Meme Big: Learning From A Video Marketing Flameout

(First of two parts)

Video content is widely considered to be generally superior to all traditional types of marketing content that came before it. Marketing videos are easier than ever for novice marketers and entrepreneurs to produce with utter seriousness. But making a slick promotional video to advance a poorly-conceived idea is putting the cart before the horse. A bad video can undermine a good idea, but a great video cannot save a bad idea! Just as a computer makes a good manager better and a bad manager worse, videos can make a good pitch memorable and a bad pitch ridiculous. Witness the case of Forts and the Inbetween.

In March of 2011, a San Diego arts collective called Forts and The Inbetween posted a promotional video on the Kickstarter crowdfunding site. In it they introduced an idea so weird that it might have been a clever send-up of crowdfunding and crowdfunders, posted to the very platform it mocked. Remember being a student and building a fort in your studio space or your dorm room – or even just rearranging your furniture to put off doing actual work? These kids were asking for money to take this time-honored college tradition into the community as a force of social change.


http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/596792432/forts-and-the-inbetween

In their seven-minute video, they explained, “In building a fort, you’re asking questions, putting action to those questions, and you’re learning to empower and be empowered.” This could have been the pitch for a cleverly packaged touring structures mini-course (Think The Merry Pranksters meets The University of Phoenix). In fact, their promotional video looked about as slick as the videocassette I got in the mail from my college admissions office.

Then, perhaps knowing how ethereal they sounded, they filmed themselves jumping off and rolling down a grassy, but dangerously steep hill – an inspired bit of visual storytelling that backfired. This would become a “jumping off point” in more ways than one. Many viewers watched no further. Others who watched the full seven-minute video couldn’t decide whether or not the whole thing was a joke. And many registered outrage upon realizing that Forts and the Inbetween were indeed serious about raising $25,000 to fund a road trip to build forts (and communities) with strangers across America.

The Internet went crazy! Criticism went from gentle to merciless. Forts and the Inbetween were branded as “hipsters” both by people who weren’t sure that this wasn’t a gag, and by people who made it into one. One blogger’s notorious “Alternate Ending” video turned their loopy and long-winded pitch into blissfully short slapstick. It dominated the Internet, and the conversation about Forts and the Inbetween, while the original video was taken down by the creators amid the backlash. It disappeared for awhile, and people had to keep re-posting it so others could get on their anti-hipster bandwagon with sufficient indignation and scorn. Eventually, the instigator of the backlash had a change of heart. In a follow-up blog post, entitled “An Apology To Hipsters Whose Lives I’ve Ruined“, he got constructive, if a little self-righteous, with his analysis and feedback. A way out for all was identified, and Forts and the Inbetween restored their original promotional video to their Kickstarter page, without resuming the fundraising program.

And now that I’ve told you, I mean, “made you part of a bigger story”, there’s a lot to learn here – particularly if you’re a kid with a video camera and you have enough time to build a fort. In my next post, I’ll share my list of steps you can take to bulletproof your next marketing video project.

In the meantime, create, interact, give, share, etc.

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