Is JungleSmash the New Madison Avenue?

I love social experiments, and I love how the internet is a force for disintermediation, and I love Mad Men too, so I am really prepared to love JungleSmash as well.

JungleSmash is a little experiment from my friend James Altucher, whom I’ve written about here and here.


James also started, the first user-generated investing site, and, in ancient history, he was a pioneer in the online video space, doing original web-only videos for HBO. (He’s also become a major financial writer, has run a hedge fund, etc.)

JungleSmash is a bit of a mashup of everything that’s come before. James picked a random brand, Crest toothpaste, and is offering $2,000 to whoever makes and posts to YouTube the best video about Crest.

It is an experiment to see if the buying public, when properly incentivized, can create advertising that’s as compelling as what firms and ad agencies create (on much, much, much larger budgets).

Do customers appreciate products in ways that firms don’t understand? Can ad agencies be eliminated from the food chain?

James plans on doing a new experiment with a new product every couple weeks or so, and giving away $2,000 each time. (By the way, here’s an interesting piece on what happened to advertising dollars during the Great Depression.)

I love this idea — in part because I once wanted to do something similar on this site. Not long ago, we posted a wacky short film about Freakonomics that was lovingly made by a French student named Peha de Milain.

When I first saw Peha’s film, I had the idea of hosting a virtual film festival on this site, open to anyone who wanted to make any sort of film based on any aspect of Freakonomics. We planned to offer a cash prize every month and an even bigger prize (Palm d’Freak) at the end of the year — but, because we are housed on a newspaper’s website, we aren’t allowed to give away bags of cash.

But here’s the main point: we only heard about Peha’s film after he had completed it and sent it our way. Why on earth had he gone to such trouble to write, shoot, and edit the film?

Because on some level the book meant something to him, and he felt like expressing what it meant. Similarly, James Altucher suspects that people feel strongly about a lot of things (Crest, e.g.), and will want to express it.

I am very eager to see what the JungleSmash experiment reveals about the state of advertising, the internet, and viral videos. (Will this mark the beginning of the end of the traditional ad agency, just as the internet has begun to turn full-fee Realtors into an endangered species?)

I am not crazy about Crest as the first experiment, but what do I know? (Also, James is much smarter than me.) If you have suggestions for future JungleSmash product-experiments, feel free to leave them in the comments. And let us know if you are one of the people who make a Crest video — we can cross-post them here too.

I’ll be sure to follow up and let you know what becomes of the Crest experiment. Good luck to James and to all entrants. Two thousand dollars buys a lot of toothpaste.

Addendum: The winner is announced here.

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  1. Adam says:

    Interesting experiment, but if you pick a brand that already exists, then anything people create is a reaction (or at least is based on) their current perception. Making an ad from scratch would factor out some of that. But honestly, I’ve been in the ad industry for a long time, and most of it is about telling people what they believe. I’d be curious to see if anything changes when a consumer defines the brand. Especially from scratch.

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  2. AG says:

    What’s really interesting (and really scary for the brand) is that this is being done without Crest’s involvement. Reminds me of the original Diet Coke/ Mentos video. Mentos took it all in stride; Diet Coke thrashed around like a panicky squirrel. Can’t wait to see what folks come up with, and how Crest reacts to it.

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  3. Crest Fallen says:

    Great idea. Great experiment. I can already think of some approaches. But…

    Not for $2k. This is a central problem for me of UGC: the idea that my passion and excitement (and exposure) is enough compensation IN THE MARKETPLACE. The toothpaste video ad market place pays say, $50K to $200K for this work. Take out overhead for my one-man, ad hoc “shop”: $20k – $100K. Its not my problem that Crest has to spend lots of money to advertise, and I’m not going to subsidize their profits on my back. Crazy. Can you say exploitative. When I play in the ad market, pay me what you value me for.

    If I’m missing a piece of this economic system picture, please help me to see it.


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  4. GG says:

    Traditional big ad agencies have been obsolete since the advent of web 2.0. More and more brands are bringing their campaigns to smaller shops. They are attracted by the significantly lower price tag, and often get better and more creative work in a quicker turn-around time. Spend the same amount in a small shop and your advertising dollars will go a lot farther, since you don’t have to pay for the bureaucracy of the big guys. The only thing that has allowed the big ad agencies to remain around is clients are generally uninformed about the benefits of smaller shops, and are also a bit scared of the unknowns in the absence of a big name (like Ogilvy). But like investment banking, I think very soon big agencies will be a thing of the past.

    Long and short of it is, I already know how this experiment is going to pan out.

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  5. Katrina Miner says:

    Dear Mr. Dubner:

    My name is Katrina Miner and I am the Director of Honest Insight, we are a socially responsible advertising agency in Ithaca NY. An oxymoron you query? To answer this inevitable question no! In

    reality we are a social enterprise or hybrid style business. Incorporated at the NY state level as not-for-profit but due to the nature of our work unable to receive 501(c)3 status from the Feds. Simply, we maintain open books and our board

    receives no remuneration. We charge a minimal fee to cover costs and publish advocacy driven, multi-sponsor message ads that offer ad space to for profit businesses. Each campaign also supports a local under-resourced non- profit organization and we maintain a distribution focus on free and local tabloids. Please visit our website for an example of our Fall/08 campaign, our local “Retired Senior Volunteer Program” is the under-resourced

    beneficiary for the Fall/08 campaign.

    I am writing in regard to your blog about smash-up advertising, we are putting together a similar style contest for our Cornell, Ithaca and surrounding college students that calls for a 30-60 second film about any of the issues posted on our Issues page on our website. The contest is slated to run next semester and also furnishes a small

    monetary prize and posting on our website to the top 5 contestants. Judging will be done by local luminaries in the film, social enterprise and business community.

    In closing, I applaud Mr. Altucher’s vision although it’s unlikely that traditional ad agencies will completely disappear. Instead I predict that agencies like Honest Insight, where the benefits go

    beyond the “useless slush fund mentality” that normally surrounds advertising budgets in the corporate landscape, and user generated advertising, will become increasingly popular/successful in the tough economic times ahead for our global economy.

    Kind Regards-

    Katrina Miner


    (International Business Economist)


    Honest Insight

    Socially Responsible Advertising

    The Dewitt Building

    215 N. Cayuga Street

    Ithaca NY 14850

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  6. paulwesterberg says:

    Marketing and advertising corrupt society and waste human resources in order to create artificial needs and wants. Advertisers manipulate our subconscious desires in order to make us feel inadequate or incomplete unless we buy product X, which causes people to buy more and spend outside their means which forces people to work longer hours and become more miserable as they attempt to attain the “perfect” life whereas the real secret to happiness for many people is having more time with family and friends rather than more junk made in china.

    People need toothpaste, but without advertising we would all buy toothpaste with similar ingredients that had been proven most effective in clinical trials and the cost would be much lower. The current number or products and packaging that is mandated by marketing MBAs in order to increase profits is unnecessary and counterproductive to the goal of decreasing the incidence of tooth decay. Toothpaste is just an example of something that should be much cheaper in order to promote health and well being.

    The free market also artificially increases the cost of prescription drugs and health insurance resulting in more human misery and suffering so that a few may profit mightily.

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  7. Matt says:

    The whole point of the contest is that the reward is only 2k. If this work and people are willing to produce ads for this budget it will change what passion and excitement are worth IN THE MARKETPLACE. Supply and Demand.

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  8. George Gaet says:


    1. If there is no cash to invest for Advertising; and budgets to develop new ideas is almost inexistant; steal it from someone else. Right?

    2. This $2,000 award is an extremely low-budget that extracts sampling of the World capacity to create ads, practically for free.

    3. *The winner should be paid what a normal creative collaborator of a Publicity agency makes.

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