Leveraging FOMO to get people to donate to meaningful causes is the best thing to come out of 2020 yet.
On Thursday, a diverse group of young techies began mobilizing the culture of exclusivity and manufactured excitement in the industry to build hype for a mysterious new project cryptically named “It Is What It Is.” In what started as a joke, according to a statement posted Friday night, the team spread rumors about an upcoming invite-only social media platform, one whose members you could supposedly identify by the emoji combination 👁👄👁 (a meme expressing confusion that’s been popularized on TikTok recently) in their Twitter handles.
The buzz about the project quickly went viral as tech twitter clamored to figure out what the heck is It Is What It Is and, more importantly, why was so much of Silicon Valley talking about it? A Twitter account of the same name offered few clues, only hinting at a Friday evening announcement and linking to a bare-bones website that looks straight out of the ‘90s where people could add their email to a waitlist. Several screenshots began circulating from users claiming to be working on test builds of the app, and while they clearly didn’t look serious, the elaborateness of it all seemingly just for a gag only fueled speculation further.
At around midnight, the website’s banner changed to read “It is what is it. We’re live,” followed by instructions for users to donate to charities that support the Black community like Loveland Foundation, the Okra Project, and the Innocence Project and share their receipt in order to learn more.
Which is when the It Is What It Is team revealed that it had trolled tech Twitter—though is it even still considered trolling if it’s for a good cause?—into jumping on the hype train for an app that doesn’t exist. Submitting a receipt takes you to a page that reads “This isn’t a real app. None of this is real. It is what is.” along with a link to the team’s merch store and a disclaimer that all proceeds go to organizations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
In Friday’s statement, the group revealed more information about how this inside joke developed into a massive fundraising campaign that purportedly garnered more than $200,000 in donations for charities that help Black communities.
“What started out as a meme in our small group chat grew bigger than we ever imagined. So we thought about how to make use of the hype cycle we’d stumbled upon,” the team wrote. “But honestly, we didn’t have to think too hard: in this moment, there’s pretty much no greater issue to amplify than the systemic racism and anti-Blackness much of the world is only beginning to wake up to.”
Regynald Augustin, an engineer at Twitter who helped launch It Is What It Is, told Business Insider that the team was composed of roughly 60 20-somethings in the tech, all people of color, who pulled the campaign together in some 36 hours. As for how they designed such a successful marketing strategy: “we were literally just vibing,” the team tweeted Saturday.
After members of the group began posting the emoji combination in their Twitter handles, what was once an inside joke quickly took on a life of its own. Between 30,000 and 50,000 people signed up on the “app’s” waitlist, Augustin said.
“In conclusion, it is what it is: a meme that leveraged the relentless hype of exclusive apps and redirected it towards a critical social need,” the team wrote in Friday’s statement.