Spec work is for useful idiots

The indented text below is from barackobama.com:

Obama for America is seeking poster submissions from artists across the country illustrating why we support President Obama’s plan to create jobs now, and why we’ll re-elect him to continue fighting for jobs for the next four years.


Three winners will receive a framed print of their poster signed by President Obama and a limited edition of their poster will be sold in the campaign store.

Really? Asking people to work for free to promote a jobs program when there are plenty of unemployed and underemployed graphic artists? Is a crowdsourcing contest how the Obama administration and reelection campaign demonstrates respect for people who design for a living? Crowdsourcing shows lack of respect for workers. Engaging in crowdsource work shows lack of dignity and a sense of desperation, and is akin to being a scab. In other words, crowdsourcing leads to unhealthy conditions for all workers: union and non-union, full time and freelance, just starting out or with years of experience.

But it gets better.

According to the rules, the winner gets a framed copy of the poster signed by Barack Obama, which has an approximate retail value of $195, and that, “all federal, state and local taxes associated with the receipt or use of any prize are the sole responsibility of the winner.” The rules also states that, “No purchase, payment, or financial contribution of any kind is necessary to enter or win this promotion.” So at least it’s not pay to play.

And yet plenty of people will spend their time, energy and creativity to work for free and enter this spec art contest. There will always be useful idiots, until they learn to see.


I’ve heard and seen some people equate Obama’s call for spec work with pro bono work. Pro bono (meaning for the public good) in the design and advertising world has come to consist of two things:

  1. Knowing you’re working on a real project and not entering a contest with a multitude of others whose work will serve no real purpose and find no real audience
  2. The client is a charitable or other organization with limited to no resources,
    for example:
    •  A local dog shelter that wants help setting up a WordPress site
    •  Your kid’s kickball team wants a cool t-shirt design

A campaign for president of the United States by either the Democrats or Republicans does not meet the criteria for pro bono.


The AIGA urges the Obama campaign to cancel its poster contest.



About Robert Moss

I write ads: traditional, non-traditional, interactive, edutainment, story-based, broadcast, and experiential marketing events. Sometimes I write about ads and the business of advertising. Sometimes I write about other stuff. The views expressed here are solely my own and don't reflect the views of my employers. I also published a novel called Descending Memphis that's getting great reviews on Amazon. see http://www.amazon.com/Descending-Memphis-Robert-R-Moss/dp/0692364226
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