PROFIT Magazine: “Unconventional Wisdom” Column November 2010

By evoke
February 27, 2011

Using “fun” as a powerful way to sell

By Ian Chamandy and Ken Aber, October 13, 2010

How do you inspire people to take the stairs instead of an escalator? Or to use garbage cans instead of throwing trash on the ground? Or to recycle empty plastic bottles? Conventional wisdom suggests that you might be able to prompt such behaviour modifications by, say, creating an awareness campaign on the benefits of doing the right thing, with the goal to change people’s actions over time.

This approach would have been way too slow and incremental for a Volkswagen initiative called the Fun Theory. The purpose of the Fun Theory was to change people’s behaviour in each of these above areas dramatically and immediately using “fun” as the driving factor. View the short videos posted on the Fun Theory’s website, and you will see three entertaining and instantly quantifiable examples of behavioural change. You can also find user-generated submissions suggesting “fun” options for mundane tasks — the result of a contest.

In one video, lonely stairs beside a busy escalator were made to look and sound like piano keys; this musical modification drove a 66% increase in the use of the stairs. Another video shows a garbage can programmed so that every time garbage was dropped into the can, you could hear a cartoonish free fall sound with a distant splat as it “hits” bottom. This almost doubled the amount of garbage collected. In a third video, an empty bottle return kiosk was turned into an arcade-style game, complete with a scoreboard that lit up. The result? Over the course of an evening, 100 people played the deposit “game”; only two used a traditional bottle bank nearby. By any standard, “fun” inspired remarkable results.

Like the Fun Theory stunts, selling is all about changing behaviour. It takes sustained effort to persuade people either to buy or to buy more. You should consider challenging your sales group to make it fun for customers to buy from you — and, in turn, to find a way to make it fun for them to sell. You could argue that your company isn’t about fun — but neither were motivating people to take the stairs, use a garbage can and recycle. In each of those Fun Theory cases, the “sales” numbers don’t lie: the behaviour changes were immediate and dramatic.

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