What Potato Salad Can Teach Us About Viral Marketing

By: Brad Finegan

11191901735_21a3c8d20bKickstarter is a great way for startups to raise some quick cash and generate interest in their ideas. It’s a community of believers, where no new idea is too far out. And with the power of that community, any dream can be realized. But, as of last week, it’s been undeniably proven that literally anything can be accomplished with the right community.

Even making potato salad.

Don’t worry – your eyes are fine. You read right: a man put up a Kickstarter page in hopes of raising money to make, (wait for it), potato salad. The Kickstarter page, posted by Denison University grad Zack Brown, had a pledged goal of $10, just enough to buy all of the ingredients to make a good potato salad. Not surprisingly, he accomplished his goal. Surprisingly, the Kickstarter campaign still has 22 days left, and as of right now, he’s made over $44,000.

That’s right, $44,000. Enough to make over 4000 potato salads. Hell, you could probably buy a modest Idaho potato farm with $44,000! Either way, this kid made a lot of money trying to raise funds for something as basic and uninteresting as potato salad.

When I brought the idea of the blog post you’re now reading to Primeau Productions founder Ed Primeau (AKA, my boss), we were baffled. We both knew that there was some sort of lesson here; that this guy had to have some sort of golden key to viral marketing. After a short and mutually confusing discussion about this, Ed told me, “I like it. Go ahead and write it.”

So here I am, writing this blog post, and even now, as I’m sitting comfortably at my desk on this gorgeous day in July, brainstorming about what it is that this miraculous endeavor is trying to teach us, frankly, I’m finding myself at a loss. Maybe it’s a lesson in simplicity in marketing? Maybe the power of dry humor in advertising? Maybe the ability to tap into a clandestine network of … potato salad enthusiasts?

Whatever the lesson, the fact still remains: a guy got over 5,000 people to back his cause to create Potato Salad (something Brown admits he’s never even made before). What’s the secret? At the end of the day, I don’t think he had a secret. There was no extensive marketing scheme, there was no hilarious video to entertain you enough to donate a few bucks, and there was no true initiative at all for anyone to contribute to this, let alone contribute to its own viral tornado.

I think what content creators should really take away from this is: the Internet is a bottomless chasm of mystery and unpredictability. The combined power of the Internet community has done things that the general population wouldn’t have ever imagined, even if that’s contributing almost $50,000 to a hungry college grad trying to make some potato salad.

Companies can use as much data, statistics, and planning as they want to, but the truth of the situation is that viral marketing does not work in a straight line. No one can ever truly predict what will and will not go viral, and we should all just learn to accept that. Once we accept that the Internet is a living, breathing organism with a mind of it’s own, we can understand that anything (even something as simple as potato salad) can become a hit amongst thousands and change the history of the Internet forever.

Some might see the absurdity of this story as discouraging, but I personally find it inspiring. I think something this unanticipated, this inexplicable, proves that any of us have the opportunity to launch a successful viral marketing campaign. But that is not for us to decide. It’s up to the community.

photo credit: Francuska salata via photopin (license)

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