If you are lucky enough to take delivery of a new Volkswagen I3 electric car look down at the pedals. You will see that the accelerator has a forward facing triangle that is universally used as a symbol for the “play” button on a download. The foot brake is marked with two parallel lines that we recognise as the symbol for the “pause” button. You don’t need these cyphers to know how to use the pedals and you certainly wouldn’t be looking at them when you use your right foot. But they do serve a purpose. They tell you that the engineers that have made this excellent car are human. If you know someone who has a Tesla it won’t be long before they demonstrate how they can generate a fart noise with the direction indicator. These inconsequential surprises are acts of playfulness. Human beings like to play and when a manufacturer builds in a playful distraction, it makes the brand just that little bit more interesting.
Type the word “askew” into Google and the results page is, guess what, slightly askew. There is no utility in such an act of playfulness but these things can lighten our day and make us smile. They can also result in shared stories and comments which build a brand.
Making a brand human and interesting is a good way to build a differentiating customer experience. But you have to be careful. After all there is a time and place for everything. You wouldn’t expect a police person addressing the TV cameras about a terrible incident to make a playful or light-hearted comment. Maybe we wouldn’t want Boeing or Airbus to become too playful as we sit nervously reading the safety on board information. Jokes can easily misfire and irreverence in the wrong place can weaken loyalty rather than build it.
We can’t assume that everybody likes playfulness in their products. Maybe the farting noise that Tesla has built into its software make some people laugh while others may wonder if its engineers could have spent their time on something more useful.
Yes, we need to be careful. We live in a world where it is so easy to offend. However, we like the idea of brands developing a human attribute. Which leads us to think we should all think of opportunities for improving customer experience with a little bit of the right kind of light-heartedness.