The advertising, graphic design and related industries have always had a love-hate relationship with “spec work.” The term refers to creating free work in order to win real work — in other words, it’s speculative. It can be part of a pitch process in which the prospective client asks to see design examples of how you might approach the work before agreeing to contract you (or, as is more often the case, one of the other 3 spec contenders) and pay for it.

Just about everyone in the industry who has weighed in on spec work agrees that is not a good idea. It devalues the work and demeans the workers. Most would also agree that it’s not going away anytime soon.

It is alluring, enticing and full of promise for agencies that are short on work, growing or just starting out. It could be the big break that a relatively new agency needs. If nothing else, it can get their foot in the door. It’s the one great leveler that creatives understand intuitively. It’s also what makes crowd sourcing possible.

But what if other businesses operated the same way?

Toronto agency Zulu Alpha Kilo asked that question then went about answering it in the following — often hilarious — video.

The video is a sad but true commentary on how creative people have enabled the marketplace to under-value the product of their work. It also demonstrates how “creative work” is valued in an entirely different way than “real work.”

In that worldview, something that is tangible — even a cup of coffee — has a certain $ value, regardless of quality. If it is poor coffee, the marketplace will decide whether it will pay for it again. 

However, something that is intangible, such as a creative idea, is worth $0. If it is a good idea, especially if it can be monetized, the marketplace may pay for it and order more.

What do you think — is spec work a good way to work? Is it inevitable in the creative industries? Should tangible and intangible products be valued differently?


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