Doing “Just Wrong” Just Right – Cards Against Humanity

In the middle of all the Black Friday/Cyber Monday/Before-Christmas/After-Christmas promotions that came out in the past two years, one brand has managed to stand out, generate revenue, and build fans.

I’m speaking, of course, about Cards Against Humanity. In case you don’t know this brand, it’s an absolutely foul card game, like Apples to Apples, that incorporates raunchy, embarrassing, inappropriate and generally hilarious jokes. Only play the game with people you know or trust. Never your parents. Or your young children.

After generating great awareness for the game, largely it seems via word of mouth, these guys have in the past couple years executed some brilliant holiday-related promotions. They’re worth showcasing because they’re excellent examples of how a brand can stay true to itself and still manage to stand out, amid the noise of 8 million other brands vying for attention.

Here’s some of their tactics:

Black Friday

In case you somehow missed it, the company sold and shipped 30,000 packages of literal, honest-to-goodness bull feces to consumers. CAH’s bullshit sold out, in fact. And at one point, sealed boxes on eBay were going for as much as $50.

The stunt, which followed last year’s “$5 More Black Friday” sale, is the most audacious in the brand’s series of satirical criticisms leveled at Black Friday mania. In a Tumblr post about the promotion (no-motion?) CAH co-creator Max Temkin called the day after Thanksgiving, and historically a pivotal day for businesses, a “vulgar monument to consumerism.” (Make sure to read Temkin’s entire roundup, which breaks down what we’ve all wanted to know but were too afraid to ask.) Yet the company made back all of its $174,000 investment, plus an extra $6,000, which it donated to Heifer International.

Clearly, Temkin and crew’s disenchantment resonates with buyers. Save for a few who skipped the crucial disclaimer, public reaction has been mostly positive, especially considering that—again—this was nothing but BS.

Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Etc.

Cards Against Humanity’s “Ten Days Or Whatever of Kwanzaa” was the company’s 2014 holiday promotion. At holidaybullshit.com, a quarter of a million people (including yours truly) signed up to receive mystery gifts throughout December. Just like it did a month earlier, the company delivered on its questionable promise, only not all the surprises have amounted to a box of poo.

Some have been cute (a comic), others insightful (a summary of my US senator’s campaign donors in 2014), others bleak. All of them have been funny, and all have tied into an overarching puzzle hidden among the items.

Cards Against Humanity Island

Photo courtesy mostlysignssomeportents.tumblr.com

The final gift: an honest to goodness deed to one square foot of an island in Maine, now renamed Hawaii 2, that I, and all other participants now co-own. (Whee!)

So why are these promos so successful? Maybe we’ve grown wary of wanton merchandising and unadulterated Holiday cheer, and more receptive to irony. But I think blaming cynicism does a disservice to the creative people behind CAH. Plus, it doesn’t feel all that removed from something MTV’s Jackass might have done ten years ago, or MAD Magazine twenty years before then.

The brand’s ultimate strength, what keeps us coming back for more bullshit, is its commitment to a joke and—oxymoronic as this sounds—its integrity to its brand.

Throughout the promotion, CAH has never lost sight of what makes its flagship card game an explosive success: its ability to pull humor from darkness and its willingness to play with the deadly serious, often jarring images that confront us every day. Coupled with whip-smart, consistent branded content—or what Andy might call a “branded experience”—Cards Against Humanity has developed into an thing we count on for fun, or at the very least, a creative way to get to know your friends now and then.

When I first started working on this post I was thinking CAH was a great example of zagging during the holiday season. But as I conclude, I think they’ve actually just continued to zig in their own freaky-deaky way — the time of year was the only variable.

Post Date
January 9, 2015
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