The founders of Cards Against Humanity promised their holiday promotion this year would save America. It may have been a joke, but one part of the campaign is surprisingly sincere: a new podcast dedicated to discussing only good news.
The idea goes back to the spring, when David Pinsof and the other co-founders of the "party game for horrible people" were on a company retreat in Napa Valley. First, they decided on a "Cards Against Humanity Saves America" theme, in which people would pay $15 each to fund six days of political stunts during December. On the first day, for example, the company would use some of the money to buy a plot of land on the U.S.-Mexico border and hire a law firm to defend it against future attempts to build a wall. On the third day, they'd redistribute some of the proceeds from the promotion, giving the 100 poorest registrants $1,000 checks.
Pinsof had just finished reading Steven Pinker's 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature, which argues that violence in the world is actually at an all-time low. "I just remember being floored by that," Pinsof says. "Because it's so at odds with what you see in the news and what it feels like the world is like right now."
That revelation ultimately resulted in The Good News Podcast, a five-minute program that covers one piece of positive news each day. The holiday campaign's funding allows it to be ad-free for a year. Launched in early December, it's gotten more than 300,000 downloads in its first two weeks, according to project manager Jenn Bane.
While the podcast has been a success so far, its earnest ethos seems disconnected from the usual sarcastic tone of the Cards Against Humanity brand. There's a lesson for other businesses here: Sometimes you have to pay attention to what your audience needs, even if it's not what you usually produce.
The importance of taking creative risks
The initial description of the podcast was pretty vague: A daily show about good news. That left a litany of mission-defining questions to be answered. What counts as good news? Should the show's episodes be timely or evergreen? Should the podcast be educational or a means of escapism?
"You don't want to say, 'Hey, look at this cute animal and ignore this political movement,'" Bane says. "That's not our goal. Our goal is to be like, 'Hey, pay attention to this political movement and take five minutes and hear about something really good that happened in the environment.'"
That means the show's tone fluctuates between purely adorable and a little more serious. The first episode focused on a Florida animal shelter that's been sorting its dogs into Harry Potter-themed houses: Gryffindog, Hufflefluff, Ravenpaw, and Slobberin. Another episode featured co-hosts Colleen Pellissier and Neil Jacobsen talking to a co-founder of the Nova Collective, a consulting company focused on building diversity and inclusiveness in workplaces.
"Give someone a moment of time to breathe," Bane says. "Maybe they'll smile, maybe they'll feel good after the show."
Deviating from Cards Against Humanity's comedic reputation has been a key to the podcast's success, according to Pinsof. You can't be afraid to take creative risks, he says, especially if you've already built a reputation as a trustworthy brand.
"Just because media is currently incentivized to cover the bad news doesn't mean that we are doomed to live in a world where that's all we see," he says. "We found one way to get around those incentives: Have people give us money and trust that we're going to do cool things with it."