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Marketing For Health & Wellness

The Power of Interactivity in Digital Experiences

The Power of Interactivity in Digital Experiences

A while ago, I read an interview with the producers of the TV show Friends. They were discussing the development of the theme song, and how the now-iconic clapping was a key piece of making the song so catchy. 

They purposefully replaced drum beats with the clapping, so that people who were watching at home would clap along while it was playing.  

While this wasn’t the cause for the explosive popularity of the show, it certainly didn’t hurt – and is an excellent example of how adding interactivity can have people become more invested in the activity (i.e., more engaged).

A few years ago, there was a small change to an email software. This change didn’t make headlines, but it was a sad day and one I think about often.  Back in the early 2000s, when mailchimp first came out, it was the “quirky / weird” platform – it had a clear and distinct POV and tone of voice that stood out from the corporate copycats that dominated the email marketing landscape.

For many years, once you scheduled or sent an email, it would take you to a confirmation screen, where an animated monkey would high-five the screen.

Every time, I high-fived back with it.

For years.

The Power Of Interactivity In Digital Experiences

So did lots of other people.

This oral history of the MailChimp high five by the invision app with the creators of the high fiving GIF says even just the initial static image of the high five was enough to have people high-fiving their screens.

This spurred them on to make it a real animation.

“Animation can be so powerful. It can create an emotional experience that connects with you, and it’s also a way of communicating that there are people behind the software who understand your journey and challenges you face here and we’re reflecting that back to you in this interaction.”

Aarron Walter

However, a couple of years ago, they changed it and removed that GIF. Now, they simply take you to a bland and generic confirmation screen. There’s a small graphic with a thumbs up, but it doesn’t move. There’s nothing to interact with.

It’s boring and unmemorable. There’s no emotional payoff.

People are inherently creative creatures. Even our cave-dwelling ancestors took time out from scrounging for roots and picking nits off each other to doodle on the cave walls.

If you were to record yourself at work and in your home, the video would be a little dystopian. Humans went from having conversations, creating things, and interacting with each other to mostly just hunching forward in front of a small, medium, or large screen. Staring unblinkingly and not moving, for hours.

Trung Phan surfaced this comment in one of his recent newsletters, that captures it well:

“Only decades ago, the average person had one source of information, if any — the local newspaper. It’d take an hour, tops, out of their day. 1 hour out of 16 waking hours, or 6%. The rest of the day was spent making, creating value, conversing with others — 94%. Desires were simple — work for food and housing and a way to get around, find love, raise kids, build something great, fight for justice for your peers, see the world. Today, the average American spends 8 hours a day consuming digital media. 50% of our waking hours. What happens to the world when people spend half their time watching other people? When their thoughts of themselves and of the world and their desires are now shaped by taking in other’s experiences 50% of the time, up from living their own lives for 94% of their time?”

This is why the internet is at its most fun when it’s interactive. Sitting and consuming something by itself is kind of boring.

I’ve been a proponent of this for years – well, decades – now. It was most obvious in the very early days of online communities – think IRC and BBS (bulletin board systems). They were designed around conversation, not consumption. You got to know the other posters; who was funniest, who was a jerk, who could change the conversation when things got heated. Each space developed its own culture and shorthand for communication.

Early memes were the same – they were easy to create (just fire up MS Paint and slap some words on a funny cat picture) and easy to remix and remake them into your own.

This theory of online interactivity was something we discussed heavily when I was at global ad agency R/GA and one of its spinoffs. How can you incorporate an element of play, of interactivity, into a campaign?

These conversations directly lead to the award-winning “Straight Outta Somewhere” campaign for Beats by Dre.  It was a truly viral campaign, with its central core being that anyone could easily create their own spin on the iconic “Straight Outta Compton” cover.

Interactivity and play also had a hit moment more recently, with a very similar campaign mechanic, the Barbie selfie generator. Even other media fans were using it, as in this example from the Succession TV show subreddit:

The Power Of Interactivity In Digital Experiences

As you’re developing your product or service and the marketing of it, where can you add an element of play and creativity? How can you make it interactive?

People like to do more than just stare at a screen. Let them interact with it, too.

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