Brands and the Psychology of Fun

What consumers want from brands is not what you think. Best service. Best price. User involvement? Rewards programs? If you’re thinking of the above as the things consumers want most from a brand they patronize, good guess. All apply at some level, but there’s more.

What consumers want from brands is not what you think. Best service. Best price. User involvement? Rewards programs?

If you’re thinking of the above as the things consumers want most from a brand they patronize, good guess. All apply at some level, but there’s more.

While consumers might tell you they want all of the above to keep purchasing from you and refer their friends, there’s another key driver of human behavior you and your customers themselves might not have thought about. Guess again? Hint: Cyndi Lauper did the big reveal 33 years ago.

Yep, consumers just wanna have fun. Yet most of us don’t consciously admit that we respond to fun appeals or humorous marketing tactics. But we do, because unconsciously we are drawn to anything that sparks our curiosity, helps us escape the mundane, or hints at rewarding us for engaging or doing something we didn’t know we could do — like reach a new level on a smartphone game or win a dance contest while totally sober. And when we earn that reward, or even think about it, we get that dopamine rush that makes life feel wonderful and we go back for more.

What we learn from Epicurus, the Greek Philosopher credited with what we now know as the Hedonism theory, human behavior is based upon two emotional premises: the Avoidance of Pain and the Pursuit of Pleasure. As a result of this innate psychological driver, we seek pleasure in life in many ways. That pleasure ranges from knowing we can care for our families, reach our goals, are recognized for a job well done and liked by others, to physical pleasures like the thrill of finishing a long run, getting a soothing massage or downing a favorite ice cream.

In digital vs. ancient times, another “pleasure” we seek is that rush we get when we anticipate an award through our cultural addiction to games. Games on our computers, games on our phones, games we watch on TV, and more. So many games that 1.2 billion people worldwide play them frequently, and 700 million of us play games online, says a report by Spil Games. Another gaming industry company, Newzoo, reports that the 2015 gaming industry is $91.5 billion, up 9.4 percent since 2014.

Another report by RealityMine shows that mobile gaming is increasing substantially every year and that the average session time per game we play is 4.7 minutes. Among the most popular are Words with Friends, Candy Crush and Solitaire, which are played many times a day by many gamers. We also learn that games are not just for teens, as commonly thought. RealityMine shows that 61 percent of gamers are parents with children, more women play games than men, more than 1/3 are 45 years of age or older, and that there are more middle-aged moms playing games than teenagers! Hmmm … sounds like the top consumers for most products today are playing games of some sort every day. If you’re in marketing, this should be added to the top of your “note to self” list.

Why are we so drawn to games? According to psychologists, it’s because so many games help fulfill some basic needs: a sense to compete, feel fulfilled, recognized and that we have achieved something others haven’t. According to a report on gamification created by Bunchball, a leader in the industry, game mechanics fulfill basic human desires that we seek consciously and unconsciously (opens as a PDF). These include our needs for rewards, status, achievement, self- expression, competition and even altruism.

The Fun Theory, a program dedicated to the thought that “something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for better,” challenges people to come up with fun ideas to get people to do things differently. Ideas that have won The Fun Theory awards include rewarding drivers for not speeding by entering them into a contest to win money accrued by fines paid by speeders, getting people to recycle bottles by making a recycling bin a bottle arcade like you find at an amusement park and increasing the use of stairs by turning them into piano keys that make music. Each of these experiments attracted attention and substantially changed behavior for the better in various cultures around the world.

So does all this talk about fun and games have a place in the marketing world? According to Todd McGee, CEO of Texas-based CataBoom, a gamification company leveraging behavioral insights to create engaging campaigns, it most certainly does.

“From a psychological point of view, ’fun’ engages us in a way that builds trust for a brand,” says McGee. “When customers win, or anticipate winning a prize, they get a dopamine rush that makes them feel good, and customers transfer that feeling to brands. Good feelings result in trust, repeat visits and referrals. So it’s a total win for customers and brands.
For CataBoom, the increases in customer engagement and sales they’re helping to deliver to their clients is just part of the fun of playing games. For one home industry client, the company created a game on Facebook that gave money away every day. As result, 71 percent of the visitors to their Facebook page engaged twice as long. For another company in the food industry, they created a “Spin the Wheel” game for a chance to win free product. People responding set a new record for site visits as they kept coming back to take their chance at the wheel.

Per McGee, CataBoom has seen brands in all industries, from entertainment groups to insurance and financial institutions, achieve not only better engagement, but monetary rewards, as well. Sales have increased as high as 30 times as a result of adding games to a customer experience.

Lesson learned: When life’s routines become a game, and fun is the anticipated reward, behavior changes. When brands integrate fun and games in their customer experience, results can change too.


  • Have Fun. Its not only the spice of life, it’s the driver that gets consumer behavior moving, trusting and, in many cases, buying.
  • Use humor, when and as appropriate, and watch your attention levels soar on social channels and traditional ones, as well.
  • Spark curiosity to get noticed and introduce your customers to a fun brand experience, persona and happy result.

Make sure your customer service follows the rules of fun, as well. and are great examples of companies that add a fun twist to routine sales and purchasing processes online. Their fun responses, language and digital conversations make you want to come back for more.

Now get off of your computer and go have fun!