Black Friday has come and gone, and one of this year's most counterintuitive winners was the scrappy little Chicago gamemaker Cards Against Humanity. It didn't exactly tally the most sales, though it did sell quite a lot of ... something.
It earned a boatload of press for ditching the usual holiday promotion, and not releasing a special holiday pack of cards. In fact, it decided to boycott Black Friday and sell zero cards to anyone.
"To help you experience the ultimate savings on Cards Against Humanity this Black Friday, we've removed the game from our store, making it impossible to purchase," the cardmaker's site read. And then it linked to its online store, where, for one day only, it was selling one thing: bull shit. Sterilized poop of cow. In a box. For $6.
The punch line: The bull shit sold out.
If you've ever played Cards Against Humanity, whose tag line is "the party game for horrible people," you understand its dark and off-kilter sense of humor. But literally mailing feces--isn't that going a bit far? Maybe not.
I've spent time with the humans behind Cards Against Humanity, and Cards still seems well poised to be the breakout party game of this decade. When it's not out of stock, it's very often the No. 1 game on Amazon.com. By one estimate, as of more than two years ago, a half-million $25 decks had sold, earning the game's creators an estimated $12 million. A little more background, from my feature:
While Cards Against Humanity might seem like one of the hippest and fastest-growing startups in its hometown of Chicago, this isn't the work of a shrewd executive. Quite the opposite. It's the brainchild of eight friends in their mid-20s, some of whom met in grade school, and most of whom attended Highland Park High School together. Their names are Max Temkin, Josh Dillon, Daniel Dranove, Eli Halpern, Ben Hantoot, David Munk, David Pinsof, and Eliot Weinstein. Today, each is likely a millionaire thanks to his contribution to the game. But not one has quit his day job to work on Cards Against Humanity full time.
As a business, it's completely bootstrapped, with no major outside investment and having completed just one small crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to fund the first production run. And somehow, along the very winding and counterintuitive path this ragtag group of young men has taken, they've managed to create a successful--and perhaps even admirable--business. Only, it barely resembles a business.
And it's in that barely resembling a business that the secret sauce is stored for this one particular (however reluctant) business. See, Cards Against Humanity's anti-establishment vibe doesn't exactly work if the company totally sells out, or otherwise appears to resemble a massive company. So, a little freaky marketing here and there--say, turds in a box--keeps its most rabid fans amused, and also earns the company a heck of a lot of publicity on the sly.
Max Temkin, the ringleader of the eight friends who created Cards, and who split profits on their sales evenly, is fairly frank about this idea. When I asked him whether we'd ever see Cards Against Humanity on the shelves of Target or Walmart, he scoffed:
"I'd rather people bought it out of a brown paper bag from the back of a van on a college campus," Temkin says. "We think people who shop in American Apparel or Urban Outfitters would certainly be interested in buying it, but we don't want to have that cheapen our brand."
OK then! And in any event, happy Cyber Monday: The Cards' online store is back up, with a "Ten Days or Whatever of Kwanzaa" special and all its regular products. And the game is on top of Amazon's Toys & Games bestseller list.
What more could a "business" ask for?