The State of Play

There is a prevalent misconception in our culture that “Play” ends with childhood, and is replaced by “Work.” This assumption is highly suspect, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Fred aka Mister Rogers did not agree with the implication that play and work lie on opposite ends of the spectrum:

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”-Fred Rogers

By this definition, Play is not the opposite of Work: it is it’s earlier incarnation.

Work is the evolution of play.

Small children require toys to inspire a shift into a state of play. A child without toys will find a green stick and pretend it’s a dragon. Teenagers have less need for toys because they achieve the ability to shift into a play state without requiring an orienting object.

Evolved adults who no longer require the objects but are wise enough to remember their intention are able to consciously shift into a State of Play: a total immersion into an experience in which they enjoy a good degree of control.

“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”– Alan Watts

The best toy marketers know that kids do not think in terms of product categories. They think in terms of experiences. They think in terms of story. “What world do I want to enter?” “What do I feel like doing?” “What do I want to experience?” Only after figuring out what they want to experience do kids then choose the right products to match. [source: Anderson]

The best marketers understand that this applies to adults as well.

Products with the power to inspire a State of Play

In marketing, there are two crucial elements: the product itself and the experience it inspires. In the kids market, the object is a Toy and the experience is Play. For the grown-up, the object is Useful, and the experience Enjoyable. In both instances however, the experience of the object creates a perspective shift.

For kids, there’s Wish Me, a stuffed animal with big eyes, soft fur and a cute bow. The toy itself is visually pleasing and agreeably tactile. However, the real value of the play kicks in when the object is experienced and the perspective shifts: “If I kiss the animal on the head it will glowingly transport my wish out into the universe…and maybe, just maybe, my wish will come true!”

For grown-ups, there’s Vino Pop, a sliding cylinder that pushes down into a cork and brings it back with a satisfying Pop! Visually pleasing, nicely tactile. Watch the faces of the women uncorking bottles during the testimonial. The “woooooo!!” sound they make on uncorking is a sure sign that a state of play has been achieved. But that’s wine, you say. Wine puts everyone into a play state!

Okay then, what about a palm-sized baking pan that’s wrapped in bacon and cooked into a crunchy edible bowl? Talk about a shift in perspective: “A bowl? Made of Bacon?!?” Yes, making bachelor-sized single serving meals can be depressing. However, in a play state, it’s a scrumpalicious™ Bacon Bowl testament to your undeniable right to enjoy pure freedom!

At the heart of a shift in perspective into a State of Play there is a simple shift in heightened mindful awareness that occurs: we change pattern and act more spontaneously, more openly and playfully, becoming a little less detached to the conditioning that directs us and experiencing a little bit of freedom… [source: Valentine]

Hutton Miller has built a large part of their reputation as leaders in the DRTV field on their unique ability to showcase the massive fun potential of kids’ toys. Kids love to play, and a higher Play Value means an overall higher perceived value. But the truth is, adults love to play too.

Yes, we may have evolved beyond the need for objects to shift our perspective into a higher state of play, but enjoying those objects is undeniably, unforgettably useful!