Navigating the Grey Areas of Accountability and Ethics in Crowdfunding and Marketing Practices

Yesterday, in our conversations about generative AI, somebody had brought up the Kickstarter campaign that had raised more than $1 million and they were using crappy generative AI artwork and how that hurts all of us. But what about. That hurts all of us? And let’s talk about that because how do you get to raise $1 million with a crappy product? How do you do it?

It’s not generative AI. It’s marketing people who raise a lot of money on their crowdfunding campaigns usually spend money on the marketing of those crowdfunding campaigns because it works. Marketing works. People forget that marketing is a big component of being in business. Matter of fact, they usually remember way too late.

I remind this to my students all the time that when I’m looking at these services, people think that making a product is the business, but it’s not making the product. It’s sustaining the product. It’s selling the product, maintaining the product, all the type of stuff. And you have to start thinking about those things at day one. So when you think a product cost this much to manufacture, but it cost this much manufacturer, you are under problems, especially figured out towards the end.

The people who are interested in selling at any cost know that the product is secondary to the impression the product gives off. That’s terrible. You know, it’s also terrible people pledging money because they don’t know any better. Why don’t they know any better? Why don’t they demand quality?

Why do people keep giving money to these substandard crowdfunding campaigns? And the answer is it’s a beautiful mix of sunk cost fallacy and FOMO, the fear of missing out. And you combine those two together and you can really get people to give you money. And here’s the best part, is it illegal? No.

If I promise you a crappy product and I give you a crappy product, it’s not illegal. Is it unethical? Well, it’s certainly not what I would do. I think that the ethics is a personal one here. Is it a moral? Probably. But that’s the thing.

If I promise you a crappy burger and I give you a crappy burger and you eat the crappy burger, eh, we’re all good. So the question is, how do I get, you do not want a crappy burger. How do I get you to have standards? I can’t yell at you to have standards. The best I can do is I can expose you to things which makes you crave better. But it takes time to develop taste and it takes effort.

And all of a sudden, you realize there’s no money in that, right? If I’m a steakhouse trying to get people who’d only eat Burger King to come to my steakhouse, I can give away free samples, but that ness, that doesn’t necessarily gonna make me money. Changing the culture of what I want to be my customer base is a lot more work than just going like who’s already out here by mistake.

And that becomes a big challenge because we keep talking about accountability, but the accountability is not just about the people who are producing. It’s also about the people that are consuming. And that’s a strange one as well. I’m not saying that the generative AI they’re using is good, but what if they just hired a bunch of crappy artists for cheap instead? That would be legal. What if they stole a bunch of stuff from people who would never sue them.

What if they only use public domain works that they’ve happened to look fine? That’ll look cool. What if it’s not the materials that did anything? No, AI woke up in the morning and said, I’m gonna start a business. I’m gonna go on Kickstarter and fleece these things. There’s something sentient about any of this.

That’s why AI is the wrong term. We’re pretending that these things are sentient, but really what they are is they’re just lazy, unfollowable, you know, unaccountable algorithms from people who don’t care about how they’re using them. That’s the problem. Accountability, it’s all about accountability. And it’s all about the fact that people who care are the ones who are losing.

Why? Because if you don’t care, then it’s cheaper to do everything that you’re trying to do.

Think about running a business if you wanna hire people at a lower rate and not give them a living wage, knowing that there’s still a line of people looking for it, you’re like, great. A friend of mine, not a close friend, a friend of mine used to own a factory in Mexico. And I’m like, is it a sweat shop? And he goes, yeah, I go to people who are like underage work there. And he goes, yeah.

I go, aren’t you feeling bad? He goes, I pay them $1 more an hour than the person next door. And my factory is air conditioning. I go to still a sweat shop. He goes, oh, by American standards, absolutely.

He goes, but they’re lining up to work at my sweatshop. I couldn’t do that. But he could and a lot of people can. And that’s who you’re competing with. Now, I’m not saying that because that’s who you’re competing with that you need to lower your standards for.

What I’m saying is that there was nothing illegal about what my friend told me. Matter of fact, he was viewed as a hero because of all the wonderful things he was doing.

He was giving his outrageous profits down to this crazy profits to be able to, you know, feel good about what he was doing and still make crazy profits. You won’t do that. I won’t do that. But then I can’t be mad at the people who will. I can be disappointed and I can’t legislate it away.

You can’t. That’s the problem. So world is full of bad actors and that is a very separate issue to the tools that they use. Now, I do and I’m willing to talk about the tools that bad actors are using, but I’m not willing to say that the tools themselves, since they’re wielded by bad actors, are evil. I’ll end with this.

Many years ago, when I sue local NPR on a regular basis, somebody knew that I was gonna talk about cryptocurrency. And we had something called Bitcoin Boulevard. And apparently the director of Bitcoin Boulevard knew that I was anti crypto and he called me up to give me an earful and I’m like, but I don’t get it. Like I don’t understand why you just can’t use the US dollar.

It seems to be that everyone who needs an alternative form of currency is doing some illegal with it. And he goes, do you know what the number one currency used for legal activity in the world is? The US freaking dollar. I’m like, yeah, but it’s also used for everything else. And so the good examples outweigh the bad examples.

So when I’m seeing the bad examples, knowing that I can’t stop them, what I can do is I can be the good example. I can say if we can all come an educator, if we can all use the tools for good, then we would be demonstrating that the tools themselves aren’t evil. It’s just that bad actors or bad actors. That’s part of my point. Again, everyone has the right to be able to approach these issues from a different perspective. Mine is how do I show people how to use these properly? But you’re putting people out of work. Different conversation.