Betabrand’s Brand Hackathon Spawns Amazing “Inventions” From Tony Hsieh, Saul Griffith

From a “porn” site to videos for non-existent products, Betabrand’s beer-soaked branding hackathon produced more good fodder for the e-commerce platform’s already successful business.

Betabrand’s Brand Hackathon Spawns Amazing “Inventions” From Tony Hsieh, Saul Griffith

The engineering world may be awash in hackathons (heyo Mark Zuckerberg!) but according to Betabrand’s founder Chris Lindland, the world of marketing has never experienced a brand hackathon. “We were all fascinated to see what happened when a brand hands over its holy identity to hackers,” Lindland tells Co.Create.

Chris Lindland

A move like this might be unthinkable at a L’Oreal or GlaxoSmithKline, companies that got low marks for innovative brand communications. But Betabrand’s built its business–now on track to bank $3 million in sales this year–one irreverent and imminently shareable product meme at a time.

To that end, Lindland and company assembled eight teams of designers and developers and the UX development firm Luxr. Customers were invited to throw their worthy ideas in as well. Their task: have at Betabrand’s multiple websites, portfolio of quirky products (Vagisoft blanket, anyone?) and its brandlets, “to push the boundaries of commerce, taste, and technology.” 

What ensued, according to Lindland, was a “weird, beer-drenched brainstorm that went on for two days,” in which no one focused on existing product. Instead, they came up with a new site and a concept for a video series.

The microsite dubbed (completely safe for work, really!) is a playful take on what happens when you accidentally click on a porn site and get bombarded with flashy pop-up videos and chat boxes inviting you to call or click for live-action fun with a hot babe or dude. In its inimitably cheeky style, Betabrand’s take includes a Facebook chat from the company’s first offering the Cordarounds, which delivers a series of hilarious double entendres, while the video for Hot Socks comes complete with a porn-worthy audio track to accompany “sexy” images of insertion–foot into sock, that is.

Betabrand is no stranger to the seemingly effortless sales tool that is the viral video. A recent request to customers to send in action clips of themselves wearing Betabrand disco-wear resulted in enough footage to fill five volumes. So when the hackathon spawned a concept that would help peddle Betabrand’s signature Executive Hoodie, Lindland jumped. “As with anything on the Internet, you leap at things you can pull off quickly,” he explains “With video there is no coding involved.”

What started as a rumination on the identity of the modern, West Coast tech-oriented, Internet entrepreneur, quickly evolved (devolved?) into a critique of video profiles of startup CEOs. Says Lindland, “I think [they are] ultimately kind of boring and phony.”


To combat the proliferation of cloying clips, the hackers decided their videos should feature well-known tech titans talking about totally non-existent inventions while sporting Betabrand hoodies. Lindland’s first call was to Tony Hsieh of Zappos, who’d invited him out to speak to the company before. “It was easy,” says Lindland, “Because they do so much funny stuff at Zappos. He acts once every other week for their internal corporate stuff.”

In his “product” pitch for the world’s first Bluetooth-enabled foodstuffs, a.k.a. the “Text-Mex Burrito,” Hsieh does a nearly deadpan delivery of sales points while swathed in the signature hoodie, but for the exception of the occasional dimple flash. Likewise, Saul Griffith (best known for disrupting the prescription eyeglass business with his invention) chops his way through “Fauxfu” sporting the same hoodie.

The videos debuted this week, and Lindland says stay tuned for more madness to emerge in the coming weeks. Revenue and ROI aside, he believes, “As an Internet brand you need to contribute artistically to the weirdness that is the web. We will stop at which point it becomes completely idiotic.”

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.