10 February 2021

Fiverr, the Super Bowl and the Gig Economy

Fiverr, the freelance platform where you can sell gigs for as little as $5, may have wasted a million times that amount on Super Bowl LV.

The Super Bowl is an awareness-building showcase, so there’s no doubt Fiverr succeeded in getting their name out there by buying a 60-second ad.

But name recognition doesn’t go very far unless people also know what your product or service actually does, and on that score Fiverr’s ROI may have been weak.

Here’s why I think that – and why I care.

Four Seasons Total Landscaping… and Press Venue

The recipe for Fiverr’s Super Bowl ad started with a good list of ingredients. Small- or medium-sized business owner: the on-camera narrator was Marie Siravo of Four Seasons Total Landscaping. Entrepreneurial mindset: Siravo says “success is often right place, right time.” Real people, non-copywriter language: “When opportunity knocks at your corrugated garage door, you roll that puppy up.” And it’s a Super Bowl ad, so cultural currency doesn’t hurt: Siravo’s business was the improbable site of a Rudy Giuliani press conference to contest Donald Trump’s loss in the presidential election.

A message to you, Rudy
All of the above gets across in the first 17 seconds. After that, it’s hard to follow. Siravo tours her facility, which has turned into a futuristic greenhouse staffed by workers at computer screens doing… what? She mentions graphic design and web development, but it’s not clear that’s what these people are doing. And if it were clear, has Four Seasons turned into a plant-based WeWork office space? Suddenly, an employee exclaims, apropos of nothing, “We found a fifth season!” 

Then a businesswoman wanders in asking where the lobby is, to which Siravo answers, “This is not a hotel.” That’s an obvious reference to Giuliani’s press conference, which was originally announced as taking place at the Four Seasons Hotel and was instead held at Siravo’s similarly named landscaping business.

In other words, the commercial clearly trolled Trump. But the tagline, “Freelance services on demand,” while a good summary of what Fiverr does, is not a good summary of what the commercial communicates. 1-1/2 stars out of 5.

Caveat Venditor: My experiment on Fiverr

My interest in this commercial was sparked by a work experiment on Fiverr, which went public in 2019 and reported $107.1 million in revenue for that same year. They earn that revenue by taking a 20% commission on all transactions. These aren’t high-dollar transactions. According to Priceonomics, only 1% of Fiverr sellers make more than $2,000 per month, 96.3% make less than $500 per month, and the vast majority of those make less than $100 per month.

Thus, my attention was drawn not by big money, but curiosity: How cheaply could one buy marketing services like social media, graphic design, copywriting or web development? The best way to get the answer was to use Fiverr myself.

My first step was to follow my own advice to clients: make sure you know what you sell, to whom you’re selling, and against whom you’re competing for the sale. In my case, it was marketing plans for small- and medium-size businesses, startups and franchise businesses. My competition was easy to define: similar sellers on Fiverr. I did numerous searches for the same services and saw a wide variety of approaches by other sellers, which I used to refine my own thinking and create a gig.

My gig on Fiverr
In the process I realized that while my career has been built on longer-term, mutual-benefit relationships, Fiverr is much more transactional. So one line in my gig description was “years of experience, delivered in days.” From there, Fiverr guides you on creating basic, standard and premium levels of your gig, plus producing a short video to introduce yourself (and attract more clicks from prospective buyers). No, I did not price my services at $5. Let’s just say all my prices were in the three figures. (I could always say “no,” right?)

An entrepreneur contacted me wanting to franchise his house-cleaning business. He’d been operating for a few years with some success and was looking for advice. We found each other because my profile emphasized franchising, and I’m a Certified Franchise Executive with the International Franchise Association. I liked him immediately: classic entrepreneurial personality, very focused and driven, knew what he wanted. Best of all, he was a very experienced buyer on Fiverr, and was generous in coaching me on how to make the most of the platform. It was a fun project and he gave me a 5-star rating.

Caveat Emptor: Viva the Gig Economy

Fiverr, and other platforms like it, can be effective agents of the gig economy. They act as lead generators for sellers and problem-solvers for buyers.

A buyer, however, needs to understand that most sellers, making less than $100 per month, are mainly working a side hustle vs. full-time employment. As such, the initial assignment should have a narrow, well-defined scope, so neither side risks a lot. Take care before hiring – make sure it’s the right fit. And, like Marie Siravo, you may be on a tight budget anyway. As a B2B software CMO told me last week, “Upwork (a Fiverr competitor) helps me scale on a startup budget.”

That brings me back to the disappointing Super Bowl commercial. Fiverr was right to focus on a small business like Four Seasons Total Landscaping. But they completely missed the opportunity to portray freelancers as the ones generating the entrepreneurial vibe. Maybe they were too focused on trolling Trump, or too corporate in their perspective, or too enamored with the creative execution itself. All of the employees working in the facility seemed to be just that, employees, not freelancers.

Perhaps next time, Fiverr will consider asking its own freelancers to pitch ideas.

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