Idiocy, a stroke of genius, or meta-mental masturbation?
Cards Against Humanity styles itself as a "party game for horrible people." It's like Apples to Apples, based on matching cards to create jokes, but for people with a sociopathic sense of humour. Maybe you've played it and had a wonderful laugh about Helen Keller or Adolf Hitler or anal sex.
Anyways, the company ran a Super Bowl commercial that reached over 114 million viewers, featuring a 30-second static image of a potato emblazoned with the word "Advertisement" on it.
No mention of the card game or even the company itself. Just a potato.
Some said this was a brilliant tactic, sure to make viewers scurry to their iPads or phones to find out more about the enigmatic advertiser behind the potato.
Others seemed to think the ad was a heap of bullshit.
Those who were intrigued by the commercial found more headbanging, post-modernist navel-gazing awaiting them on the company's Medium blog, where a post entitled "Why Our Super Bowl Ad Failed" greeted them. The post "explained" the commercial as an example of thinking "outside the box," but then claimed it "showed a disappointing return on investment ($0)." The blog also announced that the company was now "going out of business."
Max Temkin, Cards Against Humanity's CEO, later confirmed that the threat of bankruptcy was just a joke.
What is a viewer, who perhaps just wants to watch some football and some Gaga, to make of all this?
Cards Against Humanity's trade is, of course, snarky-ness. To play the game, one player picks a question from a black card—such as "What's the new fad diet?" or "What did Vin Diesel eat for dinner?" Then, the other players try to answer with their "funniest" white card, which could say things like "My genitals" or "Sperm whales."
Hilarious? If you think so, you probably thought their ad was great, too.
According to the company's tongue-in-cheek blog post, they had hit up an advertising agency, which "wasted over six months of our precious time" with normal ads, featuring people playing the game and laughing.
Who in the hell would want that shit?
Then, the company jokingly says, it consulted USDA research, which revealed that potatoes are quite popular among Americans—as one does when trying to promote a card game.
Fatal flaw? "We failed to anticipate that sports fans ultimately had trouble making the leap from 'Super Bowl' to 'potato' to 'Cards Against Humanity.'" In short, the company wrote, "We never stopped to question whether a potato would convey the essential brand experience of Cards Against Humanity."
Of course, using the absence of any connection whatsoever between a potato and a card game was exactly what Cards Against Humanity did to try to convey the essential brand experience of their game—in a purposefully convoluted and mind-bending way.
All of which makes us wonder: When are things just too meta? When is a potato a card game? When is a card game a potato? And most importantly: Are we really supposed to forget we're being sold, and simply delight in this Russian doll of an ad-within-a-blog post?
Is your head hurting? Ours, too. Why can't a potato just be a potato?