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Brands Must Play Hard to Stand Out

Posted by: Kap Coleman & Katie Conneally on July 19, 2012

While brands are business assets — and that’s serious stuff—they’re actually at their best when they’re having fun. We recently attended a presentation by Chief Creative Officer at Stylus, Ryan Ross on “The Power of Play,” and picked up a few tips and tricks from brands that are using play in powerful ways.

Brands can no longer expect consumers to make the first move. They need to offer them a reason to interact, because consumers are key to making a brand recognizable, memorable, and cool.

So, what do you offer them? Play!

Ross shared with us how social media and mobile devices have changed the brand engagement landscape, along with some of the unexpected ways brands interact with consumers in the physical environment.

A few highlights:

According to Ross, brands need to “embrace the potential of a mobile device.” We are living in “the new incentives culture,” where consumers not only enjoy discounts, they expect them—and they are willing to play for them. That’s where the mobile device comes in. This “gamified branding” is gaining traction:

  • A popular app in Germany, Wynsh, encourages consumers to take a picture of their favorite products in a store with their mobile phone. Consumers then upload the photo and wait to see if they have received a discount on that product. It’s a simple process that creates excitement and anticipation in the shopping experience, and works because the rewards outweigh the efforts of the shopper.
  • In Asia, iButterfly takes coupon collecting to the next level. A mobile map helps consumers find “butterflies,” and as a butterfly flutters across shoppers’ cell phone screens, users can capture it with a swift hand motion (which we heard has resulted in a number of broken phones). Each butterfly holds a unique deal or discount, and users are encouraged to share butterflies with their friends.

As the world becomes more digital and the market becomes more saturated, Ross emphasized that brands need to play hard to stay memorable. And brands are taking that to heart, coming up with even more creative ideas that don’t just interact with the consumer, but also with the environment:

  • In Japan, Nike celebrated the launch of the Nike Free by transforming an entire building in the city of Yokohama into a moving, twisting building that mimics how the shoe bends and flexes. With the shoe in your hands, you can magically move walls and play with your surroundings.
  • In Paris, the Mini brand wanted to open a store, but inexpensively. They figured that by eliminating traditional stores and turning the car into the store itself, they could both change consumers perceptions of what a “store” is and promote the brand through its best ambassador, the car itself.

These examples show how “play,” when done right, can increase brand value. But as Ross said, “no brand is an island,” and it’s clear that no approach is either. Multiple engagement approaches work best in tandem, occupying both the physical space and a digital “gaming” layer. If what you’re doing with your brand is truly playful, and gives consumers a chance to connect in a way that delights them, chances are, they’re going to want to keep the conversation going.

Kap Coleman and Katie Conneally are Associate Consultants in Interbrand's Verbal Identity Department.

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