Unordinary Thinking No. 12 – Why Albert Einstein might have driven a VW

Einstein was a bright chap and he said that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome was the definition of insanity. A thought-how, in today’s commercial world, might Einstein’s comment be assessed?

Many marketers and strategists are, I fear, suffering from the affliction he described.  After all, how many companies do you see with advertising campaigns which are essentially variations on similar themes (nice looking car driven by nice looking person to nice sounding music), offering customers the same promotions as the competition (50% off/75% discount/last day of the sale today) and with products and propositions which are so similar that customers do not really distinguish between different providers?

The above can be perfectly valid strategies.  However, if companies are wanting or expecting consumers to start to behave differently-to buy on something else apart from price or to appeal to previous rejecters of their offering for instance-then they can only hope to succeed if they approach things differently.

Volkswagen’s The Fun Theory applies this concept. They started out with a question-could people be encouraged to behave differently by simply making things fun to do?  In other words, there are many things in life which can be considered a chore, difficult to do or simply not appealing.  We all know that most people can be coerced, in certain situations, to do something they might not really want to.  However, how much better would the solution be if those same people changed their behaviours because they wanted to, because it was actually fun?  It is a hugely simple and powerful premise.

An online campaign and competition tested this hypothesis by inviting people to submit their ideas, some of which were turned into reality.  For instance, the stairs at an underground station were turned into a huge piano so that people “played” notes as they walked up and down-with the effect that they were encouraged to walk instead of taking the escalator.

Or a litter bin in a park with a sound system so that when rubbish was dropped in it sounded like it was falling to the bottom of a well.

Nice viral marketing campaigns, but why did VW do this?  One of their core business problems has been to encourage more people to drive environmentally friendly cars.  Their hypothesis is that people are more likely to do this if it can be made more fun.  Therefore, through The Fun Theory initiative, VW are changing the perspective from which they themselves look at how they serve their customers.

The initiative has resulted in VW has being able to generate different, better types of solutions for their customers in their core business.  For instance, they are prototyping an in car children’s entertainment system which only functions in the back seats when the seatbelts are properly engaged.  Anyone who has been in the situation where their children suddenly decide to take off their seatbelts on a long journey can testify to how this might make for a less stressful experience.  VW would have been unlikely to come up with such a solution without the mindset change allowed by The Fun Theory.

And this is the point.  The Fun Theory means VW are looking at their problems-both old and new-from a different perspective.  They are employing a different way of thinking to get to better solutions for their customers, helping to change entrenched behaviours and create daylight for VW in cluttered spaces.

Einstein would have approved as he was driving his Golf Variant MultiFuel-not because the scientist in him was impressed that the CO2 emissions are 169g/km, but because the person in him thought it might be rather fun.

At Lexden, it is this type of thinking that inspires us since we think you get to better outcomes when you use less conventional approaches.

Posted by Ajai Ranawat

Lexden is a marketing strategy agency which creates unordinary propositions to motivate customers and deliver commercial advantage for brands.

For more information on how we can help you, contact or, or call us on T: +44 (0)20 7490 9123. And you can follow us on Twitter @consultingchris.

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