The Benefits of Play in Online Marketing

What is play?

Play is defined as follows: 'To engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.' The concept of 'Play' is a powerful marketing tool in both on and offline campaigns. We recognize it when we see it… an installation marketing piece inviting us to stand on, touch, or interact with the brand. An online game where we collect points and share our achievements with friends. An immense amount of revenue and effort goes into these playful interactive efforts, for seemingly no purpose other than to provide free entertainment for audiences. So what's the motivation behind 'play' centered brand campaigns? Why put so much effort into a game? To understand that, we must first look at the basic benefits of play, and then understand how those benefits relate and contribute to the consumer-brand relationship.

Benefits of play

Play on a basic level has several benefits. Let's think about our childhood… Ok, everyone has a very different childhood with different experiences, but one thing we all have in common is that we used to play, and probably a lot. So in playing, we were receiving lots of valuable life skills that prepared us for our adult life. Play granted us reduced anxiety levels (fun), a boost to imagination, joyful memories, (remember that time when…) and helped us to forge meaningful friendships. But play doesn't stop at adolescence. In fact, 'play-based' campaigns appeal to these basic joys, and to our desire to just enjoy something for the sake of enjoyment. 'Play-based' marketing can produce several beneficial effects on audiences.

Play is Fun!

Chester's FeedSince play is fun, it's something audiences want to do! So when interacting in a playful manner with a brand, audiences can associate the brand with 'fun!' Examples of this concept include 'impulse purchase' products such as food and drink. (Remember those Budweiser Frogs?') These brands don't require much thought or consideration by the audience. I think most of us would agree that when asked, 'Do you want some Cheetos?' the answer would be 'YES!' So the greater challenge for Cheetos is for audiences to consider the brand 'fun.' Enter the Cheetos Chester's Feed, a 'news' feed full of playful elements, featuring recipes that range from yummy to downright absurd. (Cheetos and Broccoli? Really?) There is even a Cheetos Art tutorial and a 'Cheetos Pet' featured! Cheetos has successfully illustrated that it's fun to play with your food! Especially if your meal is Cheetos!

Play Helps us Create an Imagined Reality.

Cooper Mini ChallengeAir JordanDid you ever play 'GI Joe' or 'Dress Up' as a kid, imagining yourself a brave soldier or fairy princess? Brands use play in a very similar way to help audiences imagine a reality where they are the owners of the brand or product. Take for example a 'high-end' product such as a new Cooper Mini… say I'm thinking about buying a new car. I'll probably research the Mini and contemplate myself as a new Mini owner for quite a while before I actually make that purchase. Enter the Cooper Mini Campaign, 'Winter Olympics,' where I can 'play' at ski-jumping a Cooper Mini. Really, watch the video… it's worth it! Take for example a higher-end athletic shoe, the Air Jordan. This is a purchase that involves research and lots of imagination. Just imagine how much higher I could jump if I had a pair of Air Jordans! I might even be able to reach the top shelf of my kitchen cabinets! To help me imagine the lighter-than-air feeling I'll get when I own a pair of these shoes, Air Jordan has created the 'Choose Your Flight' online experience.I'm sold!

Play Creates a Memorable Brand Experience.

Angry Birds SpaceDisney Cruise LinePlay has a unique ability to engage audiences for longer time periods and provide a more 'quality' experience while they are visiting. This produces a lasting impression on audiences, and encourages brand discussions and sharing. Entertainment related brands such as video games, music, and vacationing can make the most of this quality of play. Take Disney Cruise Line for example. Disney created an entire online 'Game of Life' style board game designed to educate visitors about the features of a Disney Cruise while they navigate the treacherous terrain to find buried 'treasure.' While the relevance of this type of site to actual conversions can be debated, there is no doubt that the over-the-top experience provided by this microsite will create a memorable impression on audiences. Think about how long a visitor might stay on this site, just to 'finish' the game! Another site worth mentioning here is the new Angry Birds Space microsite, developed to showcase all the features of the new game. The level of play and interactivity in the site itself was enough to make me actually scroll through the entire page full of content several times! This site successfully uses 'play' to engage audiences for a more lengthy and quality experience.

Play Helps Establish a Brand Relationship.

Aisa ExpressNissan Planet ZeroJust as childhood play helped us make friends, play in marketing can help brands to forge a relationship with audiences. This concept is especially useful when the brand needs an ongoing dialogue with audiences, or when the product or service is difficult to understand. Take AISA Express, a market research company, for example. It's pretty hard to 'get' what this company does, but with the help of several playful elements throughout the website, audiences start to get an idea of how it works. Energy-related companies are also using the benefits of play to continue and grow their loyal consumer base. Nissan created the 'Planet Zero' campaignto educate audiences about the benefits of zero emissions and has used play to effectively build valuable relationships with consumers around the idea of protecting the environment.

It's Not Just for Kids!

Through these examples and countless more, we can see that play continues to be a driving force in online marketing today. It has the power to influence audiences' opinions of a brand by sparking imaginations, engaging in fun and memorable experiences, and forging lasting brand relationships. Play isn't just for kids. It's being utilized by brands to create a serious impact on consumers.