There are many ways to make a grassroots campaign shine. Storytelling is a powerful tool that can help emotionally connect people to a campaign. Filmmaker Nirvan Mullick knows this firsthand. He is the director of Caine’s Arcade, the mini-documentary-gone-viral that chronicles the day a community rallied together for child entrepreneur Caine Monroy, who built his own arcade out of cardboard boxes.
Nirvan spoke to us last week and discussed the value of storytelling, having a clear and transparent message, and the conscious decision to move deliberately and patiently. Below are a few of the lessons Nirvan learned at the beginning of Caine’s Arcade.
1) Make sure the heart of the story is clear.
Nirvan said people need to make sure they are clear about what story is portrayed. When watching the video, we noticed Caine’s introduction after 12 seconds. “I think it’s extremely important to find the heart of the story in any campaign. Whether it’s a corporate campaign or a nonprofit cause-related campaign, it’s all about personal storytelling and connecting with people on a personal level.”
2) People need to relate to your story.
One of the reasons for the film’s rapid success is Caine’s easily digestible story. “[Caine's Arcade] is a simple story that everyone can relate to. As an adult, it kind of brings you back to what it’s like to be a kid, and it reminds you of that pure imagination and creativity. It also inspires young kids to make stuff and indulge in their play,” Nirvan said.
3) Get your social media game going early.
Caine’s Arcade is an outlier, but Nirvan knew it was crucial to have a social media strategy in place before launching the film. Nirvan made a simple move: he informed communities on websites like Facebook and Reddit prior to the film’s release. “Caine already had 500 likes on Facebook when we released the video, and users on Reddit were waiting for it.”
That community jumpstarted the spread of the film and, soon, a larger community sprang up. “In the first days, I started seeing photo posts that were responses from parents; there were kids watching [Caine's Arcade] over and over and, then, started building things. I started to ask them to send me posts of the things their kids were making.” Nirvan curated these photos on Caine’s Facebook page and kept updating his community. Soon, he had a network of 100,000 Facebook followers, 5 million video viewers, and 7,000 Twitter followers.
4) Be clear about your message and embrace patience.
One of the most astonishing factors of this story is the pace at which it found success. Nirvan says the scholarship fund he created for Caine reached $110,000 in two days, and discussions about creating a Caine’s Arcade Foundation began after three days. It’s a mind-blowing pace illustrating the power of crowdsourced online campaigns.
It’s been four weeks and Caine’s Arcade has raised over $200,000 from over thousands of contributors. The positive response from viewers and audiences worldwide was overwhelming and it lead to large growth. (Nirvan mentioned that Yahoo! informed his team the film was the most positively commented post ever.) After five days, The Goldhirsh Foundation provided a matching seed grant of up to $250,000, catapulting this local story into a global sensation and success. Nirvan recognized a valuable lesson. “There were a few important decisions that we did along the way that helped keep things moving in the right direction, and allowed us to grow. Had we made other choices and done things differently, we might not be here. One big [decision] was [the fundraising goal.] The initial goal was to raise $25,000 total. We raised over $60,000 in 24 hours.” Naturally, Nirvan raised the goal to $100,000 and surpassed that goal in 48 hours.
Most of us would have continued to raise the amount in response to the rapid growth, the enthusiasm that comes with it, and for fear of stalling. Yet, Nirvan and his team assessed the situation carefully. “We had to pause. A lot of people were saying, ‘raise it higher.’ But we had to think carefully because we had already raised the goal once. People had helped us [surpass this goal] by investing time and money and we decided not to raise the goal [again] until we had a real clear communication strategy and next step set up.” Donations continued to mount, but a plateu was hit. Nirvan didn’t panic because he realized having a transparent message to Caine’s supporters was far more important. “We didn’t want people to feel that we were opportunistic.” This is feedback we hear from Causes users as well, that the most important thing for an action campaign, particularly a fundraiser, is to be transparent.
So, what’s next?
Nirvan has really big plans for Caine’s Arcade. He’s in the process of submitting the necessary paperwork to launch Caine’s Arcade Foundation, which will work to find, foster, and fund creative entrepreneurship in other kids. “This was a kid I met in my neighborhood. There are millions of kids like Caine out there and we want to help them.” There are also discussions about a television show pairing young entrepreneurs and inventors with established mentors, lesson plans for teachers to use in their classrooms, and possibly a feature film. For good measure, the Caine’s Arcade team has just translated the film in 20 languages.
What does Caine think about all of this? “Caine is fired up. He is growing so much. You know, he’s a business man. He’s really focused when it comes to running his arcade. But, as soon as he’s done at the end of the day, he’s running around and playing like every other kid.” Lots of work and lots of play. Sounds like a great formula for success!
All photos accredited to Caine’s Arcade.