routine perfor-
mance, due to the particular cognitive and behavioral processes that underlie creativity:
creative tasks are more dependent on intrinsic motivation, more risky, and more
cognitively demanding (Byron and Khazanchi 2012).
3 New product ideation experiment
I recruited 302 adults (142 female) from an online crowdsourcing platform for human
intelligence tasks (HITs), Amazon Mechanical Turk, in exchange for a small payment.
The recruitment was for an unrelated filler task—i.e., completing a survey about their
Mark Lett (2018) 29:177–188 179
thoughts and beliefs. Once the participants had answered the questions in the filler task,
they received a note indicating clearly that the task was over and that they would
receive their payment. At the end of the note, they were told that there was an idea
generation contest (separate from the task they had just completed) and that, if they
wanted to, they could also participate in that.
Participants saw an invitation to take part in an idea generation contest to come up
with a new flavor idea for a potato chip. This choice was informed by actual contests
such as BDo Us a Flavor^contest. Participants were randomly assigned to receive one
of three versions of the invitation, designed to manipulate the rewards. All the
information was identical, except that in the low and high reward conditions, partici-
pants were given additional information specifying the amount they could potentially
win. No such information was provided to those in the no reward condition. The main
part of the invitation read as follows:
Do you have a great flavor idea for potato chips? Share it to join us in our
endeavor to create Bthe best^potato chips in the world. We expect to receive
about 100 ideas and will ask a panel of consumers to select the top 3 most
creative flavors. We will let you know if you are the creator of one of the
As noted, in the low and high reward conditions, participants also received
details of the prizes (i.e., BHere are the prizes for winners…^). Specifically, those
in the low reward category were informed that there was total prize money of $40,
and that they stood a chance of winning either $25 (first prize), $10 (second prize),
or $5 (third prize). Those in the high reward category were told that the total sum
available was $400, and that they might win either $250 (first prize), $100 (second
prize), or $50 (third prize). The decision to offer multiple rewards, rather than a
single prize for the overall winner, was prompted by previous marketing research on
the link between rewards and creativity in new product ideation (Burroughs et al.
2011) and by actual crowdsourcing practice (e.g., BDo Us A Flavor^contest and
contests on the eYeka and Tongal platforms, among others). The amounts offered
were determined based on a pretest with 42 participants (26 female) recruited from
the same population as our study participants. In the pretest, participants were asked
to rate different prizes (presented in a random order) on a seven-point scale (1 =
very low, 4 = about right, 7 = very high). The prize structure for the high reward was
perceived to be about right (M= 4.07, SD = 1.80; not significantly different from
the mid-point, p> .25), and the structure for low reward condition was perceived to
be low (M= 2.43, SD = 1.60; significantly lower than the mid-point, p< .001).
Importantly, the invitation included information about the expected number of
contestants (i.e., B…we expect to receive about 100 ideas^), because participants
might expect more competition in the high reward condition and this might influ-
ence how they rated their chances of winning.
After they had been given this information, participants were asked whether they
wanted to take part. A total of 145 participants (79 female) decided to take part, but
only 141 of them (77 female) actually submitted at least one idea. Those who chose to
participate were given more details about the idea generation task and the rules of the
contest (i.e., the evaluation criteria and submission requirements) which were adapted
180 Mark Lett (2018) 29:177–188
from a real crowdsourcing contest (i.e., BDo Us A Flavor^). All the participants were
given the following information:
Thank you for agreeing to share your creative idea(s) with us. Please share your
new flavor idea for a potato chip below. Please make sure your idea consists of
(1) flavor name, (2) ingredients and (3) a brief description (why you think this
makes a great flavor). A panel of consumer judges will evaluate every new flavor
idea based on:
&its potential for a delicious flavor for potato chips
&originality of the flavor compared to other flavors in the market.
The top three ideas that have the highest cumulative score in these two criteria
will be selected as winners. Feel free to enter as many ideas as you wish.
As described in the previous section, participants were first given information about the
contest and then asked whether they would like to participate. The answer to this
question was coded as 0 if a respondent chose not to participate and 1 if he or she chose
to participate. I conducted a logistic regression analysis to assess the effect of different
monetary reward conditions on participants’likelihood of taking part in the idea
generation contest. I used the high reward condition as the baseline condition and used
dummy variables to represent the low reward and no reward conditions. The high, low,
and no reward conditions had 101, 101, and 100 participants respectively. A test of the
full model against the intercept-only model was significant, suggesting that the reward
conditions affected consumers’likelihood of participating (χ
(2) = 14.14; p=.001).As
depicted also in Fig. 1, participants in the high reward condition were more likely to
take part in the contest than those in the no reward (61 vs. 36%; B=−1.04; odds
ratio = .35; p< .001) and low reward condition (61 vs. 43%; B=−.76; odds ratio = .46;
p= .008). A separate logistic regression analysis, in which the no reward condition was
used as the baseline, showed that the likelihood of participating in the contest was not
significantly different in the low reward and no reward conditions (B=.28;oddsratio=
1.32; p> .25). These results suggest that monetary rewards can be used to attract more
people to participate in a crowdsourcing contest as long as the reward is sufficiently
4.2 Number of ideas generated
In the task, participants were free to generate as many ideas as they liked, and the
number of unique ideas submitted by each participant was coded. The number of ideas
(also sometimes referred to as fluency) is often considered to be indicative of creativity
Mark Lett (2018) 29:177–188 181
(Guilford 1967) and has been used extensively in the prior literature (e.g., Mehta et al.
2012; Toubia 2006). The no reward, low reward, and high reward conditions had 36,
43, and 62 participants respectively. To account for non-normality, I conducted a
nonparametric Kruskal–Wallis test for three independent samples. The results showed
a statistically significant difference in number of ideas generated across different reward
(2) = 7.29, p= .026). Participants in the low reward condition generated
significantly fewer ideas per person (M= 1.02, SD = .15) than those in either the no
reward (M=1.39, SD=.90; Z
=2.78, p= .005) or high reward (M=1.32,
SD = .83; Z
= 2.30, p= .021). No significant difference was observed
between the no reward and high reward conditions (p>.25) (Fig.2).
4.3 Novelty and appropriateness of ideas
Creative ideas are considered to have two main components—novelty (i.e., originality,
uniqueness) and appropriateness (i.e., usefulness, effectiveness) (Hennessey and
Amabile 2010). In line with recent marketing research (e.g., Mehta and Zhu 2016;
Fig. 1 Effect of monetary rewards on participation
Fig. 2 Effect of monetary rewards on number of ideas
182 Mark Lett (2018) 29:177–188
Moreau and Dahl 2005), I used separate ratings by independent judges to measure these
two dimensions (instead of having a single score for creativity). In particular, I recruited
five judges from the same population as our study participants to assess the novelty and
appropriateness of each idea. The judges were given no information about the identity
of the participants or the other judges, nor were they told about the conditions of the
experiment. The only information that I provided to the judges was a spreadsheet of the
participants’ideas (in random order) and details of the experimental task and evaluation
criteria. Judges were asked to rate each idea in terms of its novelty and its appropri-
ateness, using a scale developed by Moreau and Dahl (2005). For novelty, the three
items in the measure were originality, innovativeness, and creativity, and for appropri-
ateness, the items were practicality, likely effectiveness, and usefulness; all items were
scored using a seven-point scale (1 = not at all, 7 = very) (see Table 1for a list of
example ideas). To create a novelty and appropriateness index for each participant, I
followed the procedures outlined by Mehta and Zhu (2016,2009). I averaged each of
the five judges’ratings on three items for novelty/appropriateness to obtain five
novelty/appropriateness scores for each idea. These scores were then averaged to obtain
an overall score for both novelty and appropriateness (α= .79 and α= .69 respectively).
When a participant submitted multiple ideas, an average score for novelty and appro-
priateness was calculated for that participant by summing up novelty/appropriateness
score for each of the ideas and dividing it by the total number of ideas he or she had
AKruskal–Wallis test for three independent samples returned a significant main
effect of monetary rewards on the novelty and appropriateness of the ideas generated
(2) = 9.02, p=.011 and χ
(2) = 12.75, p= .002 respectively). Compared to those
generated in the low reward condition (M= 4.78, SD = 1.36), the ideas generated by the
participants in the high reward condition (M= 5.35, SD = 1.07; Z
p= .029) and no reward condition (M=5.54, SD=1.09;Z
were judged to be significantly more novel. The differences in novelty judgments
between the high reward and no reward conditions were not significant (p> .25). The
Tab l e 1 Selected ideas from the experiment
Some of the winning (i.e., most creative) ideas
Pad Thai: Ingredients would include flavors like tamarind, spring onion, a little brown sugar, garlic, fish sauce,
and lime. I would love to try a chip like this. I imagine them having a little sweet background with some
good umami flavors built in, with a finish of lime. I have seen quite a few different flavors of chips
developed but none of them seem to get very creative with different ideas about cuisine.
Pesto and Ricotta Ravioli: I want it to embody the flavor of a classic ricotta-stuffed ravioli smothered in pesto.
I’m not sure what the ingredients would consist of, but it would need to taste like ricotta, basil, garlic, pine
nuts, oliveoil, and salt and pepper. I think this would make a great flavor because let’s face it, raviolis are so
good! And pesto has to be the best sauce ever created. So when you’re craving a bowl of pasta in the middle
of the day, you can reach for a convenient bag of ravioli pesto flavored potato chips!
Roasted Chicken Alfredo: Ingredients: Alfredo, grilled chicken flavoring. Description: Grilled chicken
flavoring would be in the chip itself and the Alfredo would be powder or seasoning on the chip. Why: It
sounds good to me. I have yet to see a chip use any kind of Alfredo flavoring.
Some of the least creative ideas (i.e., those rated low on both novelty and appropriateness)
Bacon: Bacon flavoring added to chips. Bacon makes everything better!
Jalapeno pepper flavored chips: The ingredients would be jalapeno pepper flavoring. I love this food and think
it would be a great potato chip. It probably would taste best kettle-cooked but I think any way would work.
Potato onion chips: Ingredients—potato, onion. I think potato and onion makes a good flavor.
Mark Lett (2018) 29:177–188 183
ideas generated by participants in the high reward condition were rated as being more
appropriate (M= 4.90, SD = .84) than those generated by participants in either the low
reward (M= 4.34, SD = .98; Z
= 3.02, p= .003) or no reward condition
(M= 4.38, SD = .87; Z
= 2.92, p= .004). No significant difference was
observed in the appropriateness scores of the ideas generated in the no reward and
low reward conditions (p>.25) (Fig. 3).
5 Discussion and conclusion
This study examines how monetary rewards influence consumers’participation and
their level of creativity in firms’crowdsourcing initiatives. The results suggest that
offering sufficiently high rewards (as opposed to either no reward at all or low rewards)
is effective in encouraging more consumers to take part in an idea generation task and
getting them to generate more appropriate ideas. This finding is in line with many
studies in both economics and psychology that emphasize the importance of monetary
rewards in directing people’s attention and effort toward the activity for which those
rewards are being given. One explanation for the nonsignificant difference between the
no reward and low reward conditions in terms of both the appropriateness of the ideas
submitted and consumers’willingness to participate in the first place could be that these
rewards were simply not high enough to generate a significant change in behavior.
The more counterintuitive finding of this study is that introducing a monetary reward
to stimulate new product ideation might in some cases backfire and be detrimental to
creativity. This negative effect was, however, dependent on the level of monetary
reward. With high levels of reward, the offer of money was not detrimental to the
number of ideas generated by each participant and the novelty of those ideas, but
neither was it beneficial. However, when the level of reward was relatively low, this led
to fewer ideas and less novelty than when no reward was offered. One potential
explanation for this finding is that offering a monetary reward might affect participants’
motivation in at least two ways. First, it could lead to sorting (Lazear 2000; Rynes et al.
2005)—i.e., it might attract different kinds of participant in terms of motivation.
Specifically, consumers who participate in a crowdsourcing task for which there are
Idea Novelty Idea Appropriateness
Fig. 3 Effect of monetary rewards on idea novelty and appropriateness
184 Mark Lett (2018) 29:177–188
no rewards are likely to be intrinsically motivated (i.e., they take part because they
genuinely enjoy engaging in creative idea generation) whereas those who decide to take
part in tasks for which rewards are being offered are likely to be more extrinsically
motivated (i.e., their participation is driven, at least in part, by the prospect of winning a
prize). Second, the provision of rewards might lead to an interpretive shift in partici-
pants’motivation—from intrinsic to extrinsic—in terms of why they are undertaking
the task (Burroughs et al. 2011;Decietal.1999; Lepper et al. 1973). That is, when
rewards are available, consumers are more likely to view their reason for engaging in an
activity as being to gain a financial return, rather than to see it as an opportunity for
sheer enjoyment. As intrinsic motivation is associated with sustained effort and a focus
on fresh and original ideas (Amabile 1996;GrantandBerry2011; Hennessey and
Amabile 2010), consumers who engage in ideation when no rewards are offered are
likely to generate both a greater number of ideas and more novel ideas. The lower level
of intrinsic motivation, as a consequence of the sorting and interpretative shift effects
brought about by the rewards, may render the rewards themselves ineffective, or even
detrimental, in terms of stimulating a greater quantity of ideas and a greater degree of
novelty. Such detrimental effects are likely to occur when the level of reward provided
is not sufficient to allow extrinsic motivation to take over from intrinsic motivation in
terms of motivating participants to maintain their creative effort and focus on novel
ideas. When the rewards are sufficiently high, the decline in intrinsic motivation could
be offset by extrinsic motivation, provided the rewards are contingent on creativity
(Byron and Khazanchi 2012).
These findings have important implications for the marketing and psychology
literature. First, this study helps to provide a better understanding of the dynamics of
crowdsourcing and extends the limited literature on the motivational underpinnings of
consumer engagement and creativity in crowdsourcing initiatives. It thereby also helps
to build a greater understanding of creativity at the Bfront-end of innovation,^which
has been identified as a critical research priority (Hauser et al. 2006) and noted as an
area in which the marketing literature currently provides only limited insights
(Burroughs et al. 2011). Second, the study contributes to the psychology literature on
the link between rewards and creativity. Specifically, to my best knowledge, it provides
the first evidence to show that the effect of rewards on creativity varies depending on
the size of the rewards and that rewards can impact the components of creativity (i.e.,
novelty and appropriateness) in different ways.
From a practical standpoint, the insights provided here can help firms to reap the
benefits of their crowdsourcing initiatives more effectively. The results suggest that
when the main purpose of a crowdsourcing initiative is to get novel ideas, firms may not
need to offer any rewards at all. The drawback, however, is that those ideas may not be
very appropriate and not as many people may be attracted to take part. When these two
factors are important, firms should offer sufficiently high rewards to motivate people to
take part. Whatever the objective of the crowdsourcing initiative, firms should avoid
offering a low level of reward as this would be at best a waste of resources. For firms that
wish to use monetary rewards to incentivize people to participate in their crowdsourcing
initiatives, a natural next question to ask is what constitutes a really low reward and what
level of reward will be adequate. It is impossible to suggest a specific amount that will be
applicable for each and every crowdsourced task, as this would clearly depend on
various contextual factors such as exactly what the task requires (e.g., simple ideas,
Mark Lett (2018) 29:177–188 185
detailed designs, and advertising videos), how intense the competition is (e.g., whether
participants are competing with hundreds or thousands of others), whether specific
expertise is required (e.g., knowledge of a specific video editing software), and various
other factors. Firms should seek to find out what customers perceive to be an adequate
reward, as I have done in the pretest reported in this study.
I conclude by highlighting some avenues for future research. First, in this study,
a multiple-prize award structure was used, and the rewards were contingent upon
being creative. I encourage future research to explore whether the findings of this
study could be generalized for different reward structures and contingencies.
Scholars could, for example, investigate how the relationship between reward
and creativity unfolds when the rewards are provided on a winner-takes-all basis,
when they are distributed differently (e.g., shared equally between multiple win-
ners rather than awarded in order of rank), or when they are completion-contingent
(e.g., offered for everyone who submits an idea). Second, increasing the level of
reward beyond a certain point might lead to lower creativity due to
Bovermotivation^or a Bchoking under pressure^effect—i.e., excessive motivation
for an activity can lead to a deterioration in performance (Mobbs et al. 2009).
Although I found no evidence of this phenomenon in my data, future research
could examine potential curvilinear (inverted U-shaped) effects of reward size on
creativity by, for example, including experimental conditions where substantially
higher levels of reward are used than was the case here. Third, several factors,
such as who is giving the money, why it is being given, and how it is given, can
also influence the symbolic meanings associated with it (Mickel and Barron
2008). Exploring the role that such meanings may play in the link between reward
size and creativity is a promising avenue for future research. Fourth, it is impor-
tant to know whether the type of task that is being crowdsourced has a role in the
reward–creativity relationship. In particular, researchers could investigate the
effects of rewards in crowdsourcing contests that focus on innovative activities
that differ from new product ideation in terms of their complexity (e.g., R&D
problems) or the level of engagement and expertise required (e.g., creating copy
for an ad or developing a product prototype) (Acar and Puntoni 2016;Acarand
van den Ende 2015; Terwiesch and Xu 2008). Finally, the explanations I provide
for why reward size may affect creativity in different ways are conjectural. Future
research is needed to establish whether changes in the level of intrinsic or extrinsic
motivation do indeed account for these findings. In addition, researchers could
also explore other potential mediators, which may include cognitive processes
such as search variation and effort (Acar and van den Ende 2016), and affective
factors such as positive and negative mood (Baas et al. 2008).
I hope that the insights provided in this study will take us one step closer to
understanding what part motivation plays in new product ideation and will help
managers to make more informed decisions on how to reward consumers for their
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