Selling Bullsh*t (and Other Ways) to Create Buzz for Your Business

The holidays are one of the best times to get in front of customers, but also the noisiest. Shoppers are expecting higher volume of emails and communication from companies, it’s true – but your messaging sometimes gets lost in the flood. Some retailers, like Best Buy, are reliably known to have some of the best Black Friday deals, which generates buzz. Other retailers rely on unique ways of cutting through all the noise and getting a huge boost of publicity during the holiday season.

Cards Against Humanity pulled off a marketing stunt that generated buzz while staying true to their brand. On the game’s web store, the message read: “To help you experience the ultimate savings on Cards Against Humanity this Black Friday, we’ve removed the game from our store, making it impossible to purchase.” Cards Against Humanity decided to pull their popular game from the online store and instead sell $6 boxes of crap – literally. 30,000 boxes full of cow dung sold out in less than two hours.

Cards Against Humanity is the #1 bestseller for Toys and Games on Amazon. Exclusive expansion packs and holiday cards generate a rabid following. The usual promotion would be to release a new expansion pack for holiday cards. However, this year, customers were delighted with the gag gift and all the profits went to Heifer International, a charity that provides livestock to developing communities. The holiday stunts aren’t new – last year, the game sold for $5 more than the usual price. This tactic didn’t seem to hurt sales at all.


Last year’s Black Friday promotion from Cards Against Humanity.

Another retailer that likes to drum up publicity through controversial methods is Urban Outfitters. In recent months, the trendy clothing store came out with a seemingly bloodstained “vintage” Kent State sweater, items that perpetuate offensive stereotypes of Native Americans and Irish culture, and Lord Ganesh duvet covers and socks that are offensive to Hindus. The frequency of the gaffes was suspicious; NPR reported recently that the recent blunders look like a marketing tactic.


Urban Outfitters introduced a “vintage” Kent State sweater with embroidered bloodstains.

As a retailer that offers trendy clothing and lots of novelty items, this constant stream of mishaps might be a way to get people online or in stores. However, sales continue to dip and it seems like this marketing strategy is not working. The public has swung in favor of more socially conscious marketing instead of displays of cultural and racial ignorance.

The biggest retailer that creates the best buzz during holidays continues to be Amazon. The eCommerce giant blew people away with a “60 Minutes” exclusive look at the future of shipping with drone deliveries. The service, called Prime Air, would make it possible to deliver some items in as quickly as half an hour, but it looks like the drones won’t be in operation for a few more years.


Amazon’s Kiva robots preparing Cyber Monday inventory.

This year, videos of Amazon’s Kiva robots getting inventory ready for Cyber Monday sale circulated online. The mesmerizing videos show the giant Roomba-like robots zooming through a warehouse and transporting towers of merchandise. This impressive show of efficiency and technology was an inside glimpse of Amazon’s warehouses as well as the fruit of the 2012 purchase of Kiva Systems.

Keeping customers engaged and generating new buzz sometimes go hand in hand when it comes finding that marketing sweet spot. Revealing some of the inner workings of a retail giant gets everyone talking. Pranks work well for a game that is known to bring out the worst humor inside the players. But alienating customers with tactics that are too controversial might backfire.

However, a strong publicity stunt can translate into holiday sales and more exposure at a time when retailers are fighting for attention. It’ll be interesting to follow retailers year after year and see the new ways that capture the attention of customers.

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