Fun Theory

What if you could change people's behavior for the better by doing something fun? It doesn't sound plausible, right? Yet, that's what Volkswagen achieved by creating something they called the fun theory.

Fun Theory Fun Theory

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Table of contents

    Goal of the Fun Theory

    In the early 2000s, Volkswagen saw great potential in green innovation and founded BlueMotion to create technologies that would improve fuel efficiency and electric cars. However, at that time, the efficiency and autonomy of those early models were not excellent, and people were reluctant to buy energy-efficient and electric vehicles.

    That's why Volkswagen started an ambitious project to create a marketing campaign that would promote Volkswagen BlueMotion technologies. Instead of launching a traditional car marketing campaign to promote the performance of the vehicles, they decided to test a theory. Their idea was to change people's behavior by making an activity more fun to do. They wanted to advertise that people could continue driving and positively impact the environment by reducing their gas emissions without compromising the joy and pleasure of driving.

    Volkswagen Fun Theory Campaign

    The Volkswagen Fun Theory campaign was designed in partnership with Nord DDB STO. It launched in 2009 as a series of three short videos that were live experiments of this theory in action to positively change people's behavior by doing something fun. Those videos quickly became viral and were spread all over the Internet, giving Volkswagen unexpected popularity.1

    Volkswagen Fun Theory Piano Stairs

    For their first experiment, they tried to motivate people to take the stairs instead of the escalator in a metro station. To achieve this, Volkswagen's team installed censoring stairs in the shape and form of piano keys next to an escalator. Then, whenever people were walking on the stairs, it made the exact sound of the piano. Soon many people were having fun walking the stairs, and the experience was quite successful, as 66% more people were using the stairs instead of the escalators.2

    By implementing a creative marketing strategy and gamifying walking on stairs, Volkswagen managed to change people's behavior while promoting its brand and creativity.

    Fun Theory Volkswagen Piano Stairs StudySmarterFig 1 - Piano

    Volkswagen Fun Theory Talking Bin

    For their second experience, Volkswagen tried getting more people to throw rubbish in bins. They devised a creative idea to achieve that goal by installing a sensor and a speaker in a bin. As a result, whenever people threw something in the trash, a loud falling and crashing cartooning sound came from it. Quickly, people gathered around the bin to determine where the sound came from; they even collected rubbish on the ground around the bin to hear the sound again. Thanks to that engaging trash can, they collected 72 kg of trash in one day, 41 kg more than the standard bin close by.3

    With this campaign, Volkswagen was able to connect some principles of sustainable marketing to its brand by motivating people to discard their waste correctly. Simply by creating a fun sound, they have encouraged people to use that bin and even collect trash lying around to hear that sound again.

    Volkswagen Fun Theory Bottle Bank

    In this campaign, Volkswagen's goal was to get people to recycle more. Volkswagen created an arcade bottle bank machine with flashing lights, music, and a scoreboard to do so. The device was like an arcade game: people had to press start, then put bottles in the machine's holes, which would play music and give them points on the scoreboard. The result was great as one hundred people used the device in one evening, while a nearby machine was only used twice.4 By making a game out of recycling, people were motivated to come and recycle their bottles, promoting the brand's creativity and eco-friendly approach.

    Fun Theory Examples

    After the success of the Fun Theory campaign, Volkswagen decided to continue the experience with a slight twist. The concept was unchanged, but they tried associating their brand with speed by motivating people to choose Volkswagen's fun solution.

    Fun Theory: Slide Stairs

    In this video, Volkswagen's team returned to the first metro station they had visited the year before and installed a slide on the stairs next to the elevator. The people who wanted to go faster could take the slide and enjoy a fast ride to the bottom without taking the stairs or the elevator.5

    Fun Theory: The Elevator

    This time, Volkswagen went to a mall to help people who wanted to go faster to use their specially designed elevator. Volkswagen customized an elevator and gave it a rocket launcher style. Instead of having to stop at every floor, the elevator would go from the ground floor directly to the top floor. When people got inside and pressed the button, a countdown started while the doors were sliding closed, and red flashing lights began to light on. When the elevator started ascending, people heard the sound of a rocket ship launching; meanwhile, they could enjoy the ride directly to the top.6

    Fun Theory: The Shopping Carts

    Volkswagen's team went to a grocery store and modified the mall's carts to integrate a skateboard. People had the choice between regular shopping carts or using the ones with a skateboard to slide with speed in the supermarket. Volkswagen was able to change consumer behavior by showing a faster lane.7

    Volkswagen Fun Theory

    The Fun Theory Award was established shortly after the first Volkswagen videos came out, thanks to the campaign's success. This award inspired people to discuss and develop new ideas around this theory. People submitted more than 700 ideas using the 'fun theory' in hopes of changing people's behavior positively.

    The award winner in 2009 found a creative way for people to respect the driving speed limit by organizing a lottery using speed cameras. Every person who exceeded the speed limit would be flashed and pay a fine like usual, but the money would be collected in a common pot. Each person who respected the speed limit would be recorded on camera as a participant in this lottery and get a chance to win the prize.8

    Fun Theory Speed camera campaign StudySmarterFig 2 - Speed camera

    The fun theory is an excellent source of inspiration for many entrepreneurs who implement these ideas in their products to make boring activities more interactive:

    • It can be tedious for parents to teach their children how to brush their teeth, as kids' attention span is very short. However, we can now see kids' electric toothbrushes playing music to reward them once they have finished cleaning their teeth.

    • Pizza Hut came up with an innovative way to select and order pizza, rather than the boring way of having to read through a menu. They have designed an interactive table where people can make their selection and clearly see the pizza's size while choosing it.9

    • People have found an alternative to the sound trashcan by installing a basketball hoop on top of a bin. With that addition, people could have fun throwing trash in the bin.

    Fun Theory - Key takeaways

    • Volkswagen used the Fun Theory campaign to promote BlueMotion technology and advertise that people could drive and reduce their carbon emissions without compromising the joy and pleasure of driving.
    • The Fun Theory is simple: people are more likely to do something if it is fun. You can apply this principle by making an activity more fun to do to influence people's behavior.
    • Entrepreneurs and marketers can use the Fun Theory to create and promote new and innovative products.


    References

    1. Adforum. "The Fun Theory (Film)". https://www.adforum.com/creative-work/ad/player/34460328/the-fun-theory-film/volkswagen
    2. Volkswagen. The Fun Theory 1 – Piano Staircase Initiative | Volkswagen. 26/10/2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SByymar3bds&t=1s
    3. Volkswagen. The Fun Theory 2 – an initiative of Volkswagen: The World's Deepest Bin. 26/10/2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRgWttqFKu8
    4. Rolighetsteroin.se. Bottle Bank Arcade - TheFunTheory.com - Rolighetsteorin.se. 15/10/2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSiHjMU-MUo
    5. Volkswagen. Speed up your life - Take the slide! | Volkswagen. 11/10/2009. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4o0ZVeixYU
    6. Volkswagen. Fast Lane - The Elevator | Volkswagen. 11/06/2010 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPztb-c16as
    7. Volkswagen. Fast Lane - The Shopping Carts | Volkswagen. 11/06/2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jEcbkusXUlo
    8. Rolighetsteroin.se. The Fun Theory award winner - The Speed Camera Lottery. 29/03/2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KcaKocRXCB4
    9. Ellie Zolfagharifard. Pizza Hut reveals interactive table concept that lets you design your perfect pie. 04/03/2014. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2573164/Pizza-Hut-reveals-interactive-table-concept-lets-design-perfect-pie.html
    Frequently Asked Questions about Fun Theory

    What is the fun theory Volkswagen? 

    The fun theory was a marketing campaign launched by Volkswagen in 2009 to promote the sales of eco-friendly cars by stating that they were just as much fun to drive as regular cars.

    How does the Fun Theory work?

    The fun theory is simple: people are more likely to do something if it is fun. You can apply this principle by making an activity more fun to do to influence people’s behavior. 

    What is the fun theory connected to?

    The Fun Theory is connected to behavioral change.

    Who came up with the fun theory?

    Volkswagen and ad agency DDB Stockholm came up with the Fun Theory campaign.

    Which company sponsored the Fun Theory project?

    Volkswagen sponsored the Fun Theory project.

    Who created the piano stairs experiment?

    Volkswagen and ad agency DDB Stockholm created the piano stars experiment.

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