A Black (Friday) Hole of Creativity

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Maybe my memory is worsening with each year, but I have to admit that I do not recall “Black Friday” existing as a child. I know that I didn’t have school and I know that a lot of adults had the day off. I’m certain that quite a bit of shopping happened, but I don’t recall it being any sort of major event as much as a convenient time to get holiday shopping done prior to the Christmas rush toward the end of the calendar year.

One of my cohorts has already touched upon some of the history of Black Friday, so I do not plan to rehash that. I also don’t plan to question unbridled capitalism. I was raised Catholic, I let the Pope handle that. Instead, I just want to point out that for an event with such a singular focus on consumerism, I would have expected the advertising and marketing to be a bit more interesting. As far as I can remember, companies have primarily focused on straight-forward “lowest prices ever” advertisements. For most companies, this year’s biggest innovation appears to have been opening the stores earlier, which is the most innovative improvement I’ve seen since Coors Light allowed us to not only tell if our beer is cold, but if it is super cold.

There is one exception though, namely, the company behind the increasingly popular party game Cards Against Humanity. The company describes its product as a “party game for horrible people” that is “as despicable and awkward as you and your friends.” Rather than lowering its prices for Black Friday, they decided to go in a different direction with the following deal:

Yes, thousands of people “liked” the status, not to mention numerous comments, shares, and presumably other unsolicited social media advertising through other outlets such as twitter. Plus, a number of major internet and traditional media outlets picked up the story. According to Business Insider, sales were up on that day from a year prior (with the $5 increase), and sales spiked up on Saturday, once the product returned to its normal (i.e., “boring”) price.

As the Business Insider astutely points out, “Obviously, this kind of “offer” won’t work for everyone — or probably, anyone, ever again.” The product itself uniquely lent itself to this sort of snarky type of offer and, besides, it wouldn’t be as interesting the second time around. However, Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, and other major corporations, even with all of their business experience, advertising budgets, and marketing consultants, it seems like the best they could come up was charge less and open earlier. A couple of friends with a Twitter account charged more for their product, got free publicity, and even improved their sales numbers.

The sellers of Cards Against Humanity built a brand identity around their product, tailored their advertising to reflect that identity, found a way to engage potential customers in an interactive way, and, most importantly, they didn’t give up on the idea just because it was unconventional or because their retailers (Amazon) initially pushed back. Whether this exact offer in this specific form is likely to work for anyone ever again, isn’t really the point. Instead, the success of this campaign relied on marketing strategies that can benefit any product or company. I don’t know whether the people behind this product really are as “despicable” as they claim to be, but I don’t need any mountains to turn blue, black, or any color to know that they’re at least creative. Super creative.