Kickstarter videos are the infomercials of our time

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on January 6, 2014

From The News Desk

Sometimes when I can’t sleep and am bored of Twitter and random YouTube videos I inevitably come across a product hawked on Kickstarter, and subsequently get sucked into an as-of-yet unmade product peddling vortex. Weird, I know, but that's the mindless entertainment I enjoy.

A while back my editor forwarded me a Kickstarter link, noting how its video seemed just like an infomercial. This sent me tumbling down a staircase of lost memories; when I was much younger and suffered from insomnia, I would always sneak into my parent's living room and watch late-night infomercial after late-night infomercial.

Infomercials schema are generally thus: They always featured a "TV personality" -- many of whom were unknown, makeup-addled characters in constant amazement of something as simple as a food injector. Other times, there were actual connoted names, for instance, Richard Simmons, George Foreman, or Mr. T.

Now, let’s look at Kickstarter videos: they, too, generally feature a single personality who are hawking some ‘great’ and ‘innovative’ product, and these creations are generally answering one of life’s little conundrums.

You see, Kickstarter videos are the infomercials of our time.

Some examples: There’s HiddenRadio2, a portable, blue-tooth enabled wireless speaker. The video is its two creators smiling into the camera, describing their product. All the while, pleasant music plays in the background. How about the Duo (which I covered a few weeks back), a coffee device to make cleaner French Press. Its video features nice shots of the coffee being brewed, and then cuts to an intro from its founder sitting in a living room, drinking coffee, and describing his wonderful product. His delivery was kitsch but, then again, that’s the name of the game.

Then there’s the campaign my editor forwarded me: a video chatting device for your dog. The video showcased the device’s inventor and her dog sitting in a field, looking at the camera, and describing her product. The music in the background, along with her general demeanor, could have doubled as an updated version of a 1980s extended commercial.

The first two examples are doing quite well on the site. The last, dog-friendly campaign, sadly, failed.

This isn't earth-shattering. But, on their faces, the two don't seem like the most synonymous of concepts. Infomercials, from what I remember, weren't driven by innovation -- they were cheap sells of plastic tchotchkes.

Kickstarter, on the other hand, is supposed to be where innovators pitch their ideas. Their products may vary in scope and execution, but it's the meritocratic platform but which inventors get their inventions made. Surely, this should have no mental correlation with something as lowbrow as As Seen On TV.

But that's not entirely the case. Kickstarter short-videos may as well double as more hip late-night commercials. They generally explain the problem they are (quite obviously) solving, and have some spokesperson. Usually this representative is the brains behind the project, or maybe a pretty face, although sometimes celebrities do get involved.

What’s more, the form of these short Kickstarter films genuinely mimic those of their '90s predecessors. Someone's talking into a screen, there's an issue to be solved, they provide a kitschy and inoffensive way of presenting the issue and its solution. Honestly, the only main difference between most of these videos and late night infomercials is the wardrobe, and the feigned live audience.

Obviously, Kickstarter is a huge platform with many campaigns floating around. But, if we're looking at the products that are actual physical products to ease one's everyday life (and not, say, a campaign to revitalize an old restaurant), the two are pretty much the same. This isn't bad, either. It's just bizarre that what is generally considered an outdated mode of advertisement has actually remained, and is perhaps even more prevalent.

And, when it comes down to it, maybe these products aren't too far off from those of yore. I mean, how different is the efficacy of the food-chopping Magic Bullet from things like a stain repellant t-shirt or a sous vide circulator (which were very successful campaigns)?

Different ideas, sure, but their hearts are in the same place.