How We Hacked the Media and Landed Six-Figure Contracts in Four Days

Rumblr, the ‘Tinder for fighting,’ exposed our brand to millions and landed us six-figure contracts in just four days

von Hughes
Jan 21, 2016 · 13 min read

1. Rumblr: The Story

250,000+ pageviews in four days

Rumblr was featured on VICE, The Washington Post, New York Daily News, New York Magazine, BBC, Complex, Bleacher Report, Sporting News, Fox & Friends, Business Insider, ABC, CBS, and became a relevant topic of conversation on Facebook, Twitter, and the rest of the Internet. Here’s our story.

As we were beginning to develop our creative consulting agency’s portfolio (now called Howler AI), we wanted to make sure that we did something interesting enough to stand out in the sea of New York City firms. Nowadays, potential clients care more about the name on the door than the agency’s portfolio. In order to survive, new agencies need to be heavily differentiated with unique voices.

Over the course of ten days, we satirically created the fictional brand and product, and marketed it exactly as a real venture-backed startup would to make our portfolio a bit more memorable.

Rumblr promotional assets

After settling down on a sticky name, we designed a simple logo and design language that could be easily extended out across all our branding elements.

We then designed realistic screenshots of the fictional iOS app, making sure everything looked extremely polished and brand-consistent.

After developing the core product, we designed the website, social media accounts, and marketing assets in preparation for the big launch. To ensure maximum believability, we made sure to push not just Rumblr the product, but Rumblr the (fictional) startup.

The pre-beta launch landing page
The Rumblr Instagram account
The Rumblr Twitter account

We debated submitting the app to communities like Reddit, Product Hunt, or Hacker News, but ultimately decided that a feature article on a tech blog would be able to frame the story better than a small product spotlight.

Immediately after submitting the first tip on a Thursday night, a few Gawker reporters signed up for our beta release. The next morning, VentureBeat published the very first article about Rumblr, taking a slightly humorous approach:

“Rumblr might be a good site for advertisements from emergency rooms, anger management therapists, or first-aid supplies.”

We saw some traffic, but nothing crazy. We immediately followed by posting the VentureBeat article itself to various tech groups on Facebook, such as Hackathon Hackers and One Sentence Startup Pitches. This brought us more unique visitors and led to some community members submitting tips to other news sources independently.

Traffic on the first day

Gawker’s Jezebel followed up with the next piece. It was comedic and didn’t really spotlight Rumblr at all beyond a short introduction. It did, however, expose the story to tens of thousands more people.

Real-time active users after the Jezebel article

Every tweet that mentioned Rumblr was responded to in some fashion: a like, retweet, or reply. We promoted dialogue and responded with a brand-consistent voice, often using fighting-related GIFs as a conversation starter. In total, we manually interacted with more than 2,000 tweets. We interacted with so many tweets that our Twitter account received numerous spam warnings.

Both Facebook and Instagram blocked our domain, but that didn’t stop people from talking about us. In fact, it actually helped create new conversations.

Along with a bit more attention from the press, a local news station based in Arizona reached out to us for a TV interview. In our best startup-speak, we satirically explained the high-level vision behind Rumblr and how it was a perfectly viable, scalable business. Our blatant satire was somehow received as truth, and Tucson News Now published the interview. Here’s a real quote from the interview:

“We can’t just ignore the fact that boys, men, they all fight. We’ve always fought for the life of humanity. So why can’t we just provide them a way to do it more efficiently?”

“Think of some athletic fighting. I mean, you’re not trying to kill the other person, maybe you’re trying to have a little testosterone orchestra.”

And of course, we knew we’d pretty much made it when TomoNews dedicated an entire animated video about Rumblr, complete with a real mattyice67.

Tweets about Rumblr started shifting from “Woah, have you heard about this crazy new app?” to “Dude, find me on Rumblr.”

At this point, Rumblr was beginning to enter the full viral loop — online celebrities started mentioning it and Facebook posts about it were shared thousands of times.

A big article by Business Insider Australia sparked the country’s interest in Rumblr. It even inspired Perth boxing champion, Danny Green, to proclaim Rumblr as

“an absolute disgrace. The fact that it’s even allowed, the people who designed it are simply cretins. Their [the designers] flippant and poor judgment is helping the erosion of society with senseless violence… in an uncontrolled environment.”

After these comments, Rumblr quickly went viral in Australia. It soon went viral in Brazil, the UK, California, and then, finally, the rest of the United States.

When we noticed an increasing amount of traffic from South Korea, we quickly targeted the Twitter accounts primarily responsible for the attention. We reached out to them in Korean (assuring them that Rumblr Korea will launch in 3 weeks), spurring Rumblr’s reach in South Korea.

We continued to push Rumblr extremely heavily on social media — liking, retweeting, and replying to as many tweets as possible. As more major media outlets started to come to us looking for interviews, we stopped producing content on social media organically and instead just shared what they produced, focusing on spreading the word about our upcoming beta launch.

Soon enough VICE, The Washington Post, New York Daily News, New York Magazine, BBC, GQ, Complex, Bleacher Report, Sporting News, Fox & Friends, Business Insider, ABC, and CBS (to name a few) produced articles, podcasts, radio segments, and videos talking about Rumblr. We even made it to the very top of Hacker News. Our focus quickly turned from stoking the social flames to fulfilling interviews for these big outlets.

Around Saturday night when things seemed to be at its peak,

, and submitted press releases to the top news sources we were communicating with.

“Remember that crazy app we told you about yesterday? It’s launching tomorrow.”

Trying to craft the perfect storyline and flow that our users would travel through to the final reveal was by far the most time-consuming part of this process.

A dozen Red Bulls, half a gallon of coffee, and three panic attacks later, we had a fully working version of the app that guided users through the full experience of signing up, creating a username, swiping through matches, getting matched, then finally having an interactive conversation with “dudecati,” a rigged robot, who eventually explained that Rumblr was a huge hoax and redirected them to von Hughes’ (our agency’s) personal announcement page.

app.getrumblr.com still exists if you want to try it out

A few hours before our launch, some media outlets were quick to claim that Rumblr was fake. They misrepresented information and portrayed us in a pretty bad light, but it only helped us make more noise.

But did it?

“Did we actually think Rumblr was real?” “Rumblr turns out to be a massive hoax.” Most of the outlets that wrote about us previously decided to write about us yet again. Rumblr continued trending online, but this time framed as “the great hoax that tricked the Internet.” There was a bit of media backlash, but it quickly became irrelevant.

2. Rumblr: The Results

Almost immediately after our ‘launch’ we started hearing from companies, apps, authors, filmmakers, and producers wanting to work with us. We started getting connected and introduced to new clients as “the guys behind Rumblr,” which ultimately netted us six-figure contracts.

We ultimately learned that creating something viral can be broken down into a rough pattern. Successful execution takes some quick thinking, discipline, and a dash of hustle.

3. Storytelling

Rumblr was not the first Rumblr in the marketplace. Unbeknownst to us, the idea had been attempted multiple times all over the world. In fact, ‘Tinder for fighting’ was an idea posted on a 4chan board a few months ago. It even had the same name. If you emailed us we replied, if you tweeted us we’d tweet back; there were people behind the brand.

4. Real, Consistent Branding

Six of the ten days spent on Rumblr were focused on designing the brand, website, and marketing assets. In our social marketing we used the fist emoji 👊 in nearly every post. We used nearly every fighting-related GIF we could find. To make the brand even more relatable, we used Fight Club as a conceptual anchor. “Fight Club, but an app.”

The bottom line is: good branding is incredibly important in gaining people’s trust, no matter what you’re selling. In Rumblr’s case, we were able to wrap a nonsense idea in very pretty packaging, helping people believe in its legitimacy.

5. Creating Press

Don’t be afraid to reach out to press outlets by yourself, you need to hustle a bit in the beginning. If people aren’t coming to you, go to them. Experiment and figure out what works the best for your situation.

Once you get your first reputable piece of press, be sure to use that article in your marketing efforts, instead of your website. Doing so dramatically increases the chances of the receiver clicking the link and experiencing your story.

6. Social Engagement

We told Hackathon Hackers about Rumblr on Facebook, which helped us spread the word across Product Hunt, Reddit, and Hacker News very quickly. We found conversations about Rumblr in forums and made fake accounts to inspire further discussion and keep the story alive. We brought in new twists to the story like, “Hey, we found their LinkedIn accounts. What idiots. What do you think?”

7. The Turning Point

Eventually, things will turn in your favor. Up until this point, the media has been proactive, writing about you when they are inspired. The media becomes reactionary, reporting on things you say and do, with a sentence or two of opinion thrown in at the end. The press will start to call and email you relentlessly, hoping that, if you do say something, you say it to them first.

8. The Fruits of Your Labor

So how do you actually turn this attention into cash? That’s invaluable. As long as people know what you’re offering and you’ve framed the story correctly, you’ll get some interest. Give every lead attention, even if it doesn’t seem to be a perfect fit. Often, you need to introduce mass leads like these to the real context of who you are and what you do, not just your campaign. Connecting your campaign to your business is a bit tricky.

von Hughes (now Howler AI) is a hybrid creative agency + product studio best known for the internationally viral social campaign Rumblr, ‘Tinder for fighting,’ that garnered the attention of 200+ global media outlets and exposed the von Hughes brand to tens of millions in 4 days. We manage product design, branding, advertising, and distribution for brands, and also produce products internally to hyper-target market opportunities.

Like our work and want to tell us about your project? Reach out at m@howler.ai.

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