Russel Davies gave a fascinating talk recently about our innate desire to be playful; or more specifically the human tendancy to pretend or amuse ourselves in role play in our daily lives. It’s that childhood instinct to be someone else whether that’s a soldier, a CIA agent, a fighter pilot, a catwalk model or even a princess.
He gives an array of examples where companies or brands have tried to tap into this insight from designing combat trousers, barbie dolls and luxury performance watches to more immersive examples like those meticulously designed large-scale model railways or the all-consuming computer games we see on the market today.
All these designs combine basic functionality with the act of pretending. So a watch may tell the time but the added value it really provides is the fact that when you wear it you feel more like a pilot!
Applying this logic to the world of advertising you can see many ad campaigns appealing to this sense of pretending.
Gillette gives you licence to believe you’re an alpha male with the chizelled jawlines of famous sportsmen, whilst Armani somehow convinces you you’re going to look like David Beckham as soon as you strip down to your cacks…yeah right!
Likewise, The Lynx Effect appeals to man’s desire to transform himself into a sex god!
This insight is hardly revelationary as it’s been a technique exploited by many brands ever since advertising began.
However, I don’t think that’s the only point Russell Davies is really trying to make. He later expands on this idea of pretending and suggests that we’re seeing the emergence of what he calls ‘Barely Games’. These are essentially applications or utilities which tap into our subconsciousness in a less overt way than perhaps the full blown computer games, whilst still appealing to that childhood instinct of being playful and the act of pretending.
He quotes Foursquare as an example as it complements your daily life by rewarding you with rewards when you frequent particular retail outlets or restaurants, earning badges along the way. If you become Mayor of a certain establishment you’ve achieved the ultimate reward status.
These sorts of games don’t require 100% attention but simply complement our lives whilst still appealing to that basic human desire to be playful. He concludes by showcasing a protype of his own Barely Game which I think is absolutely brilliant and so ahead of its time. I wonder how long before we see gaming manufacturers, app developers or brands cotton on to this insight and design games, apps or utilities which fit into our every day lives whilst satisfying this curious childlike behaviour.
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