Fun Theory: how positivity inspires action

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If fun gets you there,
that’s fine…


 

One of our favourite fables involves an argument between the wind and the sun over who was more powerful. To settle the matter, they challenged each other to make a passing traveller give up their cloak (this was back when cloaks were a thing). The wind blew and blasted but the traveller only tightened their grip and pulled the cloak more closely around them.

Exhausted, the wind gave up. The sun smiled and shone, its pleasant rays warming the traveller so that they soon unfastened and discarded their cloak by choice. The moral is simple: it’s easier to get someone to do something if they want to do it. And that’s the principle behind Fun Theory.
 

Fun Theory had been around for a while before it burst into our consciousness through an advertising campaign by Volkswagen.

The essence was to encourage people to do the right thing by making it fun. At a busy subway station in Sweden, Volkswagen installed piano stairs – stairs that looked like giant piano keys and played a musical note when anyone stepped on them. They were positioned right next to the escalator. This enabled people to play a tune by walking up the stairs, rewarding them for making a healthier choice. It was a huge success; usually, 95 percent of travellers took the escalator but now, 66 percent were choosing the stairs. Watch the video, below;

Why did this work? It’s based on the reality that we humans often need a good reason to do something that we perceive to be annoying or harder work – sometimes we need an incentive to do the right thing. In the case of the piano stairs, it’s easier to take the escalator and more effort to take the stairs, even though we know the latter is better for our health. A few people will take the stairs for that reason alone, but most need an extra nudge in the form of some fun!

Humans are pretty much hardwired for fun; we enjoy having fun and will go out of our way to do fun things.

It can therefore be a strong motivator for our actions, and this is what Fun Theory plays on; fun is the reward for doing something we might not otherwise do.

A sense of fun is also important in communications. To communicate effectively and to persuade people to act you need them to engage with your content and messaging. Fun is a great way of engaging people: it makes them want to read more; it makes them feel positive about your message; it makes them want to act because they associate your message with positivity. As the adage goes, they might forget what you said but they won’t forget how you made them feel.

Here it’s important to differentiate between fun and funny. Fun content is something enjoyable, whereas funny content makes you laugh – and we’re not suggesting you should try to make subjects like plastic pollution humorous. However, adopting a fun approach that is positive and engaging (as opposed to severe and depressing), can deliver a serious message very powerfully without belittling the subject.

The positivity that comes from fun is crucial in communicating difficult subjects such as the climate crisis – especially if you want to compel people to act. Negativity breeds negativity and content draped in horror and despair can form a huge barrier to action – why should I act if it’s all so awful and we are all doomed? Positivity is infinitely more effective and ‘fun’ content comes with an implicit sense of hope.

So, how can Fun Theory be applied to purpose-driven topics, such as pollution and climate change? Being purpose-driven, the goal is to change behaviours: recycle more; save water; switch to green energy. The seriousness of the situation cannot be denied but it doesn’t have to be dwelled upon.

Consider another of Volkswagen’s Fun Theory stunts: the world’s biggest bin drop. It created a special sound-effect-emitting bin that made a comical, cartoon-like noise, like something falling off a cliff, whenever rubbish was dropped into it. It was a huge success, so much so, that members of the public actually started collecting discarded litter to drop in the bin, just for the fun of it.

Making recycling fun is, superficially at least, more about the fun of the action than the dangers of plastic pollution in our oceans. What matters is the end result, the action, not why that action was taken. If someone recycles a plastic bottle because it is fun or feels good, the bottle is no less recycled than if they acted through fear for the planet. When that feel-good action becomes a spontaneous habit – job done.

Inspiring people to change their behaviour and do the right thing is the goal. If it’s fun that gets you there, that’s fine.

 

At Creature & Co., we know that fun has a valuable role to play in our communications. We specialise in purpose-driven topics, and find that it resonates with audiences young and old. Even the most serious of grown-ups still value a sense of fun, and it can work wonders for inspiring those people to act.

To truly shape behaviour, information and understanding are key, so injecting fun into articles, quizzes, and other modes of explaining complex topics helps to inform, inspire and empower positive action. Today, many brands aspire to do the right thing, and many of them hope to inspire their audience to do so, too. As content creators, we can try to force or frighten people into doing something, or we can make them want to do it by applying fun.

Just like the sun and the wind, we know which method works best!