Exploding Kittens LLC: a story of card fraud, awkward airport conversations and an all-seeing goat wizard

A blog post for people who are into kittens and explosions, and laser beams (and sometimes goats). Oh… and listening to our CMO talk marketing.

You should never create something that can be easily taken out of context. It’s one of the many ground rules you are told to play by in marketing. Some pretty big brands have fallen victim to this commandment. I’ve included one of my favourites below:

But what if your brand is so out-there and bizarre that taking it out of context becomes its unique selling point (USP)? How cool would that be? Is it even possible?

I bought a new card game on Valentines Day. It’s called You’ve Got Crabs. No, it isn’t some kind of sexy card game you play with your significant other (unless you have a fetish for crustaceans). It’s based on a card game you can play with a standard poker deck known as ‘Kemps’, but with better game mechanics. The creators have also given it crabs.

It arrived with this lovely delivery note, just lovely. Haunting, but with the right balance of personal:

I played it for the first time at the weekend with my future in-laws. My future mother in-law said to me “I love the game but I don’t like telling my son he’s got crabs!” Classic, harmless nautical fun.

The backstory

You’ve Got Crabs is the third card game designed by Elan LeeMatthew Inman and Shane Small. If you’re in your 20s or 30s, chances are you’ll recognise the memorable comic stylings from The Oatmeal comics.

On January 20, 2015, the trio (and the team that supports them) launched a Kickstarter for their first game: Exploding Kittens. The original crowdfunding goal was exceeded in eight minutes. It had more than 219,000 backers and set the record for the most backers in Kickstarter history. At the time, it was the fourth most funded campaign on the crowdfunding website.

How did this happen? Creating a brand that is so nonsensical that taking it out of context becomes its USP.

Buying the new game from Exploding Kittens became essen-shell

So Exploding Kittens LLC has become the steel rod that holds up Bears vs Babies, You’ve Got Crabs and all future card games from The Oatmeal. I’ve boiled down the nonsensical-nautical-ness that made me purchase from youvegotcrabs.com:

  • The game was released on Valentine’s Day after a countdown timer had long been promoted across social media. I can think of no better day to launch a game relying on sexual innuendo to catch the eye of its target audience…

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  • The landing page had hidden nautical pun-filled sound clips in the code. That classic sped-up hamster voice gets me every time
  • Social media buzz and the pun-laden tweets of Mr Matthew Inman (@oatmeal) to maintain interest in the launch
  • The iconic drawing style of The Oatmeal that I love so (I’ve dreamed of sending the save the dates for my wedding out with your artwork on. I’m serious, I’ve had dreams.)

When it came to a purchase decision, there wasn’t one. You’d nailed the marketing I expected to see and the buy-in was so strong based on your previous products.

It’s important to know where your limits are

With a nonsensical product, it can be difficult to define the point at which you overstep the mark. The secret here is to go back to basics. Like never tweeting #youvegotcrabs because, well, do I need to explain how insensitive that is? Let alone if you actually tried to NAME your company You’ve Got Crabs. It’d take the fish.

Show that you understand your target audience with absolute clarity, but also use what you know to boost your reach. You’ve Got Crabs needs a minimum of four players, for instance. You want as many people as possible to play the game — as many times and possible and with as many different friends and family as possible — so it doesn’t seem nonsensical to make the first question of your FAQ one that will sell you more copies:

A human, relatable, quick-witted and friendly tone works. It’s high time more brands removed the corporate-laden jargon from their repertoires and put in more crab jokes.

(I bet SEO and PPC have been a nightmare though!)

I did get a bit crabby along the way…

So you come up with a great brand name, the artwork screams “buy me” and you have a marketing campaign that has spread like wildfire.

But what about those things you didn’t see coming? Well boy have I got some stories for you. The Oatmeal, take note:

Banker: Thanks for confirming some recent transaction types, now — did you try to purchase something from somewhere called Exploding Kittens on Valentine’s Day?

My fiance bought You’ve Got Crabs on his credit card, or tried to, but it was blocked and eventually, after trying another card the transaction went through.

When a brand called Exploding Kittens appears in your credit card purchase history, turns out that’s a bit of a problem for banks. One awkward conversation later and his card was unblocked. I wonder how many other customers this happened to?

Customs officer: I’m going to have to take that off you.

Sister in-law: Well this is awkward, it’s just a card game…

Last year, my sister in-law was stopped by customs for having Exploding Kittens in her hand luggage. It was briefly confiscated by a very serious customs officer. After asking for a supervisor, it was thankfully returned. Much to her delight she’d now have something to do on a very long flight. I mean, who would want to lose their first edition of Exploding Kittens?

But it’s all o-cray (fish)

No matter how much planning you do, sometimes things can slip through the crabs — I mean cracks.

With any product marketing strategy, it’s important to always expect the unexpected. Remember: the strategy doesn’t just stop when a product is released. You have retrospectives — plural. You listen to real customer feedback and plough all this new knowledge back into your product marketing. Keep selling and keep learning.

I’ve always loved playing devil’s advocate when working out a marketing strategy. At The Means, we work with clients to make sure there are no surprises.

If your current agency is fishy, why not talk to octopUS? We swim against the tide and know how to write effective messages in bottles. hello@themeans.rocks, you know where we are.

P.S. Sorry for the fishy puns. I’ll see myself out. Here’s a picture of the goat I promised to make it better.

Loose lips sink business relationships: Stop talking about clients in public

If you’re working with agencies that talk about your business in public, you’re running a big risk. And if your company is full of gossips, get them to read this…

The Means has just secured its first office. We’re all delighted to have a home for a partnership that’s only a few weeks old at this point.

And while the tea and coffee making facilities, meeting rooms and delightful reception staff are all a bonus, there’s one big reason we’re pleased:

We now have a home where we can talk about business and collaborate together properly.

When we move in – in early March – we’ll be able to build things for our clients with the level of confidentiality and care that they expect.

Right now, we use our own homes to do sensitive work and keep our public discussions extremely general.

Certainly, you’ll never see a member of The Means team discussing a project on a train or in a cafe.

Neither do we work on presentations or other sensitive documents in public spaces. It just makes sense to be that careful. You can never be sure who you’re sharing a table with on a train or sitting beside in Starbucks.

In fact, when I wrote about all the business intelligence I heard this morning in a Starbucks branch at a major London station, Twitter blew up with other stories of less than discrete discussions people have overheard on public transport, restaurants and cafes.


We don’t have too many rules at The Means but one of our watch-phrases will always be “Loose lips sink business relationships.” If your teams tend to be a little too chatty when they shouldn’t be, perhaps you should introduce them to the idea today.

And if you’re looking for a new creative agency that will make the blog posts, social strategy, video content, product plans or any other tricky task that needs words, pictures or moving images sing, contact us today on Twitter @ReadTheMeans or by email hello@themeans.rocks

Location, Location, Location! Three reasons why the quality of your business base really matters.

Rosanna Elliott explains why you can’t afford to cut corners in choosing your office space.

In a time where digital communication is almost limitless, you might think that a physical base for your business is no longer essential. You could probably save a lot of money if everyone just “worked from home”, right?

The first thing you should know about business, however, is that initial overheads aren’t everything. Acquiring a business base is an investment, but it’s one that can really pay off in terms of your team’s productivity, communication and satisfaction.

That being said, it’s only worth doing if you do it right. A bad base is potentially worse than no base at all. Here’s three reasons you need to make choosing a quality office space a priority.

1. Clients will judge you on it

Would you want to do business with a company who shows you around a mouldy office? Unless you have absolutely no standards, I’m guessing not.

You might think that an office space hosting actual mould (complete with the pervasive smell of decay) is an extreme example, but trust me on this — I’ve seen it. And for the small price of several hundreds of pounds a month in rent.

When you’re choosing an office space imagine giving a client a tour. I know different businesses have different expectations from their clients, but can you honestly say that a mouldy wall could ever be deemed appropriate for a “client facing” venture.

Unless you’re some sort of mould farmer than sells odor mould to misguided hipsters, then I’d say no.

2. You’re there a lot

You’re going to spend most of your life at work. I’m not here to debate the fairness or desirability of this fact (I mean, I totally am but not in blog posts for my place of work — which as places of work go, is actually pretty great) but I will say at the very least that you and your team deserve a pleasant office environment.

Of course, a big factor in this is tied to workplace culture and the people on your team. It’s not the only factor though. You can give yourself a much better chance of having a reasonable time at work if your physical surroundings are positive.

You’re probably best going for somewhere with enough space for people to not feel claustrophobic and with a good access to natural light. Unless you run a team of vampires, in which case you do you.

3. It reflects your goals

You can think of this one kind of like that snappy cliche “dress for the job you want, not the job you have”. You should choose an office space that fits the business you want to be, within reason of course.

I’m not suggesting you look for somewhere with a built in heated pool and a cocktail bar because you’ve been watching too much Wolf of Wall Street. What I am saying is consider your goals and make sure the office space you choose reflects them. If you know you want to expand in the near future, look for a little extra space than you necessarily need right now.

Know that, unavoidably, the location, appearance, and facilities of your office will say something about your business. Make sure it’s saying something good.

We’ve found the perfect office space for The Means. Come and visit us to talk projects. Get in touch on hello@themeans.rocks.

How to start a rebellion — Did I say rebellion? I meant start up

Emily Jarvis, CMO at The Means explains that in some ways, our start up journey did feel an awful lot like Jedi’s fighting back the evil Empire

When Luke Skywalker met Han Solo at Chalmun’s Cantina on Tatooine, he was an outcast. A farm boy. Obi-Wan had his Jedi skills, Han Solo had “the ship that made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs”, and Chewbacca was…a fuzzball(?)

My point is, Luke was among friends who shared the same end-goal: To kick Darth Vader butt and stop the evil Empire. They weren’t in it for the same reasons, but that didn’t matter.

What’s the moral to this story, Emily?

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So I got made redundant despite doing a great job and even getting a promotion. I became an outcast. Unemployed.

In fact, the whole marketing team was made redundant on the same day. My boss and I were left to explain to members of our team how this could happen after only 2–3 months employment.

Mic had his contacts and years of journalism; Rosanna had her poetry and creativity; I had my writing, filming and mentoring; Connor had his design skills; and Niky a drive to create local events and experiences.

I was just like Luke Skywalker, I was among friends who shared the same end-goal: to start a creative agency and cut loose from the evil Empire of traditional businesses.

Reflecting on the past fortnight, I realised we all went through the same four phases of emotion, which I’m going to talk you through now.

Every start up should read this and know you’re not alone. Plus, figuratively speaking, you could turn that redundancy on its head and become one of the greatest Jedi — I mean start ups — the galaxy has ever known.

1. “I’m in”

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Turns out, the idea of a start up had long been on the agenda for one of our founding partners. From the moment we received our redundancy warning letters the one thing we knew is that we wanted to stay together. I’m very proud of the team for that.

Having run a 50–50 filmmaking partnership before, I knew that buy-in to the concept was the first phase of starting an agency that works. The second is making sure there are no skills shortages and the third is making people believe in us and what we do for a living.

Buy-in was strong, each one of us brought a different skill to the table and well, the third could only be achieved with time (and some mighty good branding).

2. The “let’s go to the Winchester and wait until this all blows over” stage

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Let it be no secret that working without a central hub or better yet an office is hard. With seven founding partners, finding the space and right environment for us to put our heads together was an interesting experience. It saw us gravitate towards many pubs, cafes, restaurants and other city locales that I never knew existed. All so that we could be together.

Partnership documents were laid out over drinks, and copious amounts of eggs benedict (thanks Louis’ Deli) and plans were coined over bowls of chicken wings (thanks Gonzos). We started to get to grips with the operational challenges, diving into a world of bankers, estate agents, lawyers, references, contracts, proposals, invoices, software, client meetings — and just a little bit of blogging, web design and branding on the side of course.

3. The “no seriously, what am I doing with my life?” moment

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This nomad lifestyle took its toll pretty quickly. Searching for an office that would come in on our budget was tougher than we thought. The phrase “working from home” suddenly became the norm. The WhatsApp group lit up with questions “What should i be doing? Can I help with anything? Is anyone meeting up today?” Tasks started to become sporadic because we needed to be together to get them finished.

There was an outpouring of frustration. Anyone who has ever been unemployed in their life will know the feeling where left over adrenaline leaves you in a frenzy of anger, misery and despair.

Imagine this when you’re going down the start up road. Instead of getting the little self confidence ‘kicks’ you feel when productivity jerks into gear and you start applying for jobs again, it’s all on you. Everything needs doing at once, there’s a lot to get your head around and you know it’ll be tough.

You have to put on a face. It’s sometimes necessary. Put on enough face and you convince yourself to get stronger, prouder and back to forme.

I’ll let you into a little secret. My friends call me Jolly Jarvo. It’s a long story. In short, it’s laden with irony as I come across professionally as a serious person who, when in full swing, often forgets to pause and laugh if someone cracks a joke. It’s both a blessing and a curse, but one that lets me keep face in times like these.

Although it’ll be tough, the rewards will be endless as you hold onto the reality that you’ve made this all happen.

4. “People, we have seized the means of production”

I’m pleased to say, we’ve found an office, there’s contracts pouring through the door, there’s branding in progress and long-term creative ideas are brewing.

Jolly Jarvo is returning. No, really. I can’t wait to share our new website with you. I’m serious.

Communication keeps the team together. It keeps everyone on the same page fighting for the same dream — the dream to work with dynamic individuals and create top quality content that makes us proud, but also delivers what you need.

Best of all we have a hard working team of partners who made it through the rebellion and used the force to get The Means off to a powerful beginning. Even if there were some teething problems…

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You could say we all had the means to make our plan happen.

If you believe in the force, then I want you to believe in us too.

Do-away with the cost and commitment of having an in-house creative team. The Means could be your ticket to the galaxy of content just waiting to be explored.

Say hello@themeans.rocks and we’ll get back to you. And no, it’s not a trap.

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Facebook is a greedy dragon: Don’t build your business on Mark Zuckerberg’s terms

Like Smaug in the mountain, Facebook hoards everything shiny and never shares its riches. If you create a business based on Mark Zuckerberg’s promises, you will get burned, says Mic Wright, co-founder and CEO of The Means.

Once upon a time, in the ancient mists of the internet, when all of this was chat rooms, there were giant community swallowing beasts called AOL and CompuServe. They were not the internet, they simply mimicked it, rebuilt it within their walls like medieval castles with markets within their keeps.

Then the internet broke those walls. CompuServe died and AOL metastasised into a place that would fund the egos of sociopaths like Arianna Huffington and Shingy (don’t know who Shingy is? Click this but seriously don’t. He’s a human stain).

But as with all evil – just like Sauron returned and Voldemort would not stay dead – the walled castle returned. It’s new name was Facebook and it had learned to pretend to be open. It made things like Facebook OpenGraph and Facebook logins that seemingly made things easier for everyone. But like Smaug, the gold-hungry dragon, Facebook wanted all the ad revenue, all the traffic, all the eyeballs. And it would happily consume whole industries to satiate its crazy hunger.

And its propaganda efforts – ‘Oh, don’t worry about us, we’re just a friendly dragon in an iron mountain occasionally throwing out a few coins.’ – fooled almost everyone again and again. It would save journalism (it hasn’t), it would save politics (it hasn’t), it would save comedy (it hasn’t), it would save… you get the idea.

Facebook just wants your ad money. If you make something cool – especially video – it doesn’t care if someone else steals it. Because, in the end, Facebook always gets paid and you get… whatever Facebook feels like giving you. And Facebook, with its bland design values and censorious attitude to dissent and art, flattens everything down. It burns the forests then Mark Zuckerberg claims to love trees while selling you a pile of ashes, personally curated and sifted ashes.

So, here’s the advice bit:

The Means is a creative agency. We make things for companies and for ourselves. That means we have to make Facebook pages and deal with Facebook ads, a lot. And the thing is: Facebook sucks.

It’s very hard to work out how many people will look at something and even harder to guess how many will engage with it.

We have managed to run successful Facebook campaigns but they’re rarely as good value as Google Ads, Twitter promoted tweets (where we can get the cost per click as low as 2p/1c) and Instagram campaigns (a platform sadly owned by that greedy dragon Facebook).

So, if you run a company, you probably can’t avoid Facebook but never, ever build a business that relies on the good will of the facile folk at One Hacker Way. Facebook will be nice one day and burn your business to the ground on the next day. Like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg is not a hero, he’s a Bond villain.

Want to make something cool (even on Facebook)? Drop us a line on Twitter or via email: hello@themeans.rocks

Spot the difference: Is your brand getting the right kind of attention?

Yay! Your brand has been mentioned on another website, but was it the right kind of attention? Spotting the difference should be like telling an apple from an orange. Clue: one is an orange. The Means CMO, Emily Jarvis, explains why some mentions can damage your brand.

When your brand is mentioned by another blogger or influencer, initially we all share the same reaction: “Who are they? How big is their audience reach? Let’s share it immediately and thank them for mentioning us, it’s really kind of them”.

But…hang on. They’ve spelt your product name wrong. You’re waaaay down at number 40 in the list and they’ve listed a whole load of inaccuracies about your product. Look closer and you’ll see they’ve even got your brand messaging wrong.

Build this picture up and you have an influencer that is actually damaging your brand (I would hope, unintentionally). Your messaging is not something that should be crumpled into a ball and thrown away. I mean, it was when you were writing iteration after iteration, but it’s not now. It’s something that you took years to get right and for stakeholders to get behind.

Good publicity vs. bad publicity

You might ask yourself: “Why should it matter? People will still come to our website anyway.”

Well it does matter and it should matter to you. Why? Here’s two things to think about:

1. It’s like The Butterfly Effect

Other blog sites or influencers may take information straight from this blog for their website, and get the facts wrong again and again.

Catch it early and you spread the brand message you want. Catch it too late and earlier versions of your business model and/or product will be littered across the internet as the largest bible of trash for your 2018-prospects to browse through at their leisure.

Your prospects may even mention you to their friends offline. Ever thought of that? Word of mouth is a powerful thing in sales. So are chinese whispers. This is your chance to reinforce what you’re all about and spread the right message about your business.

2. Your website becomes a small fish in a big pond

Prospects won’t make it to you. They’ll take their business elsewhere and you won’t even know they were ever a prospect because they won’t make it to your website at all. Now think about how many articles out there you’ve seen with inaccuracies about what you’re offering. Doesn’t that make you mad thinking about all the business you’re losing?

A side note…Do a Google search for “Your brand vs. your competitor”

My least favourite mentions are those that talk about your pricing and compare you to your competition. They very rarely get in contact to askwhether you want to be featured or for an up to date pricing model. They won’t even necessarily check out your website — they’ll probably just find another price comparison with your name on it elsewhere (I refer you to the butterfly effect).

The worst part for you is:

Potential customers not only frequent these websites, but they trust that the information they’re reading about your brand is correct.

It’s inconsistencies like this that really grind my gears. You can avoid too many of these seeping through the cracks by putting together a product features and pricing PDF that you can send over.

So what can you do about it?

That’s the last straw, you tell yourself. It’s time to contact these bloggers and make sure they understand your brand is of great value to you and just how hard you’ve tried to get every customer through the door for years now.

Fixing the problem (yes, I’m calling it a problem now) will depend on just how many mentions of you there are on the World Wide Web.

In any case, start with the biggies. Those you know draw a crowd.

Use services like BuzzSumo or Moz to find backlinks and mentions across the web. BuzzSumo lets you see just how many shares these articles are getting across the usual array of social media platforms. Conduct Google searches based on some of your SEO keywords to bring up the websites you should contact first.

Find contact forms and email addresses for these companies. Re-read your mention. Have your messaging/pricing/product features/general information ready to send. I like to keep a stern but fair voice with something like this:

PLEASE DIRECT TO THE EDITORIAL/MARKETING DEPARTMENT

Hi,

I am {job title} from {company name}. Thanks for the recent backlink to our website, it’s overall a great mention for our brand. However I have noticed that the information you have collected about {company name} is out of date and contains some inaccuracies.

We want to make sure that our brand is presented in the best light. {detail the changes required here}.

Please appreciate the urgency of these changes to preserve our brand integrity.

I would be grateful if you could notify me by email on {your email address} as soon as these changes are complete. That way, I can also keep in touch if we have any exciting news in the future about {company name} to share with you.

Thank you for your understanding.

{Sign-off}

{optional: contact number}

Don’t ask too much of the website vendor — your mention still has to fit within the space you’ve been allocated and cover the same points. This is about accuracy and portraying your brand in the best light.

Chase them, hound them until they’ve made the change. Build a relationship with them. But be nice. You have their email address now. Get them excited about your product so that they write about it more and engage with you directly.

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Apples and oranges

Your brand will change with time too. So that free trial you now offer may not be communicated on all those blogs you asked to be edited a year ago. The difference is, you now have a list of contacts you can mass-email about the changes.

If at this point you find yourself re-circling the “why does it matter?” question, then remind yourself of the reasons above. While you may miss a few of the oranges, you’ll have more control than ever over your brand identity across the web.

So next time you’re tagged in a post on Twitter or see a backlink pop up in your analytics, really read that post and make sure it’s saying what you want it to about your company. Maybe, just maybe you’ll turn another prospect into a lead.

We know how tough it is to get your brand right. Ours will go through many iterations as we find our feet. I’m planning on installing a small basketball hoop over the bin at The Means HQ to catch all of the balls of paper we’ll throw away in the process.

All five partners at The Means are marketers. We can tell the difference between apples and oranges.

Perhaps you never thought of outsourcing this kind of work? No problem, we’ll take care of it for you. Get in touch hello@themeans.rocks and we can talk.

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