The Fun Theory

closePlease note: This post was published over a year ago, so please be aware that its content may not be quite so accurate anymore. Also, the format of the site has changed since it was published, so please excuse any formatting issues.

Volkswagen has a new campaign they’re running called The Fun Theory. The fundamental principle of The Fun Theory is things that are fun can change peoples’ behavior for the better.

As evidence of this theory (which at this point is probably actually more of a hypothesis), Volkswagen successfully tried to get people to use some stairs instead of an escalator by making the stairs more fun. According to the video (and we’ll have to take the video’s word for it), 66% more people took the stairs than normal. In support of this, the video shows people automatically head for the escalator, and then make a conscious decision to take the stairs instead.

The Fun Theory and the accompanying video have some problems, however. For a start, how is “better behavior” being defined? What makes taking the stairs a better behavior than taking the escalator? It’s also worth noting that there is not an escalator that goes down, so I hope that 66% only counted people who went up the stairs (although I doubt it).

The biggest problem I see with all of this is that fun is relative. Piano stairs for a single day is a fun and delightful surprise, and who wouldn’t want to play on them? Piano stairs every hour of every day for the rest of time… Well, that’s not as much fun. That’s not to say there aren’t people who wouldn’t find it deliriously entertaining to take the piano stairs every day; I’m sure there are and they would. But the point of the video – and this is fairly well implied, in my opinion – is that by making things “fun,” you can change peoples’ behavior on a long-term basis. If what makes something fun is available every day, it becomes commonplace and kind of boring.

Think about where you live. Are there famous landmarks and “must-see” tourist attractions that you’ve never visited? Why not? For most of us, we haven’t taken advantage of the attractions because there’s no time limit on when we can see them (although even this isn’t true. Did you get a chance to visit the World Trade Center in New York before 9/11? No? Too late now). They’re out there and we can always see them some other time. They aren’t especially enticing because we live so close that we can visit them anytime we want to.

So if you lived near piano stairs, you might take them out of convenience (if the escalator was crowded), but it’s unlikely that most people would take the stairs every day of their lives simply because it’s fun.

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