Fiverr’s latest ad campaign is coming under fire for celebrating freelancers as martyrs of the gig economy, toiling and struggling — seemingly to the detriment of their own health — in the name of cobbling enough paychecks (or PayPal payments) together just to scrape by.
I happen to think the campaign is phenomenal, and others agree.
The insight of the Dreamer v the Doer is one that resonates with every freelancer, especially those who cut their teeth in the creative industry. There are the people who spend their mornings whiteboarding and pontificating on esoteric topics, and there are those who are taking risks, rolling up their sleeves and getting things done. This Fiverr campaign is their anthem.
At the center of the public ire is one particular campaign image, which features a woman with sullen eyes and unkempt hair alongside copy that celebrates replacing lunch with a cup of coffee and forgoing sleep for work. The photograph is the hero image of a thoughtfully-written New Yorker piece that criticizes the gig economy for condoning, if not extolling, the idea of “working yourself to death.”
In isolation, this specific campaign element might seem worthy of such criticism. Most of us who operate in the gig economy know that to be a freelancer is not to be a martyr — quite the contrary, in fact. Being a freelancer is to be an entrepreneur on behalf of yourself.
And, in truth, the campaign holistically communicates this message in a powerful way. Together, the adverts shed light on important and astute insights into the unique opportunities afforded by a life in which one’s own career path is entirely driven by — not a company, but rather — him or herself.
In one far-less-viral campaign image, a woman in a blazer top positions herself in a powerful pose, chin up, looking straight into the camera lens. Contrary to the now-iconic sleep-deprived woman, this “doer” is in control. The accompanying copy is also more empowering, “Dreamers, kindly step aside,” it reads. She’s ready to roll up her sleeves and make things happen.
Historically, freelancers have been portrayed as listless, wandering creatives who either can’t hack it in the corporate world or are too “free-spirited” to commit to a single employer. But as the gig economy evolves and the future of work shapes itself around project milestones (not hours), the independent workforce is proving to be a force to be reckoned with.
While the sleep-deprived woman has been misunderstood as the type of “doer” who is a slave to the system, the doers splashed across Fiverr’s campaign are hardly victims. They are doers with vision, ambition and power. This incredibly important distinction is being overlooked by the controversial nature of a single campaign element.
A famous line from the film Rudy states that “the problem with dreamers is that they’re usually not doers.” Fiverr is right in making the claim that modern-day freelancers are not dreamers, per the existing stereotype. They are indeed doers, both by nature and by necessity.
Still, the controversy of the advert in question hints at a growing consciousness about the complexities of the gig economy. There are stark differences between a gig worker — the sleep-deprived servants to companies like Fiverr and Uber — and solopreneurs, the individuals who have chosen to leave full-time employment in order to run their career as their business.
Conversations about the rights of gig workers to things like fair wages, reasonable working conditions and benefits are constructive and necessary, but we should be cautious not to lump the entire gig economy into a such a myopic view of the future of work.
Independent work is the new and next wave of entrepreneurialism. A recent McKinsey study estimates that independent workers already account for more than 160 million people in the United States and Europe (30% of the workforce). And it’s not just workers shifting to this model: The Intuit 2020 Report predicts that “the long-term trend of hiring contingent workers will continue to accelerate with more than 80% of large corporations planning to substantially increase their use of a flexible workforce.”
Lean organizations and modernized career paths will continue to push freelance forward, with independent workers becoming not the exception, but the rule.
So, let’s step back and appreciate the campaign promise at face value. There’s nothing wrong with hustle and self-reliance. Success is earned through action and the future of work will be carried on the backs of those willing to get their hands dirty and make things happen.
“In doers we trust.”
Martin Strutz is co-founder of AND CO, an proactive app that gives independent workers more time to do what they love: the work.