Cards Against Humanity and unorthodox marketing

December 2nd, 2015 / Sophie Allen

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are finally over, and the mavericks over at Cards Against Humanity have shown themselves to be the true winners of the season once again. Let’s take a look at their approach to marketing.


Cards Against Humanity is genuinely, as it describes itself, a party game for horrible people. The only way to play it is while drunk and with people who won’t disown you, and its dark humour isn’t for the weak hearted.

The team behind the game are experts in bucking the trend when it comes to their promotions. Back in 2014 they bought an island and called it Hawaii 2, then as part of their Holiday Bullshit promotion sent 250,000 fans a license that lets them visit. To show their total distaste for Black Friday they charged $5 more for the game in 2013 and literally sold poop in 2014. This year, they’ve gone one further and sold, well, nothing.

After making absolutely nothing available for $5 online the brand made a whopping $71,145. On their website they’ve now provided a complete (and hilarious) breakdown of how they’ve used the cash and spent every last penny on themselves.

It sounds mad – and it is – but these seasonal stunts are awesome examples of successful branding. The people at CAH pride themselves on their humour, honesty, and independence, and they strive to maintain a personal relationship with their customers.

All that’s reflected in everything from the concepts themselves to the supporting communications, like this year’s Black Friday FAQs:

If I give you $5, will I actually get anything in exchange?
We’re so glad you asked! No.

Their approach is totally refreshing simply because it isn’t contrived; the brand’s upfront, blunt, and wickedly funny in everything they do, and that’s perfectly relevant to their product.

Every marketing activity is based firmly in their values, which are absolutely central to the brand. They even have a deliberately skinny email strategy, in which they only send out emails to their followers when there’s something new or something they really need to know.

Below, designer Max Temkin talks about the development of the game and their focuses on staying independent and the importance of their values (seriously, stick it on in the background while you’re working – it’s really interesting):

So what can we learn from Cards Against Humanity? Should we try to be more unorthodox, treat consumers differently, or encourage brands to be less predictable?

Not necessarily. The main thing to learn from the brand’s approach to marketing is that the most believable, and most effective brands are the ones with values that are actually true to what they’re trying to sell, not just values they’d like to try on for size.

And because Cards Against Humanity does this so well, they completely own their communications and have been able to build an immediately recognisable brand around something that, just a few years ago, was no more than a Kickstarter campaign. That, I reckon, is the key to their success.

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