Nonstarters: this week's worst kickstarter video

"Mongolian beef".

San Francisco band "The Khans" made the offending video.

Kickstarter acts as a giant, low-risk dragon's den: a virtual boardroom where anyone can honk their ideas into the dark and see if they come back with money on them. Unlike the Den, however, there are no bollockings from Bannatyne, no garbled flipchart nighmares, and no brutal profitability criteria to satisfy - just the potential investor's sense of whimsy.

Some ideas turn out to be masterpieces that would otherwise have evaporated in a risk-averse economy. Others are creative endeavours that entice swarms of impulsive backers into territory no sane public or private body would consider.

Needless to say, these success stories are the tip of a decidedly iffy iceberg. Every plucky win wafts the smell of freshly baked money further into the internet, prompting a gold rush of would-be superstars, frustrated writers and post-pub entrepreneurs to try their luck. 

To rifle through this bag of offal with me, I invite you to switch on something I call "Failure Vision": activate the site’s "ending soon" filter, and cast your eye down the page looking for the most desperately stunted green progress bars. What emerges is a torrent of hopeless daydreams; mangled barks for charity growing faint and hoarse as they drift off the site with just a few dollars to their name.

Some, such as this man’s dream to publish a quarterly magazine containing only photographs of clouds taken in Southern Idaho, are thoroughly charming in their overestimation of the public appetite for the mundane.

Others, such as this frankly terrifying plea to fund a book detailing one woman’s obsession with the band Green Day (and, it transpires, accusing them of stealing her ideas along the way), are pitched with the sincere and unwavering belief that the world is waiting to share the author’s monomania.

Nevertheless, out of the mire of mediocrity, terrible judgement and marital aids made from human hair, some concepts rise gloriously and soar out of the failuresphere on wings of sheer Chutzpah; pitches so brazenly crap as to endear anyone with a few bucks to spare.

Meet the Khans, a band from San Francisco whose roaring, exclamatory passion for horde-era Mongolia was strong enough to blow away the funding target for their 7-inch vinyl without recourse to such dull tactics as comprehensible prose.

“ORDER UP A SMELLY Preview of THE KHANS Hit MONGOLIAN BEEF Now!!!!” howled their pitch. “Hunt with an Eagle!!! (not included)”, it promised, “Learn how THE KHANS strategize!”

Better yet is the accompanying video, (see above) in which someone who sounds like an out-of-work trailer voiceover artist after two bottles of scotch slurs menacingly over stock photos of Mongol horsemen, ordering the viewer to donate generously so the Khans can “put their musical captured treasures on round plastic discs”.

“A little horse milk money from your yurt won’t hurt…” concludes the voice, and neatly summarises exactly why Kickstarter works so well. Who wouldn’t spare a dollar for these people?

But this look into crowdfunding represents merely a cheap plastic net dipped into the stream of America’s subconscious. The Khans, Cloud Man and even Green Day’s Biggest Fan look like reasonable people with reasonable ideas compared to some of what lurks in the site’s depths.  

Next week, we’ll be going deeper. Bring your wallet.

Each week Fred Crawley will blunder through the underbelly of Kickstarter.com in search of the world’s most tragic, spectacular and incomprehensible online pleas for money. 

A still from San Francisco band "The Khans"'s kickstarter video. Source: kickstarter.com

By day, Fred Crawley is editor of Credit Today and Insolvency Today. By night, he reviews graphic novels for the New Statesman.

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Harmful gender stereotypes in ads have real impact – so we're challenging them

The ASA must make sure future generations don't recoil at our commercials.

July’s been quite the month for gender in the news. From Jodie Whittaker’s casting in Doctor Who, to trains “so simple even women can drive them”, to how much the Beeb pays its female talent, gender issues have dominated. 

You might think it was an appropriate time for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to launch our own contribution to the debate, Depictions, Perceptions and Harm: a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, the result of more than a year’s careful scrutiny of the evidence base.

Our report makes the case that, while most ads (and the businesses behind them) are getting it right when it comes to avoiding damaging gender stereotypes, the evidence suggests that some could do with reigning it in a little. Specifically, it argues that some ads can contribute to real world harms in the way they portray gender roles and characteristics.

We’re not talking here about ads that show a woman doing the cleaning or a man the DIY. It would be most odd if advertisers couldn’t depict a woman doing the family shop or a man mowing the lawn. Ads cannot be divorced from reality.

What we’re talking about is ads that go significantly further by, for example, suggesting through their content and context that it’s a mum’s sole duty to tidy up after her family, who’ve just trashed the house. Or that an activity or career is inappropriate for a girl because it’s the preserve of men. Or that boys are not “proper” boys if they’re not strong and stoical. Or that men are hopeless at simple parental or household tasks because they’re, well...men.

Advertising is only a small contributor to gender stereotyping, but a contributor it is. And there’s ever greater recognition of the harms that can result from gender stereotyping. Put simply, gender stereotypes can lead us to have a narrower sense of ourselves – how we can behave, who we can be, the opportunities we can take, the decisions we can make. And they can lead other people to have a narrower sense of us too. 

That can affect individuals, whatever their gender. It can affect the economy: we have a shortage of engineers in this country, in part, says the UK’s National Academy of Engineering, because many women don’t see it as a career for them. And it can affect our society as a whole.

Many businesses get this already. A few weeks ago, UN Women and Unilever announced the global launch of Unstereotype Alliance, with some of the world’s biggest companies, including Proctor & Gamble, Mars, Diageo, Facebook and Google signing up. Advertising agencies like JWT and UM have very recently published their own research, further shining the spotlight on gender stereotyping in advertising. 

At the ASA, we see our UK work as a complement to an increasingly global response to the issue. And we’re doing it with broad support from the UK advertising industry: the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the industry bodies which author the UK Advertising Codes that we administer – have been very closely involved in our work and will now flesh out the standards we need to help advertisers stay on the right side of the line.

Needless to say, our report has attracted a fair amount of comment. And commentators have made some interesting and important arguments. Take my “ads cannot be divorced from reality” point above. Clearly we – the UK advertising regulator - must take into account the way things are, but what should we do if, for example, an ad is reflecting a part of society as it is now, but that part is not fair and equal? 

The ad might simply be mirroring the way things are, but at a time when many people in our society, including through public policy and equality laws, are trying to mould it into something different. If we reign in the more extreme examples, are we being social engineers? Or are we simply taking a small step in redressing the imbalance in a society where the drip, drip, drip of gender stereotyping over many years has, itself, been social engineering. And social engineering which, ironically, has left us with too few engineers.

Read more: Why new rules on gender stereotyping in ads benefit men, too

The report gave news outlets a chance to run plenty of well-known ads from yesteryear. Fairy Liquid, Shake 'n' Vac and some real “even a woman can open it”-type horrors from decades ago. For some, that was an opportunity to make the point that ads really were sexist back then, but everything’s fine on the gender stereotyping front today. That argument shows a real lack of imagination. 

History has not stopped. If we’re looking back at ads of 50 years ago and marvelling at how we thought they were OK back then, despite knowing they were products of their time, won’t our children and grandchildren be doing exactly the same thing in 50 years’ time? What “norms” now will seem antiquated and unpleasant in the future? We think the evidence points to some portrayals of gender roles and characteristics being precisely such norms, excused by some today on the basis that that’s just the way it is.

Our report signals that change is coming. CAP will now work on the standards so we can pin down the rules and official guidance. We don’t want to catch advertisers out, so we and CAP will work hard to provide as much advice and training as we can, so they can get their ads right in the first place. And from next year, we at the ASA will make sure those standards are followed, taking care that our regulation is balanced and wholly respectful of the public’s desire to continue to see creative ads that are relevant, entertaining and informative. 

You won’t see a sea-change in the ads that appear, but we hope to smooth some of the rougher edges. This is a small but important step in making sure modern society is better represented in ads.

Guy Parker is CEO of the ASA