Life can be chaotic — from dealing with family drama to managing your romantic relationships and climbing the ladder at work. With all of that stress, you’ll gladly take all the moments of levity you can find. Thankfully, some brands are bringing more smiles to the world with playful advertising.
Yet fun marketing isn’t just a way to momentarily increase someone’s happiness. It’s also a proven method of creating customer loyalty by associating your brand with positive thoughts.

Don’t believe us? Maybe some science will convince you.

The Science of Playful Marketing

As advertising guru Howard Luck Gossage once said, “Nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.” By utilizing the power of playfulness, companies can make their messaging something that consumers will naturally be drawn to — and remember, as a result.

Kimberly Fairchild, an associate professor of psychology at Manhattan College, says people naturally respond well to playful marketing because it reaches deep into our psyches. “I think that playful marketing is fairly effective because it grabs people’s attention. It associates products with good feelings and emotions,” Fairchild says. “The idea is that you walk into a store, see the product, and feel the happy feelings that you got when you saw a funny ad. Then, those feelings make you want to purchase that product.”

In scientific terms, these ads follow the peripheral route to persuasion: They convince consumers by appealing to their gut instincts, rather than their logical side. Peripheral cues like a spokesperson’s attractiveness, the sound of their voice, and their sense of humor let the consumer accept or reject the ad’s argument based on their gut, rather than facts about the product.

According to a study done by video-analytics company Ace Metrix, funny commercials are typically more attention-grabbing and are better liked by audiences. However, humor alone does not make an ad effective. In reality, the study suggests that advertisements that only utilized humor were slightly less likely to increase desire for or intent to purchase the product than informative commercials that were “non-funny.”

“If companies use humor without showing what their product really does, that can backfire,” Fairchild says. “Then sales don’t go up, because people don’t know what they were supposed to be buying after watching the ad.”

As you can imagine, striking the balance between hilarious and on-brand, or informative and memorable, is hard. There are some brands, however, that are hitting the sweet spot between being humorous and increasing brand recall.

The Big Players

A lot of companies have ads that make people laugh, but few can make consumers remember the brand behind the giggles. Casper does this exceedingly well.

Lindsay Kaplan is the VP of Communications at Casper, the mattress company that is omnipresent in the lives of anyone who takes public transit— or is on social media. Not only is Casper the sponsor of a number of podcasts, but they’re also advertised in subway stations and billboards throughout the country — yet no one seems to complain about the amount of attention that they’re getting, in both the physical and online realms. Why? Because the company is the rare combination of memorable and playful.

Casper subway ad. Credit: Casper Pinterest

“It’s kind of bizarre to even be marketing a mattress. I mean, why on earth would people want to follow a mattress brand on Twitter?” Kaplan says of her role at the company. “There’s something really silly about that.”

Rather than speaking about their product in a clinical way, which is the overwhelming tone in the mattress arena, Casper embraces silliness and makes it a part of their voice. “People only replace their mattress every five to 10 years,” Kaplan says. “We want people to fall in love with our brand, so that they think of us when they’re ready to buy a new one.”

A big part of this effort to connect with customers is to interact with them individually. Many of these conversations happen on social media. They range from the simple, like sending customers funny GIFs in response to their tweets, to offering to write someone’s boss a note to explain why they were late. (The answer? Their mattress was too comfortable. Of course.)

“It’s important to remember that you can’t just advertise to people,” Kaplan says. “You want to have an emotional connection with the customer, and that has to carry into your tweets and Facebook conversations. ”

Casper even extends these interactions into the real world. For example, the mattress company offered to send hangover helpers to anyone experiencing post-Christmas-party misery.

“We send gifts to customers, because we love the idea of surprise and delight,” Kaplan says. “We’ll randomly send customers a book or a breakfast-sandwich maker.” These small actions take Casper from being a fun mattress brand in their marketing, to one that’s playful in their actions — and that makes them far more memorable.

Meditation app maker Headspace follows the same logic with its advertising campaigns. Although its product can be seen as serving a serious purpose, its playful marketing technique makes mindfulness accessible and fun.

Headspace ad. Credit: LinkedIn

“Animation is instantly likeable, because it has all those associations from childhood,” says Anna Charity, Headspace’s creative director. “People warm to our aesthetic because it’s non-judgmental, warm and friendly, and provides a fresh perspective.”

The method to the company’s marketing approach is to engage users and build a fun and memorable experience that will help keep the benefits of meditation front of mind, Charity adds. “Not taking yourself too seriously is one of the key things that meditation teaches, so we wanted that to exist in the brand.”

Both Casper and Headspace achieve what all companies should strive for: Entertaining their consumers while still making it clear what service their company provides.

Key Takeaways

Essentially, brands are like potential friends. You choose your circle because they make you happy. So naturally, you choose the products in your life with the same reasoning — you invest in brands that make you feel good.

Smile-inducing ads help your customers associate your brand with happiness. That way, when it’s time for them to choose a product in your industry, your company will be top of mind. After all, as Don Draper famously said, “Advertising is based on one thing: Happiness.”