By Tim Walsh,
Due in part to the amazing job Mary Couzin and her team has done to pull inventors into the spotlight; some of us have found ourselves out of our comfort zone and in front a camera, an audience or group of holiday shoppers. Designers, who have embraced their new role as the voice of their vocation, have seen their royalty checks grow. As the credibility of toy and game designers grows too, we will be confronted with more consumers and journalists who want to hear what we have to say. The answer, for any good playmaker turned promoter, is a good story.
The media and the public know the power of a story. Book stores, particularly independent bookstores, know this too. They invite authors to their stores who know how to make an emotional connection with their consumers. In an article I wrote for Playthings in 2009, I asked, “What would happen if toy retailers promoted designers, the way that bookstores promote authors?” The problem with that question was that it put the responsibility on the retailers and not on us. If you plan to be a promoter of your playthings, then a better question to ask is “How do I make an emotional connection with my consumers?”
At the Inc. 500 Conference in Phoenix last month I discovered a great resource called Build: The Catalog of Ideas from the creators of Inc. magazine (thebuildnetwork.com). In the latest issue, I read an article entitled It Was a Dark and Stormy Off-Site... Creating Stories that Make Our Work More Compelling to Our Customers – and Ourselves.
Imagine an experiment in which 100 cheap items were bought at thrift stores for a total of $128.74. They were then offered for sale on eBay, with each item accompanied by a fictional story about the object. The items sold for a total of $3,612.51. (That’s a 2,706% ROI.) Why telling good stories is an essential business skill.
The “authors” of this experiment, Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker, concluded that meaning matters and that a story is a powerful driver of emotional value, even if that story is made up. Now I’m not advocating that we lie about our creations to sell them. I’m simply trying to convey the power of storytelling in selling. Besides, the truth is often stranger (and stronger) than fiction. What’s your story?
Zobmondo Entertainment is launching a game of mine called NØ CLOWNS! It comes with mini-plungers that suction onto game cards and pick them up in a very satisfying manner. A clown card is revealed and you win by finding the matching clown and plunging it in the face before your opponents.
When I was about 7 years old I saw a black and white horror film featuring a clown. Ever since, a clown has never made me laugh. Ever. My whole life clowns have followed me. They’re like dogs that have an uncanny ability to sniff out the one guy at the pool party who is not a dog person and lick his bare ankles. I am a clown magnet. My family will attest to this. I had a recurring nightmare of being tickled by a clown when I was a kid. Somehow I ended playing professional baseball for team called the Indianapolis Clowns. In 1988, we barnstormed the country in vans with two “professional” clowns in tow. Weirdest summer of my life. In 1993, when I promoted my game TriBond in the first Wal-Mart to open in Vermont, I was placed in the store next to a 70-year old, balloon-making clown. Jangles wore a polka-dotted outfit that had not been washed for decades. The whole sordid affair was entirely unfunny. There’s this guy named Jim who (let me be clear about this) I do not hate. On Saturday mornings, Jim goes to a local diner in my hometown dressed as Boo-Boo the Clown. Boo-Boo makes balloon animals for any kids who don’t cry at the sight of him. Boo-Boo promotes his clown business while wearing a button that reads, “Tips make me happy.” Let me also be very clear about this: I hate Boo-Boo the Clown. Boo-Boo, Beep-Beep and every other Bozo needs to go bye bye.
My game, NØ CLOWNS! is clean, cathartic, clown-plunging fun. Because plunging a real clown in the face with a real plunger will get you arrested. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Tim Walsh is the designer of Blurt!, Pick Me!, Crazy Chins Movie Maker Kits, Smell-o-rama scented card games and NØ CLOWNS! He lives in Sarasota, Florida, home of the Ringling Circus.