How do you inspire people to recycle or to drive below the speed limit? The typical approach is to launch awareness campaigns that pin-up posters on  ‘the importance of recycling’ or run commercials showing cars speeding in family neighbourhoods. Is this method really effective at changing society’s behaviours? The Fun Theory would say that it isn’t!

Volkswagen would argue that awareness campaigns are not effective. In 2009, Volkswagen launched a campaign called the “Fun Theory” which believes that the easiest way to change human behaviour is to make the activity more fun. Volkswagen launched five projects under the “Fun Theory” and all five successfully improved human behaviour in regards to exercise, littering, speeding and more.

The Fun Theory Piano Staircase became an internet sensation when they turned a neglected subway staircase into a set of piano keys. Volkswagen’s hoped the piano stairs would encourage subway-users to take the stairs instead of riding the escalator. The project was able to increase the number of people taking the stairs by 66%. 

To reduce littering, Volkswagen attached a sound sensor to the inside of a garbage can that would play a cartoonish sound of something falling whenever someone dropped a piece of garbage into the can. People were so excited to throw out garbage and hear the sound that they ended up disposing 41kg more garbage in that can, than in the one a few metres away.

A third Fun Theory project was the Speed Camera Lottery. Volkswagen, as a car manufacturer, was concerned about the dangers of cars racing red-lights. Volkswagen installed cameras that would record speeding cars and change them fines. The fines were pooled into a lottery which cars travelling below the speed limit were entered into. This Speed Camera Lottery reduced the average speed by 22%. 

The Volkswagen Fun Theory projects show that people will choose the more fun option and if these options aim to improve civic life, they can help solve stubborn societal problems. The Fun Theory is seriously good at improving public spaces.

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