When a colleague gushed about her latest shoe obsession, she mentioned the great fit and unique materials. But what really got her excited? The shipping confirmation email.
“Isn’t it cool?” she said, her phone flashing an image of an animated, anthropomorphic sheep. “I’ve never seen a company care about a shipping email!”
Allbirds, the up-and-coming shoe company, has found its marketing secret sauce: whimsy. From its company website to its seemingly mundane email notifications, Allbirds wants to be seen as quirky, playful, and approachable. A bevy of cute sheep animations help that brand voice along—and help separate the company from its competitors.
Whether you’re a footwear brand or a B2B company, whimsy can play a powerful role in your digital marketing playbook. By adding a whimsical flourish, brands create a personality that’s open and accessible instead of cold and corporate—human and unpolished instead of staid and unapproachable. Whimsical touches create a story. The more powerful that story, the more likely brands can rise above their competitors.
One key problem many brands face is differentiating themselves from the crowd. Whimsy—referring to anything fanciful, playful, amusing, and even unpredictable—can help brands achieve that marketplace distinction, because it’s memorable.
Whimsical marketing is the pink mustache that adorns Lyft vehicles. It’s the Twitter “fail whale.” It’s an animated sheep dancing in your inbox.
With whimsical content, brands can signal that they don’t take themselves too seriously. Whether through experience, design, or content, whimsical touches offer lightheartedness, humor, and surprise—all helping solidify a connection to the consumer.
Consider Cheetos, for example. The brand isn’t typically associated with whimsy but it nonetheless tapped into its playful side with an unconventional dining experience. Inspired by fan recipes, the company launched “The Spotted Cheetah,” a three-day pop-up restaurant in Manhattan offering diners Cheetos-themed creations, such as Cheetos meatballs, Cheetos-crusted fried pickles, Cheetos tacos, and even Cheetos cheesecake. The playful spin on a household brand name paid off—the campaign scored plenty of media attention and drew a 1,000-person-long waiting list.
E-commerce site Boxed dabbled with whimsical graphic design for its “Bulk Made Beautiful” campaign. The company, which sells grocery and home products in bulk, used their products to create photos and gifs of whimsical scenes of what consumers could be doing thanks to the time they save by shopping with Boxed. The playful imagery tickled consumers and bumped up social engagement across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn by 125.7 percent.
“If it’s an image of those razors by the pool that can make them laugh a little bit, but also remind them that they need to shave their legs that day, then that’s a win for Boxed and a nice thing to pass on for the customer,” Jessica Rotondi, Boxed senior social media manager, told Digiday.
B2C companies aren’t the only ones who can use whimsical content and playfulness to their advantage. B2B companies also deploy whimsical tactics to spark emotion and enhance their brand voice. For its “Imagination at Work” campaign, GE used a Muppet-like, fanciful creature to represent how a “scary” idea can flourish under the right conditions.
Workplace messaging company Slack similarly pursued a whimsical lilt in its digital marketing strategy. The company injects playfulness and fun into the platform design and copy, helping to convey its brand story. Most notably, Slackbot, the app’s automated virtual assistant, seeks to entertain while being useful: The bot introduces itself by stating that it is “pretty dumb, but tries to be helpful,” Wired reports. The company now boasts over 6 million daily users, according to Forbes.
My colleague’s enthusiasm for her shoe purchase is a testament to Allbirds’ commitment to a quality product and also its commitment to a consistent brand voice. Allbirds’ digital marketing strategy isn’t about proving it’s the hippest shoe out there. Instead, through whimsical content, the brand tells a story of being a bit unpolished, and definitely approachable and warm.
“There’s so much room in this space to take it all too seriously and it becomes a bit too earnest or too cool,” Allbirds’ designer Jamie McLellan said in Idealog. “That was something we didn’t want the brand to be—more broadly accessible and whimsical. And I think the illustration is a way you can do that.”
Allbirds’ whimsical brand voice converted my friend, and her passion spread. Thanks to her recommendation, another friend got hooked; he and his spouse now have multiple pairs. They love the product—and the brand story—and will keep going back to buy more shoes while shouting the brand’s praises to others. Thanks to a few playful animations, attention to every consumer touchpoint, and a keen awareness of its own brand story, the whimsical brand is making more and more fans.
Featured image attribution: Delaney Dawson