100 Days of Pop: Episode 12 Cards Against Humanity

Today on 100 Days of Pop, I highlight one of my favorite Pop-Marketing Brands and marketing superpower of using moments on the calendar to both maximize share of wallet and share of voice during the holiday season.

Though it isn’t Fortune 100 I bet you’ve heard of them and probably been to a party or 3 where the game popped up.  That minimalist black box with white Helvetica font is a staple in game rooms all over the country. Today we’re talking about everyone’s favorite card game for horrible people Cards Against Humanity.  

There’s so much I love about this quirky design brand that I can’t possibly squeeze all them all in today but I’ll give a little background on this brand before I jump into their calendar based strategy.

Cards Against Humanity is a party game in which players take these black cards mad libs and then fill in the blank w/these white cards to create comedy genius.

I’m going to call them a design brand.  1 because It’s designed to put these cards and these cards together to create an idea in your head that a group of people laughs at.  That’s extremely simple, but also tough to do.

The box is also designed to be cool and interesting enough to put on your coffee table instead of the closet of board games.  Don’t stack this thing- Leave it out so people ask about it and people are more likely to play it and the more people play the more people go home and buy it.  See…genius already 🙂

Their origin story is important to how they so confidently steer against the grain of the traditional board game industry.
The game was financed with a Kickstarter in 2011, so really early in Kickstarter-  The goal was a hefty $4,000 and it ended up raising $15,000- Which may not sound like a lot of money compared to modern campaigns but at the time it was the most funded game in Kickstarter history.
A month after it launched it became the number one game on Amazon.com. Since its release, CAH has gradually become more popular and has seen a rise in sales throughout the years. The Chicago Sun-Times estimated that CAH earned at least $12 million in profit, and according to the company, customers have downloaded the PDF file 1.5 million times in the year since they began tracking the numbers.
It launched online via an online crowdfunding app and apart from a recent deal w/ Target, it’s stayed that way for 7 years.The game was made by 8 high school friends that made games for themselves.  It’s still owned by those 8. And although there are full-time employees, not one of the 8 work their full time.

Wait wait wait…it’s time to get to the meat of this episode-  Focus! It's about Moments- Using moments of the calendar to break through the noise and few do it better than CAH.

Let’s talk about CAH’s use of MOMENTs of PROOF-  A moment of proof is finding the most important times in your year’s calendar that is 1. Good for business and 2. Good for culture, meaning that it’s on the mind’s of people at that time and they’re more likely to read, share and talk about things that are attached to that moment.

Some companies take advantage of moments that are already there-  Take Valentine’s Day that entire industries are built around.
Some brands make their own moments-  Star Wars Day
April Fools is a fairly popular one these days too. Google.

I worked on Wingstop where we found that one of the largest business days of the year was 420 and activated that holiday for 4 years.

For CAH there are 2 times during the calendar that matter-  They know it and they focus clearly on them EVERY YEAR- It’s Black Friday and it’s the Holiday season.  They put 90% of their outward energy on these 2 times.

The beauty of finding your moments is that it builds energy, power and brand equity over time-  The value in this approach happens as you gather steam and people start anticipating and wondering what you will be doing next.  

Since 2013, the creators of Cards Against Humanity have held satirical promotions on Black Friday.  

I’m going to focus on Black Friday and remember that for CAH, they aren’t really trying to get you to BUY on Black Friday, but to THINK of them and set them up for the entire holiday season.

In 2013, an "anti-sale" was held in which the game's cost was raised by $5 USD. Despite its higher price, the game went on to maintain its best-selling status on Amazon and actually experienced a spike in sales.  Kid you not.

In 2014, the game and its expansions were removed from the online store and replaced by "Bullshit"—boxes containing sterilized bull feces, sold at $6 USD each.  They sold 30,000 boxes of bullshit. Actual bullshit.

In 2015, the game's online store was replaced by an order form with an offer to "Give Cards Against Humanity $5" and receive nothing in return. The offer was justified by claiming that "the greatest Black Friday gift of all is buying nothing. We're offering that for the rock-bottom price of $5. How can you afford NOT to seize this incredible opportunity?",They didn’t even tell anyone what they were going to spend the money on and over 11k people sent 5 bucks in  The $70k was just divided amongst the 8 owners.

For 2016, Oh 2016!  The infamous Holiday Hole-  Where CAH live streamed an excavation of a HOLIDAY HOLE located in Orgen, Illinois and stated they would continue digging the hole (this is with bulldozers and giant digging equipment) for as long as the donations came in they’d keep digging.

No stated reason for the hole nor any planned use of the money, and explicitly ruled out charity in a FAQ by asking the reader, "why aren't YOU giving all this money to charity? It's your money."

$100,573 was collected. Later in the week, the hole was filled back up and reseeded.

On Black Friday 2017, the Cards Against Humanity website was redirected to OriginalProngles.com, which announced that the creators of Cards Against Humanity had exited the gaming industry in favor of snack food, with a commitment to "bold flavors and bold thinking".
And this year-  This year they took it to a whole new level hosting their own live QVC like program for over a week called the 99 Percent Off Sale , where CAH sold used cars, medieval weapons, TVs, and even $100 bills for 99% off among the included items: one $20 bill (sold for 20c), one a $100 bill ($1), a Eight Foot Gummy Python, a 17th-century spear, a life-size cutout of Orlando Bloom, a mahogany casket, a 20-foot Yurt.

The point is that by focusing in and pulling a stunt every year on Black Friday, they've built muscle memory with not only consumers but with the media that cover their shenanigans every year.  After 6 years we are all wondering what's it going to be this year? It gets easier to get coverage and enter break through all of the Black Friday noise-

Why?  Well- CAH has a really simple answer-  If you think about us, you play us and when you play us, people buy us.  It's simple. It sets up the ball for the whole holiday season- It's not the black Friday sales they're after, but the share of mind.  

I didn't even get to their holiday shenanigans or that time they bought a Super Bowl ad and just showed a potato w/ the word advertisement on it for 30 seconds.

Pop-Marketing powers are strong w/ CAH because well they have a worldview.  You don't have to save the world, clean the ocean, save the dolphins, or stop world hunger...all you have to do is have a POV.  Put your money where your mouth is. Do cool shit and then tell people about it.

And there isn’t a CEO but I kinda got a professional crush on our man Max Temkin, one of the 8 owners and an extremely talented mind. Check his Creative Mornings talk from a few years ago or his recent interview on the Thoroughly Considered podcast episode 35.  You won’t be disappointed.

Ok, next up is our year-ender.  I'll be talking about The top Pop-Marketing Moments of 2018 as we sail into 2019.

Thanks for watching and see ya soon true believers.

Joe Cox