You see it all over the place, every day. Puzzles. Games. Invitations to engage/enrage/enrapture. Pattern recognition: it’s fundamental to our very survival and has been hard wired into our brains since some upright hominid figured out that those patterns in the snow meant there was food on the hoof somewhere over that a way.
What are these strange things? An invitation to DINNER.
People really, really enjoy p z l s. And by puzzles, I mean communications that are not meant to be taken at face value, that leave something to interpretation and imagination. They provide room for people to enter into and engage with the communication. So why doesn’t that fact figure into more American marketing?
The rest of the world gets it—big time.
Puzzles work—by playing.
You don’t have to be an evolutionary anthropologist to understand the natural draw of such things. Just look at the popularity of global, cross-language phenomena like Sudoku.
This is fun? Apparently, the entire world thinks so.
I dare you: Ignore this next example:
Brilliant. Created by BBDO New York, USA
This is some weapons-grade puzzle and wordplay here—and impossible to ignore. Their entire point made in a puzzle of four words. As a writer, it pains me some that wordplay doesn’t factor in more of the examples above, but the reality is that in a truly global village, games that anyone can play are far more engagement-optimized than language-dependent versions. Sorry, Shakespeare, I love you dude, but the vast majority of the world doesn’t have a clue as to what you’re talking about (even those who speak English).
But that doesn’t answer my big question:
Why isn’t there more room in American marketing for more puzzle-inspired audience engagement?
Lürzer’s Archive is all about showing, not telling. OUCH!
Pick up a copy of Lürzer’s Archive and you’ll see page after page of universally understandable visual puns and puzzles that compel reader engagement. They’re generally fun, occasionally challenging, and the best of them creatively align message with brand to make a memorable communication that demands a piece of your brain’s precious real estate.
Now take a look at who’s creating this stuff. Sure, it’s a Euro-publication, but still. It seems like the entire world’s playing a different game that we Gringos just don’t get—like what the rest of the world calls ‘football.’
So why doesn’t American advertising use these eyeball-grabbing, proven puzzle / gamification techniques in marketing more often? I think a big reason is that currently, the vast majority of the U.S. population speaks the same language. And that our culture as a whole fetishizes the overtly direct and plain spoken over the subtle, the poetic, and the not immediately obvious.
It’s bullet points over brain power.
The PowerPointilization and infantilization of American Communication.
Yes, time is at a premium, but consider how much of that time is spent looking for games to break the monotony of everyday life. Couldn’t, shouldn’t marketing take note of this and run with it? Given the realities of American demography, it’s certainly worth about.
– D.P. Knudten