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BLOG - Playful Marketing as part of "The Play Ethic"

02 Feb 2015

Whilst doing some research for my latest workshop (branding a Town actually!) my interest was piqued by a paragraph concerning place marketing and changing social attitudes viz:

  “This is accompanied by an equally significant shift from the work ethic to the play ethic”

This got me thinking about how “unbuttoned” businesses have become – literally in terms of dress down Friday - which now seems to be dress down Monday to Fridays. In step with this,  marketing is increasingly both playful and humorous.

An article in the Guardian at the beginning of the credit crunch explains the possible reason for this this rather well:

“This we know: we're stressed-out, debt-ridden, exhausted"…. “Why must we kill ourselves... for work? The play ethic is an attempt to kick-start a new conversation about how we bring creativity and dynamism into the heart of everyday life”


So is it time to bring a lighter touch to your marketing approach?   

It's difficult NOT to be playful on social media of course – and it’s good news as corporates become more personal and personable and connected to their customers.

At first glance, it seems easier for creative companies.  At the core of my brand is a yellow duck in sunglasses. When recently re-branding I have taken this one step further like this. 

Hope you like it...

But what about more “traditionally serious” companies?  One Accounting client threw caution to the winds and asked me to completely re-brand them.  

Their website does not show a single spreadsheet, calculator or business suit.  Instead we have lime green radios which talk about “spreading the good news" and eggshells with faces on to promote their “cracking good payroll service.”  

Their marketing is similarly light hearted and friendly, and it’s working – by removing the “professional services shield” between themselves and their potential clients they’re growing very nicely thank you.

Some brands, of course, have always put play at the heart of their marketing look at the sassy,  tongue in cheek ads from Virgin Airways and the Meerkats of Compare the Market 

(details of this here) 

However, there is a real difference between being playful and being silly – so be careful. In my (humble) opinion British Gas have overstepped the mark with their current campaign selling the remote controlled heating service “The Hive”. The irritating song at its core contains lines like 

You could be making origami,

With a slice of beef pastrami,

Or having a kick-about,

With a team of giant trout

Um…this seems rather childish lyrics for an adult audience and I just get a mental image of some tired and stressed Ad. Exec. mumbling rhyming sequences having consumed vast amounts of caffeine…

Several listeners have made comments like “sickeningly twee” and “like some form of Chinese torture”.  You are very welcome to click here and check it out - but you have been warned- it may be silly but it’s also very catchy.

What do you think? Is it time to be brave and be a bit less Corporate with a capital C…? I'd love to hear your thoughts?

Jane Buswell - Business Fulcrum