Q&A: How Cards Against Humanity Won the Holidays With a Whole Load of B.S.

Ben Hantoot recaps a special promotion

Cards Against Humanity's promotions are as bitingly sarcastic as the game itself—whether they're charging more for the game on Black Friday, experimenting with a "Pay what you want" model (which outright insulted anyone who chose to pay less than cost) or teaming with Netflix just this week for an already sold out House of Cards pack.

But the card game's recent "12 Days of Holiday Bullshit" promotion was truly something special. In December, 100,000 people paid $12 for 12 gifts from CAH, with no idea what they'd get. They sold out in less than six hours. And then, incredibly, they really did give 100,000 people 12 gifts each (and then some).

AdFreak caught up with Ben Hantoot, one of the founders of CAH and the design force behind Holiday Bullshit, for a postmortem.

AdFreak: Start at the beginning. How did you come up with this bullshit?

Ben Hantoot: As you may know, in 2012 we did a pay-what-you-want expansion pack for the holidays. We donated all the profit to Wikimedia—about $70,000—making us a "major benefactor," which made us feel important. We also got a very healthy press response, and the fans loved it. For 2013, we had to one-up ourselves. We'd thought about doing another pay-what-you-want pack, or some other similar gag, but ultimately we decided to do almost exactly the opposite—you pay us $12, and we won't even tell you what you're getting. We came up with the name "12 Days of Holiday Bullshit" very suddenly … no one even remembers how that happened, but it sounded great and we stuck with it.

Did you expect it to sell out as fast as it did?

Among the eight of us, everyone had their own opinions about how long it would take to sell out, but most people were predicting more like two to five days. Six hours was much faster than anyone thought. Watching the counter was kind of terrifying. We were amazed the website didn't crash.

Would you have pulled it off without getting 100,000 people on board?

Everything was already manufactured by the time we started selling the $12 slots, so if we ended up selling less than 100,000, we just would have lost even more money on this giant thing.

Speaking of money, how much money did you make on Black Friday when you increased the price of your card game by $5?

It worked so well! We had about the same jump in sales we had in 2012, normalized versus the previous Friday, but then if you look at Saturday to Monday, we did much, much better than 2012, thanks to silly publications like Adweek who posted all about it.

Back to the Holiday Bullshit. What kind of feedback did you get from fans?

Most of the feedback fell into one of two categories: "OMG THIS IS SO AMAZING AND WORTH MORE THAN $12" and "WTF MY ENVELOPES ARE LATE YOU SHOULD DIE."

The "Tell Santa CAH what you want for Christmas" section that appeared after you paid your $12—what function did that serve?

We also asked people the nicest and naughtiest things they did in 2013. Then we sorted through the responses and picked out the ones that were either really funny or really sweet, and actually sent people what they asked for.

A very enthusiastic fan for whom you bought a Lord of the Rings card game contacted me personally on a crusade to get you some press in return for her gift. What else did people get?

We sent one guy a few trillion Zimbabwe dollars, another some beef jerky, a few others a Roku or fresh socks or Space Jam on VHS. Some people who had good stories but stupid requests got books and DVDs by the artists we worked with on the comics page. It was a lot of fun.

How far in advance did you start planning all the shenanigans?