I had this ridiculous idea once that involved billboards, graffiti, hidden video, bumper stickers, and a fake drink. If I had raised the funding I was going to conduct an experiment in Boston to prove that a brand could be created before a product, and even sold to Coca-Cola before the first bubble of fizz was added. The plan was this: I would concoct a mysterious energy drink called Reverse, and initiate a ground swell of demand through viral and guerrilla marketing tactics combining the humor of YouTube’s “Charlie Bit My Finger” and the social impact of Banksy. Was I on the road to Abilene? Maybe.
Reverse never materialized, but the idea kept returning like the way root beer comes back to tickle your nose. I was reminded of it again, as dabbled in my new addiction “Kickstarter.” As you can read here on CrunchBase, “Every week, tens of thousands of people pledge millions of dollars to projects from the worlds of music, film, art, technology, design, games, fashion, food, publishing, and other creative fields. Since its launch on April 28th, 2009, more than one and a quarter million people have pledged $130 million to projects by creators who always maintain full ownership and complete creative control of their work.”
I ran across a recent Kickstarter project called Flint and Tinder, billed as Men’s Basics (i.e. undies and t-shirts) Made in America. The topic is near and dear to my…heart, for two reasons. The first reason is that once I ordered $300 of Jockey underwear sometime in the middle of the night, while on my first and last Ambien. I have no recollection of it, but this is a topic for another blogpost.)
The second reason is that Flint and Tinder has pulled a Reverse. They’ve not just developed a product concept, but more importantly have created a brand before a stitch of elastic has met a thread of cotton. Amazing. Beautiful. And, so American. I love it.
Well, here’s another idea. I want all of American consumer goods companies to listen. I want you to try something that I believe will improve the success rate of new product development, and change the face of innovation forever. Take the laboratory wonks, secret test tracks, and testing kitchens out of your bunkers. Your products have a 6 in 7 chance of failing anyway, so what’s all the fuss. Drop the idea that greater secrecy leads to greater product success. I think it’s a pile. Your brands live in a new world of co-creation, and American ingenuity is alive and thriving. Every consumer goods company should be running a Kickstarter, and not some secret Communispace-like community, but an open public forum to which people can thoughtfully and monetarily invest. It is called Kickstarter for Business, and you must be a billion dollar brand to join. Imagine 100,000 people contributing financially and publicly to the development of a new electric car by Apple, or maybe an entirely edible playground by Hershey. Who knows what may happen…
The idea gives me goose pimples. The benefits go beyond developing better products. It fundamentally changes the nature of the consumer/producer relationship. We all become investors, and invested people care. Imagine a country of investor/consumer/owners versus the antagonistic triad of overweight consumers, detached producers, and invisible shareholders.
American business it’s time to drop that Ambien, because it’s likely when you wake up you’ll find you’ve slept-walked all the way to Abilene. Believe me I know.