Can we use FUN to influence behavior for the better? Might FUN be the easiest way to motivate good?
We know from childhood studies that fun is good for us. It helps shape the brain.
It can be a very effective motivator. Nursery school teachers know this. Get a bunch of 4 year olds marching and singing and they will do just about anything – clean up, march to the door, whatever you need them to do. Fun can also motivate thousands to get out of their seats and wave their arms.
Fun is also good for the soul. It can do strange things to people like inspire them to blindly throw money away.
And it can distract us from pain. There are a lot of products for children that use fun to distract them from reality– such as Hello Kitty Band-Aids and utensils shaped like airplanes.
The impact of fun is not just anecdotal. Scientific studies have proven that pleasurable activities such as listening to music causes the brain to release dopamine, often referred to as the’ feel-good’ chemical. Dopamine-induced pleasure may help explain why music has been such a big part of human society throughout history.
Yet somewhere along the line, as we grow to adulthood, we are mostly faced with negative encouragement and threatening motivators. Products are often created to dissuade or restrict behavior. These park benches in Japan send a message: sit here but not for too long and definitely don’t sleep here. The round tube in the image on the left and the pitched seat in the image on the right create an uncomfortable bench that no one wants to sit on. Defeating the purpose of having a bench at all.
We use threatening spikes and the fear of a flat tire to greet customers returning rental cars.
And we try to scare people into behaving appropriately such as this sign to discourage the feeding of deer on Fire Island.
It isn’t all threats and negative reinforcement though. Companies such as McDonalds have figured out that fun can be an opportunity. They use fun to convince kids to eat unhealthy food. Happy Meals entice us with the promise of fun in the form of a free plastic toy.
My local TD Bank has figured it out. They entice the next generation of customers with a loose change counter. You pour your coins into a machine, guess the total and win a prize – adding a rare element of fun to a bank visit … and the appeal is definitely not limited to children.
Zappos was founded on a promise of delivering happiness.
Mint.com makes the tracking of personal finances fun and has tapped into a new market, connecting with people who viewed financial management as an otherwise formidable task.
Serendipity and surprise is a primary feature in the restaurant finding app Urban Spoon.
Google is very smart about using FUN in the form of Google Doodles to make Google and Google search in particular, memorable and delightful. They cleverly make google a participant in our cultural lives.
The notion of using fun to motivate behavior was the theme of an initiative launched by Volkswagon in 2009 and dedicated to the idea that something as simple as fun may be the easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better. The campaign invited people to submit ideas for influencing positive change through fun. Volkswagon funded the best ideas. This short video is the winning project. By creating a stair that mimics a piano keyboard it persuades commuters in Stockholm to take the stairs rather than ride the escalator.
This popup chocolate shop in Denmark made promises of good deeds the currency for buying chocolate. Chocolate was given away in exchange for a commitment to do an act of kindness. Payment options ranged from ‘Serve breakfast in bed to your loved one’ to ‘Don’t comment on your girlfriend’s driving for a week’. Interestingly, the most popular was ‘Help clean your friend’s house’. Least popular? ‘A week where you don’t lie to your father’. Ipad cash regsiters made it easy for people to post their promises to their own Facebook profile as well as the profile of the receiver – using peer pressure to ensure they made good on their payment. And then of course many people provided evidence of their good deeds in the form of pictures on Anthon Bergs, the chocolatier’s, Facebook page.
This recent campaign created by the Ad Council aims to persuade children to brush their teeth for a full 2 minutes. To motivate and entice children they built a website offering two-minute videos, provided by the Cartoon Network, that children can watch on a mobile device while they brush. The videos are pure fun and unrelated to dental hygiene.
There is room for infusing fun everywhere. Consider electric street signs. There is the traditional quiet yelling of the flashing DON’T WALK, the countdown to disaster which sends a clearer message, and finally, my favorite.