06 Jan

Copywriting lessons from an evil game

While marching through an entire box of Lindt Lindor balls, on Christmas day, I played Cards Against Humanity with my family.

If you’ve played it before, you’ll know all about it (and can skip the paragraph which follows this one). If you’ve not, here’s a little explanation…

The game is marketed under the strapline ‘A party game for horrible people’, and for good reason.
Each player (you need at least four players, to make the game interesting) is given 10 cards with all manner of things written on them; names of famous people, bizarre statements, rude comments, and some things which are – to be frank – a bit sick.
During each round, one player has to take a single, black card out of a different pile to the white ones, and read it aloud to the other players. What’s on that card will usually be some kind of statement with words missing / blanks to fill in. The other players have to look at their selection of white cards and – to fill in the blank(s) – pick the answer that they think is funniest, weirdest, or just plain wrong.
When those players have decided, they slide their chosen white card(s) (sometimes there are two blanks on the black card), face down, to the one player holding the black card. That player reads the statement aloud, filling in the blanks with the words on the other players’ cards. Hilarity (or shock) ensues, and the player holding the black cards picks their favourite answer.
The winner of that round keeps the black card. The overall winner is the one with the most black cards at the end of the game.

Why is this interesting, or in any way relevant to copywriting / marketing in general?

Well, as you play the game, something interesting happens. You can’t just think of your own sense of humour – what you find funny: you have to think in terms of what other people around the table find funny. You have to start thinking of your target audience.

The things that make me laugh fall into the category of daft, madcap, leftfield humour (zany, unbridled lunacy, intelligent nonsense), or really dark, ‘near the knuckle’ humour.
My dad likes silliness, but cannot abide dark humour that’s controversial, wrong, or ‘disgusting’. It’s not his thing. He’s quite principled.
My sisters like silly or ‘naughty’ humour, as does my girlfriend.

In the first few rounds, I was putting my weirdest white cards forward as answers: the ones with long-winded, bizarre statements on them. If not those ones, then I was trying to be a bit too clever. This made me laugh, but it didn’t make the holder of the black card laugh, so I only won one black card in each of the first two games (others won three or four).

Then I started working out what made other people laugh Vs what I found funny. I considered, each time, the kind of answers/white cards that would make my sisters, my dad, or my girlfriend laugh (and, consequently, pick me as the winner of that round, passing me the black card).
There was no point giving my dad white cards with crude statements on, so I went for slapstick answers when he held the black card.
One of my sisters really liked the rude / naughty answers, so I only put those forward when she held the black card.

The point is, rather than thinking ‘what do I find funny?’ or ‘what do I want to say?’, I started thinking ‘what do they find funny?’ or ‘what do they want to read?’.
I started thinking ‘what will get them to give me that black card?’, or – to put it in marketing terms – ‘what will move them to action? What will move them to call, click, buy, convert, or donate?’ (depending on the objective).

I still find so many companies / business owners belligerently stating ‘well that’s what I want to say about my business, so just get that across’. That might be what they want to say, but if it’s not what their target audience – paying customers/clients – want to read, then it’s irrelevant: it might as well just say ‘blah, blah, flibbledy flop’. They’re (the company/owner) not their own target audience. They’re not buying from themselves.
If you want people to buy from you, donate to your cause, or give you a call, you have to start thinking like them, not yourself: What would they like to hear? What flicks their switch? What would make them act?

Learn from Cards Against Humanity: think about what your audience likes, rather than what you like.

Oh, and I won the other two games, after the first two.

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