How Kickstarter enabled over $40,000 (and counting) in potato salad funding

Zack Brown lists the risk of his Kickstarter campaign to make potato salad is that "it might not be that good.". Kickstarter / Zack Brown

TORONTO – What can a sense of humour, an Internet connection, and a desire to make potato salad for $10 get you in 2014?

Zack “Danger” Brown knows the answer, and it’s upwards of $40,000 in donations from “the Internet,” as he calls his group of donors.

The Columbus, Ohio, resident started his Kickstarter campaign with a simple goal: “Basically I'm just making potato salad. I haven't decided what kind yet.”

His initial incentives were modest: A pledge of $1 or more earns a “thank you” posted to his website and his vow to “say your name out loud while making the potato salad.”

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But things escalated quickly:

Potato salad Kickstarter
Kickstarter / Zack Brown

University of Waterloo associate professor of English Aimee Morrison said the project is appealing because of its sense of whimsy.

“The whole thing is silly, and silly appeals to the Internet. It’s ‘fun’ precisely because it’s not appealing to our better selves. It’s ‘fun’ because the money is for something discretionary but not selfish; it doesn’t make demands of our empathy or our conscience and it asks only a tiny sum, that we expend for our own amusement,” she wrote in an email to Global News.

Brown’s spud story caught the attention of local news outlets, Buzzfeed, and grew to Monday’s appearance on Good Morning America. He hosted a Reddit AmA (Ask Me Anything) on Sunday, where he told Redditors he never thought the campaign would go so far.

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“$10 seemed like a good, conservative goal. I think the people are responding to the opportunity to come together around something equal parts absurd and mundane. Potato Salad isn’t controversial, but it seems to unite us all.”

Or almost all of us.

Some Kickstarter users expressed dismay that their more philanthropic campaigns didn’t take off, while Brown’s elaborate joke rakes in thousands of dollars.

“Everyone who’s ever had a failed Kickstarter must be LIVID right now. Lol,” wrote user Steve Hanna.

When asked about concerns the potato salad campaign will turn Kickstarter into a joke, Kickstarter spokesperson Justin Kazmark replied their organization is a global community of millions of people who fund projects of all shapes and sizes.

“There’s no single recipe for inspiration.”

Watch a video of Brown thanking supporters for helping him live his dreams:

Lucky for Brown, most users appreciated the humour.

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“The genius behind this campaign is that we are funding something completely benign, potato salad. Had Zach (sic) chosen world peace or any other societal issue everyone would have had their own hang up about donating,” wrote Beth Witte.

“Bringing people together on the neutral ground of potato salad is a beautiful thing. He has already done a world of good. I’ll be at the party!”

Peter Gloor, a researcher at MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence (that’s right, an MIT expert commented on potato salad!) studies global consciousness and collaborative giving.

He compared the potato salad campaign to the Kony 2012 social media campaign that attempted to make “infamous” the war criminal and leader of Ugandan rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army Joseph Kony.

The Kony video maker and this potato salad guy, they got across as honest…He wasn’t pretending to produce a great potato salad. He was very honest about: ‘This is a joke and let’s see how far we get with this joke.’ And he got pretty far.

“And with the Kony video, it’s absolutely no joke, it’s sort of the opposite. It’s really trying to get people to help, to donate, to fight Kony, to raise awareness with Obama and so on, and it reached its goals too.”

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Gloor said Brown’s campaign also struck the right audience, suggesting it may not have worked as well in Ukraine or China.

“The other thing is it would be interesting to see how big the overlap is between potato salad givers and Kony video givers – probably not that big. But it’s two facets of our western culture.”

The two facets popped up back-to-back in Brown’s AmA: First, someone asked him to donate the money to charity since it’s reached such heights. Then this:

Potato salad Kickstarter AmA
Reddit / Zack Brown

Whether the campaign brings a smile to your face for its humour, or leaves you feeling empty and worried for the future of humanity, one thing’s for sure: Web marketer Brown has completed a “genius self-brand building exercise,” said University of Waterloo professor Morrison.

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“At base, this is mostly appealing in the way that LOLcats are appealing: detached from the concerns of the real world, asking very little of us, offering smiles in return. And of course, the first person to exploit this vein is paid in riches of attention,” she wrote.

“Whether you consider this innovative or deplorable is going to depend on what happens next, to more legitimate funding campaigns.”

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