12 for 12: The Fine Line Between Clever and Stupid in Cards Against Humanity

Close up image of people playing Cards Against Humanity
Close up image of people playing Cards Against Humanity

For the past five months, 12 for 12 has been exploring Chicago brands in search of the secret to their success.

But, in this fifth episode, something wonderfully unexpected happened. Cards Against Humanity’s co-founder, Max Temkin, asked our show’s host, Adam Voss, an even more fundamental question…”How do you define ‘brand?'”

(It’s truly an amazing moment and a great reason to watch this month’s episode).

Chicago-based Cards Against Humanity “is a party game for horrible people.” At least that’s what it says on the box. But below the lid is an absurd tsunami of topics touching on all things comedy and tragedy, philosophy and popular culture, integrity and vulgarity, semantics and anti-semitism, the English language and the English actor Daniel Radcliffe–all printed and packaged on stark, black and white playing cards.

The game is simple but brilliant. Everyone starts with 10 white cards that provide interesting and colorful subjects or phrases in which to fill in the blanks of the black cards, that, in turn, introduce questions or scenarios. Each round, the funniest white card–according to the card czar–wins and becomes the new czar.

Image of boxes holding Cards Against Humanity expansion packs

I’ve played Cards Against Humanity on a few occasions in the last couple years, usually combined with an excessive amount of bourbon, and have always enjoyed the game’s natural regression into all things ridiculous and depraved. But how can a party game, based on taboo topics and bouts of blue humor, also be the top selling game on Amazon for five years straight? What is the secret to their very ‘serious’ success?

And beyond that, what of Max’s question. What is a brand? Is it a question we just never thought to ask because it shadows all unconscious thought, or one we had never stopped to answer because we were distracted by the bourbon selection at the bar?

Is it just a social construct, or is it deeply rooted in the fabric of who were are and what we do, like identity, trying to provide purpose or meaning? If so, then can anything be a brand?? And if anything  can be a brand, then what makes Cards Against Humanity so different? Is brand a reflection of our ourselves, a projection of who or what we want to be–or how our customers see us?

I had to know what this elusive concept really means. So, naturally I Googled it. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, brand is defined as, “(1) a category of products that are all made by a particular company and all have a particular name, (2) a particular kind or type of something, and (3) the thesis of this month’s episode of 12 for 12.”

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. But go easy on the bourbon.





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