Making the mundane marvellous

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How play can be harnessed to create positive experiences that matter

Matt Dyke, Founder & Chief Strategy Officer

It’s a common thread in the AF Journal. We are more than a little obsessed with developing interactive experiences that people actively seek out and value.

One of the most powerful ways to achieve value is through adopting a strategy of play (the irony of strategy and play in the same sentence is not lost on me).

Quite simply, brands that are open to play are more fun to hang out with. They become attractive by offering a level of escapism from the everyday, or even making it more pleasurable.

When brilliantly staged, play experiences can release extremely high levels of positive emotion, which can lead to much stronger associations with your brand. Not to mention the talk value that accompanies unique experiences you want to share so that friends can experience them too.

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Play doesn’t just release strong emotions – it can also be one of the most compelling ways to hold attention, drive deep interaction, increase frequency and maintain interest over longer periods of time. This is because play-led experiences tap into our intrinsic motivational triggers, which in his book Drive, Daniel. H. Pink refers to as the trifecta of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Autonomy: we all have an almost childlike desire for self-guidance, to explore new experiences by ourselves. Mastery: we have the urge to master new skills. Purpose: we are inspired to tackle difficult challenges if we care about the outcome.

It all sounds almost too good to be true, which begs the question, why aren’t more brands turning to ‘play’ as an effective method of brand building? What’s the catch? Well, of course there are number of barriers. One of the biggest being that it is actually very hard to stage a compelling play experience, but very easy to execute a bad one. Many brands have tried a play strategy and had their fingers burnt by creating an expensive game about their product that no-one played. There are also brands that are so ingrained in utility, that they simple don’t see the opportunity to be playful.

But the rewards are high for those brands that get it right, as these examples will show.

Play can be used to position a brand by letting people explore for themselves

Wrigley’s 5 Gum developed a truly unique mobile experience challenging their audience to explore the power of their senses. The Nightjar was voiced by fanboy-favourite Benedict Cumberbatch and required the player to use surround-sound audio through their headphones to escape from a seemingly deserted spaceship.

Play can be used to bridge the digital and physical worlds and create unforgettable experiences

Absolut combined a mobile game called Silverpoint with Punchdrunk productions that involved participants helping a mysterious girl by unlocking clues, solving puzzles and then tracking down real world places for a theatrical experience.

Play can be used in conjunction with more utility-based experiences

An oldie but a goodie. The Nissan Carwings app, built for their 100% electric model, can charge the battery, set timers, and turn on the A/C amongst other things. But beyond that, it gamifies driving. With a regional rankings dashboard, owners can compare their energy consumption and earn virtual rewards, using intrinsic human motivators to add a bit of fun to saving the planet.

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