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July 26, 2014
Monday, March 24, 2014

When consumers tell companies what to do

By Pablo Toledo
For the Herald

Who you gonna call? Lego crowdsourcing says "Ghostbusters"

Brent Waller spent his childhood crafting(1) plastic-brick versions of characters from TV shows and movies. At age 35, the Australian Lego fan has gotten so good at playing with the toys that the company will start selling his models.

Waller's creation — which includes a miniature of the Cadillac ambulance from "Ghostbusters" — will hit shelves in June in the US. His set is one of six to come from a Lego crowdsourcing(2) website where consumers can propose designs.

With the help of Internet and social media, crowdsourcing is helping companies from McDonald's to Samsung Electronics boost innovation by tapping(3) the knowledge and experience of customers to create new products. Lego, the world's second-biggest toymaker, has run its initiative since 2008 with help from a Japanese crowdsourcing website called Cuusoo System.

Lego last month announced its full-year sales gained 10 percent to US$4.7 billion(4), outpacing US rivals Mattel and Hasbro. In 2012, the Danish company had 6.3 percent of the global toy and game market and 63 percent of the market for construction toys, researcher Euromonitor International estimates.

Any Lego Cuusoo project that gets more than 10,000 votes is evaluated by designers, marketing specialists and business executives to ensure it meets requirements like playability, safety and fit with the Lego brand. The review and development of Waller's "Ghostbusters" set took almost a year.

Popular submissions from earlier rounds that didn't make it to stores include a set inspired by My Little Pony — a brand owned by Hasbro — and a project based on zombie comedy Shaun of the Dead, which was deemed inappropriate for Lego's 6- to-11-year-old target audience.

Successful entries include a miniature version of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Mars rover Curiosity, created by a NASA engineer who worked on the actual(5) vehicle. A set based on the Minecraft video game got 10,000 votes in just 48 hours and sells for US$34.99 in Lego's online store, where purchases(6) are limited to two per order due to what the site calls "overwhelming demand."

Fans whose models are used by Lego receive 1 percent of net revenue(7). The set's sales might not matter much. Crowdsourcing initiatives help companies better engage with consumers and keep loyal fans coming back, regardless of how much they actually boost revenue, he said.

"Even if ideas don't take off," Robert Porter, an analyst with Euromonitor in London, said. "it's still very good for marketing, PR and building consumer engagement."

Whose problem is it anyway?

“Whose” is a problem word for both English and Spanish speakers alike, but when you learn how to use and spell it right it becomes extremely useful.

First, let's talk about spelling. A frequent (and annoying) spelling problem is switching words that sound alike: “it's” for “its” wins by a landslide, but “who's” for “whose” is definitely in the top 10 (together with “they're” for “there” or “their”).

Now, what does whose mean anyway? It is related to posession. We can use it in questions (“Whose book is this?” “It is mine.”) and relative clauses (“This is George, whose brother went to school with me,” or “George is the boy whose brother went to school with me”).

To craft
A craft is an activity that demands a special skill, especially a manual skill that takes time and experience to acquire (from that word we get “handicrafts” and the “arts and crafts” movement). To craft something is to make it using those special skills.

Crowdsourcing
When a company outsources a project, they source (obtain it) from an external supplier (a person outside the company). When you crowdsource, you source an idea or the funds for a project from “the crowd”, a large number of people you don't know and that you usually contact on the Internet.

To tap
The literal sense is to hit something so that it makes a “tap” sound. Here, it means to use a source of energy, ideas, resources or knowledge that already exists.

Billion
There are two traditions in naming large numbers. In the long scale, used in continental Europe and Latin America, a billion is a million million, a trillion is a million billion and so on. In the short scale, used in English- and Arabic-speaking countries, a billion is a thousand million, a trillion is a thousand billion and so on.

Actual
One of the first topics covered in this space was false friends or false cognates – words in English that sound like Spanish words but have a different meaning. “Actual” is a classic example: it means something that is real or exact, and not something that is present or current like its Spanish lookalike.

Purchase
To purchase means to buy; a purchase can be either the act of buying something or the thing that you have bought.

Net revenue
Revenue or turnover is the income a company receives from its normal business activities. Net revenue (also called net income, bottom line or net earnings) is when you discount the total costs of the company from the total (or gross) income.

Adapted by an article by Katarina Gustafsson, Bloomberg News.

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