Playground Marketing and the Psychology Behind it

Playground Marketing and the Psychology Behind it


Observing how people react to a new product has always fascinated me. As a kid, I vividly recall the neighborhood kids showing off any shiny new object purchased that day by Mom. In fact, we marched right over to the playground to share, with whoever was playing that day.


As children of the 80s, everything from newly released Cherry Coke and Cool Ranch Doritos, to Umbros and baseball cards drew a crowd at the merry-go-round. What we were actually witnessing were countless marketing presentations. Children are in fact excellent marketers because they are able to use a product and quickly create simple messaging to highlight the best features.


I’ll never forget the day my friend Aaron brought an icy cold Sprite to the playground. It felt like the hottest day of my 7-year-old life, so when he took a sip, right in front of us, and with a crisp swallow, smiled and said, “mmm, refreshing,” all the kids and I gasped in unison with satisfaction for him. I confess, there was some envy too, and even though I am not a huge soda drinker, I will forever think of Sprite as refreshing.


Good marketing is coupled with an understanding of psychology. According to the American Psychological Association, several chemical reactions happen in our bodies during an impactful experience. We release dopamine, which is the brain’s signal that a reward is there for the taking. Oxytocin signals the feeling of social trust, often triggered by “mirror psychology” which is when a person sees someone who looks trustworthy using a product and begins to want to mirror that behavior (referenced in SAGE Journals of Psychology). These chemicals are the reason I can still picture the bright-eyed look of my playground peers happily watching our friend Aaron sip Sprite, now in my mind, the most refreshing drink of my youth.


In the marketing field, we don’t speak about “dopamine campaigns”. It seems super sneaky to phrase it that way, but isn’t that really what we are trying to create every time we select images and ad copy? Consider, for example, an AgroChemical company with a valuable herbicide. The company knows their target audience of growers feels the pressure of weeds potentially taking over their fields. Accordingly, an integrated marketing campaign uses images of very clear fields without weeds, combined with meaningful product messaging to create an initial attraction to the product (or subconsciously, a dopamine rush). Ideally, the messaging and the reason to buy (i.e. clean fields) are woven throughout several marketing channels, with the goal of driving discussion and engagement among the target audience. If growers see their peers or other trusted advisors, like agronomists in this instance, reacting positively by sharing advice or posts through social media, it starts to create that “ah refreshing” feeling, which hopefully leads to purchasing the product.


Maybe the practical application of a junk food-filled childhood and a passion for psychology is useful in understanding loyalty to a brand or product, maybe not. Still, creating a repeat customer who not only enjoys a product or brand but spreads the good news on the social media “playground” can be priceless in today’s cluttered marketplace. After all, it only takes a single well-presented experience to create a life-long impression, reinforcing that the psychology behind the marketing is often as critical as the dollars spent