This is extreme marketing at its finest — and it works.
During last week’s Super Bowl LI, over 100 million people tuned in to watch the live action of their favorite football teams. It is a popular American tradition for sports lovers, synonymous with gathering around the turkey at Thanksgiving or the Christmas tree in December. And it has all of the beautiful elements of addictive action-packed moments: The drama, the sweat, the strategy, the halftime show, the close calls, and the dramatic finish. It’s a pinnacle moment in American living rooms across the nation.
But, we really know why people tune in.
Super Bowl ads are something of a cultural phenomenon. The extremely high viewership and demographics are the perfect recipe for large companies to capitalize on getting their message out to a wide audience. Specifically, the Super Bowl is one of the quintessential most watched television broadcasts, where leading brands push the limits with surreal, quirky, and shocking ads that convert to huge sales.
In the wide world of advertising, the most eye-catching, memorable message is king. Geiko. McDonalds. Ford. No doubt, thinking of these large brands also brought to mind a quirky ad that you’ve probably shared on Facebook.
So, what brand comes to mind when you think of a potato?
Enter Cards Against Humanity, the notoriously offensive card game, who joined the Super Bowl advertising hall of fame last Sunday for probably the best ad you almost didn’t notice.
A potato. On the television screen. With the word “Advertising” written in dark, black letters on the spud. For 30 seconds. Without sound. Then the ad goes to black. That’s it.
The genius of this seemingly confusing advertisement is their response afterward. The company followed up with a Medium blog titled “Why our Super Bowl Ad failed” and a full story about how they went bankrupt because they truly believed (through “extensive” market research) that because Americans loved potatoes, Super Bowl viewers would naturally love their ad. However, darn, not including their logo was a complete oversight and, shucks, they also realized no one actually mentioned potatoes during the Super Bowl. So they wen’t bust. They’ll learn better next time.
Yeah, that was all fake.
They aren’t bankrupt and they knew exactly what they were doing.
This type of marketing stunt strategy fits perfectly with their absurd brand. Back in 2015, for instance, Cards Against Humanity raised $70,000 on Black Friday by collecting donations without any promise of a return to point out how money is wasted during the biggest shopping day of the year. Earlier this year, they included a call out for a new CEO in the Chicago Tribune that essentially was a plea for President Barack Obama to join their team.
How does this translate to awesome? Cards Against Humanity knows their brand extremely well. And they know their audience. This company can go out and make outrageous ads or bold claims about the status quo because that is what they have built their company on. It’s literally the name of their game. And people love it. Their customers are eager to purchase a $25 game to get a fist full of cards that are designed to be purposefully politically incorrect.
So, for a $5 million dollar Super Bowl ad and a mock blog post explaining how they went wrong, in reality, joke is on you. And you will remember them. And more than likely, you will even buy the game, or bring it up in conversation and someone you know will go into a story about a memorable time when they played the game. Is the ad bold and risky? Yes. Did they spend money making it? Extremely little. Will the pay out be big? We’ll have to wait and see.
But the name of the game is memorable. And for this round, this brand played their cards right.