When your KickStarter PR effort looks a bit like a terrorist attack

I set up a spare bedroom business that produces a card/party game marketed at grownups, the team consists of just me plus input from a couple of freelancers. Figure a minor, British rival to the ubiquitous Cards Against Humanity, though the gameplay is totally different and based around predicting people’s reactions to the most ridiculous, and at times faintly poetic moral dilemmas that I could come up with.

The first version of my game, Common Decency, managed to appeal to the collective humour of the internet, and much to my surprise a couple of posts about it went viral on social media and I ended selling 500-odd copies as pre-orders. This meant there was no need to run a KickStarter campaign and I could forge ahead with a full print run, get a website built and run the business. Since then I’ve done multiple reprints and shipped something written in my kitchen to people in around 30 countries.

One year later, and with the help of some card suggestions submitted through the website, I’d written a new version of the game. I decided to launch this one on KickStarter.

I did my research on how to run a KickStarter campaign, and did all the things a project creator is supposed to:

  • Built up an email list of previous customers
  • Built up a social media presence
  • Put together a disturbing and hopefully amusing project video involving me, alcohol and numerous costume changes.
  • Got some YouTubers to review the prototype
  • Written up a compelling campaign page, set stretch goals and reward levels and named them after Canadian Sex Acts.

Halfway through my campaign, enough people had backed it that I’d surpassed my target and it was time to approach the media. I’d brainstormed how to do this with a friend of mine over lunch, and we’d both agreed that it would be very tricky indeed to even get their attention, let alone get them to cover it.

As we neared the bottom of our glasses, we hit on the following plan:

  • Ship a box to their office, no note at all, inside will be a hammer and a coconut. On inspection, the coconut has been sawn in half and glued back together again.
  • They um and ah over it for a while and inevitably decide to succumb to their own curiosity and the peer pressure of their colleagues and smash the coconut open with their new hammer.
  • Inside they find a miniature, advance prototype of the game currently killing it on KickStarter, a letter from me in which I’ve attempted valiantly to be charming and hilarious, plus a press release.

Granted, the plan owed a little bit to the puzzle eggs in Harry Potter, but I thought the idea was sound. Journalists get spammed with hundreds of emails every day, so this would stand out from the crowd. Plus the odd humour of it fitted my game perfectly, and what could possibly go wrong?

I was aiming for a confusing but intriguing look.

I spent the next few days throwing myself into the task, in and out of Poundland buying supplies and cut-price clam hammers. Sawing coconuts, hollowing them out, scrounging shoe boxes, painting them etc.

My first problem was that my coconuts were too small. Not a problem, I built false bottoms for the boxes, stashed the games in there and made a joke of it in the letter inside the coconut.

At this point I started to wonder how suspiciously wrapped, unmarked boxes that smell of chemicals (cheap spray paint) and weigh a couple of kilos would be received in media offices, given terrorist threat levels. I spoke to a friend of mine in that field (law enforcement, not terrorism.)

He was pretty emphatic in encouraging me to tone it down a bit and directed me to the police guidelines on what makes a package suspicious. I reverse-engineered them, used printed address labels, provided a return address on the back, included my business card and a few other things to make the packages less “suspicious”. He stopped having kittens, I loaded up my bag and went delivering.

I dropped the boxes off at various offices around town. The receptionists confirmed that indeed no-one does physical mail outs any more. One online magazine didn’t have a reception at all, and I had to walk out into the middle of their open plan office and get someone to accept the box in front of everyone. This attracted a lot of curiosity and as I left they were congregating around it encouragingly.

I went home optimistic that my amateur and zero-budget PR scheme would create enough of a spectacle, that all the extra work I out in to doing something a little bit different would help me stand out from the crowd.

I’m a big believer in attempting new things in new ways to get new results, hopefully this, rather than just doing the same thing as everyone else all the time would pay off. I got home and waited for my phone to buzz, either from a journalist taking the bait, or the police with some questions.

The result:

One week later, no response whatsoever. I may as well have sent them a bloody email! Never mind, I’ll try something else. My equally weird, but more successful KickStarter page is here if you want to see it.