Cards Against Humanity dubs itself “a card game for horrible people.” The humor varies from absurdist to deeply politically incorrect. Repeating half of the answer cards in mixed company could get you an appointment with HR or the school guidance counselor.
So naturally, my closest friends were shocked to learn last year that I hadn’t played before. And after a sumptuous “Friendsgiving” feast, we settled in for a game, and it was awesome—uncomfortable at times, inappropriate by all sexual, ethnic, and general human decency standards… and almost too much fun.
Now I can’t get enough of the game. I’ve already bought the game as a gift once, so when I tried to buy it on this Black Friday, I was met with an advertisement for a $6 box full of sterilized feces from a male cow. That’s right: Cards Against Humanity sold bullshit. 30,000 boxes worth. They sold out.
This actually sounds a little nasty to me—mainly because some unfortunate people bought it, thinking it was some kind of special expansion pack for the game.
CEO Max Tempkin responded to these incorrect assumptions via Twitter:
But I have to say, the cackling misanthrope in me appreciated it, even though I much preferred their Black Friday stunt last year. In 2013, they sold the game for $5 more on Black Friday, encouraging customers to “consume” with the click of a button. And in 2012, they sold a holiday expansion pack at “pay what you can” pricing, which earned the company $70,000. They donated all proceeds of the day to Wikipedia.
But even without the Black Friday mocking, Cards Against Humanity is an interesting company. They don’t do deals or gimmicks, just a flat price—$25, chosen because it’s the minimum on Amazon for free shipping. They also offer a free, print at home, downloadable version of their game, which operates under a Creative Commons license.
The company (which is made up of a group of 8 friends) chooses not to release its sales numbers, but their hometown paper estimates they’ve sold 500,000 copies of the game, and that they made around $12 million from 2011-2013, their first two years in business.
These friends took an idea, turned it into a Kickstarter campaign, and then made a business. Their model works for the brand and for them, and it also works for me, an average consumer. Authenticity and irreverence are qualities I admire, and are characteristics that sell.
I think I relate to their tactics so much because while I care deeply about people and issues, I also have a cynical streak. Is there such a thing as snark with a conscience?
I’m not anti-advertising (who doesn’t appreciate a humorous marketing campaign?), but I am against mindless consumerism, and so I like seeing companies that share my values.
Black Friday seems to bring out the worst in our consumer culture. Despite stores opening earlier (and making the most economically vulnerable workers miss Thanksgiving), Black Friday shopping was down this year by 10-12%.
But overall November sales are still up, and even with Black Friday shopping down, 87 million peoples still went shopping that day. And those that didn’t brave the stores were still buying, buying, buying on their mobile devices, according to Paypal.
To me, any dissenting voice, especially if it stands to make money off our shameless display of overconsumption, is one I support.
I’ve been trying really hard to make my giving meaningful and minimalist this year. But I’ll admit, I find myself reverting to the feeling that the people I love need stuff for them to know I care.
I’m going to keep playing (and gifting) Cards Against Humanity to all my favorite horrible people, and here’s why:
What the “bullshit” sale to me said was: Don’t buy things you don’t need, just to have bought something. Yes, many stores offer significant savings on Black Friday, but it’s not like they’re giving away groceries, or mortgage payments, or schoolbooks. They’re sharing deals on the next version of the electronic device you already own, or the newest overpriced mass-produced toy.
Most importantly, they’re offering you the idea that your holidays will be better if you have more stuff.
And that’s kind of bullshit.
Emily Rabbitt is a freelance and fiction writer in the Washington, D.C. area. She is a Massachusetts native, iced coffee enthusiast, and marathon runner, and tries to be a good citizen of the planet. Follow her on Twitter: @rabbitterun.