Crowd funding: a monumental achievement

March 14th, 2011 by

microtask_crowdfunding_robocopDetroit is a tough town, down on its luck. First there was the fall of the US motor industry, then a global financial meltdown. Thousands of people have left the city. Many neighborhoods are now derelict – populated only by violent gangs, wild dogs and film crews shooting apocalyptic zombie movies. In these troubled times, can anyone save “Motor City”?

Forget Obama and Government investment. Long-term, sustainable regeneration? No way. What Detroit really needs is a half-man half-machine, kick-ass eighties movie icon. That’s right, a statue of Robocop.

Robot Love
It all started with a tweet. Some guy on Twitter asked the mayor of Detroit about a Robocop statue. Mayor Bing (unsurprisingly) replied: “there are not any plans to erect a statue to Robocop.” But luckily for fans of the law-enforcing cyborg this is 2011 – the age of crowd funding.

Two days after the original tweet, a Detroit-based collective called Imagination Station launched a Detroit Needs A Statue of Robocop campaign on the crowd funding site Kickstarter. That was February 9th. By February 17th the project had reached its target of $50,000. Over 2000 people have donated money. When the campaign officially closes on March 30th, Imagination Station will probably be able to fill a police station with Robocop statues.

Clearly, we can learn a lot from this story. First, real-life solutions are no match for Hollywood sensation (as if Arnie’s election hadn’t proven this already). More importantly perhaps, we have learned that in the age of the internet, just because an idea is stupid doesn’t mean it won’t succeed. In fact, the more absurd an idea is the more chance it has to go viral. With crowd funding taking off, going viral is all an idea needs.

Epidemic spread
Of course going viral is easier said than done. Some content, like Colonel Gaddafi’s latest rap video, seem destined for greatness. Which ideas will go viral is harder to predict: who would have thought that the campaign to make an old Rage Against the Machine song the Christmas No 1 single in the UK would succeed, outselling The X Factor’s hit?

Unsurprisingly, creating a “viral campaign” is an advertising executive’s dream. Whether or not getting 5 million people to watch a man in a Gorilla suit play the drums actually sells lots more chocolate is uncertain, but it sure does make the ad execs feel cool.

With crowd funding on the other hand, viral success translates to cold hard cash. Sure, the far majority of people will just have a laugh at your idea to build an absurd monument, but the Long Tail of the internet means that lots will also cough up money, if given the chance.

Even rather dull ideas can succeed in this wonderful new world. Last December, a small US design company raised over $900,000 from people (again via Kickstarter) keen to place a pre-order for an iPod Nano watchstrap. Hardly a statue of Robocop, yet almost 14,000 people invested.

It’s almost impossible to predict what the next big viral phenomenon will be. I doubt anyone – especially Mayor Bing – expected Detroit to get a $50,000 Robocop statue this spring. (Perhaps he supposed the money would be better spent on homeless shelters or paying the wages of a few real cops. The fool.) Creative, powerful, often surprising, and sometimes totally bizarre: crowd funding, I salute you.