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.


Crest has a commercial where Emeril, the chef who says BAM, challenges viewers to enter a contest to come up with Crest's new catch phrase. So Crest is already interested in consumer generated advertising and is probably cooperating with this guy.

James Altucher

Interesting point about Rome burning above. Even though this seems to be a worse time for the markets and economy than the 2001-2 period we still had recession (depression if you worked in tech), terrorism, corruption, war, etc. And yet the best time to seek out opportunity and start a new business (and to buy stocks) was exactly at that point. There was no better time before or after.

Everyone is standing around the scene of a car accident, waiting to see blood before the ambulance arrives. The best thing to do is either call 911, provide CPR, or help in some way, or to simply move along and go about your business. Same now.

Meanwhile, with about $2 trillion in stimulus dollars about to flood the economy, its important to figure out how to spend it because if you don't, someone else will.


Les, #28 - Rome burned 1500 years ago. We're all still here. As of Sunday (when my brother called me on Skype from Rome) not only is Rome still standing, they have WiFi too.

Worst case scenario, we can only have 18 more days where the market dropped as far as it did today.


This is already done by and not just with advertising. Check out their commercials; particularly the Windex collection is brilliant (and was sponsored by Windex).


To #23 "Rondo Hatton" --- Umm... didn't you die in 1943?


21.October 7th,


2:26 pm What happens if you spur people to make negative ads about the product? Isn’t there a good chance that this will backfire and then you’ll have wonderful ads all over youtube about how lame a certain product is.

— Posted by Kondracke


Now you're talking! A channel of negative, sarcastic and/or informative, educational online viral anti-mercials would be welcome to the corp-rot-cracy that is the advertising slut-industry of today!


I am looking at the recent columns in the Freakonomics section and see only one of them addressed to the current economic crisis, and it was a fairly simple column saying that one proposal was bad.

Gentlemen, Rome is burning.

Stop fiddling with this silly stuff

David Ray

I'm sure that, if it were rumored that Obama walked through a grocery store thirty years ago about the same time Willie Horton did, that the next McCain-Palin ad would claim that Obama was conspiring with Willie and Osama bin Laden to kidnap little children and sacrifice them in an unholy ritual(in the basement of a Chicago community center).

Meanwhile, no one comments on Palin's belief that our ancestors cavorted with dinosaurs 6000 years ago (same year the cosmos was created).

As for ministers, we'd better not have a closer Look-see at hers in Alaska lest we throw a bit more enlightenment about Church and State (not an issue raised in debates).

As for mud-slinging in this campaign it's not confined to the obvious. Ubiquitous Sophist David Brooks did a great job of cutting up Obama in his appropriately timed Hiroshma Day's NYT column, but wielded the butcher's knife with such finesse that

most readers probably didn't notice.

Have we forgotten that the NYT (Judy Miller et al.) helped sell the Iraq war???

I never heard any apologies.

Dave Ray/Tucson



"Rome is still standing."

Well, America is still standing, but tell that to someone sympathetic with native Americans and it will mean something entirely different.

*This* Rome has almost nothing to do with the one that burned.

Writer's Coin

I think what everyone is missing here is how the "winner" is picked. It's going to be up to this one person, but who knows—maybe something really good gets made and doesn't win. I've heard stories from friends that have seen ideas they LOVE created by agencies that they just couldn't take on because the brand/corporation wouldn't take them. They were too edgy or too "out there." I wonder how Mr. Altucher will pick a winner.


hedgefund manager turned crest peddler? offering 2k prizemoney for a load of work? pfft

yea.. I'm runnin to the bodega to buy some creast to shoot around my apartment ....

get a grip..

Bob W.

TurboTax has had some success doing something similar with user-generated content, starting two years ago with the Tax Rap contest and then this last year with a comedy contest. There was a bigger grand prize than $2k, but obviously most of the people who produced something didn't get compensated at all.

Personally, I'm partial to the Tax Rap....


Sorry to break this to you Mr. Dunbar but contests like this go back to the dawn of time (your friend isn't remotely close to being the first person to wonder about such things, or experiment in the area.

It's even been done with much higher level rewards.... Doritos and Bud Light have had "design our superbowl ad" competitions where they let people submit ideas for their million dollar a minute superbowl advertising and then put the winner on tv... just in case you wondering, both "winners" were AWFUL!

Rondo Hatton

"(Also, James is much smarter than me.)"

I hope that extends to a better sense of proper grammar, as well.



Old news. This was a hot trend in advertising about 2-3 years ago, and produced terrible results (some of which still haunt youtube [search under Heinz Ketchup]) and even backfired in many instances. It's this kind of dope-y thinking that makes the advertising industry look bad. "Hey, i hear this youtube thing is pretty big! Let's DO that!" I'm surprised Crest (or anyone) would jump on this bandwagon without wheels.


I wish I had a bit more time and a better camera; $2k would be excellent.


I work at the Agency that does the media planning and buying for P&G, and therefore Crest. Just to let James know, there is a whole hell of a lot of tool, proprietary research, etc. that the ad agencies have over the average Joe. This is an interesting experiment as it could provide some useful learnings and insights, but the average YouTube dude could never take over for a full scale creative agency. Sorry, James.

Phil C

This is exactly what Current TV does. Al Gore (yes, that Al Gore) is an executive for the channel. They focus on user-generated content, and user-generated advertisements.

The ads created by users are vetted and selected by the companies, then aired. The quality of the ads is good, and the messages are more genuine.

mark c.

Hey- excellent! A SOCIAL EXPERIMENT.

So let's say I need open heart surgery.

There's a bucket of scalpels- have at it.

The guy or gal who gives me the best open heart surgery gets $2,000.00

The Crest thing is an interesting experiment, that shows a certain consciousness of the fleeting viral nature of consumer generated content today.

What it does RIGHT is create awareness through the creation and voluntary dissemination of content people find interesting.

What it doesn't do is ensure that the brand values of Crest are preserved, and that the consumers who pass this around on the internet are actually left with the attributes that make Crest a preferred brand.

But, hey -It's just advertising, right? How hard could it be?

Like the heart surgery analogy above- what it does is assume you need no experience, and no awareness that the health of the patient depends on your innate abilities. It completely devalues the idea that some people might have experience and talent that predisposes them for success.

(and if it doesn't, it sets a market value of $2,000.00 on that talent and experience, which seems woefully inadequate)

It simply builds the myth that all we do in advertising is come up with funny, quirky crap that ultimately doesn't serve any positive purpose. Which too many companies (and consumers) believe.

Admittedly,there are plenty of advertising professionals feeding this perception. But there also many that are seen as indispensable assets to the companies they advertise.



This has already been tried several times. Viewer produced ad-objects were all the rage last year and they produced absolutely horrible ads. Gratefully, that trend finally died...until now.