I was listening to the 443rd episode of This American Life: Amusement Park and was reminded how much digital marketers can learn from state fairs and amusement parks.

The first story painted a lively image of Cole Lindbergh, a 25-year-old who has worked at the Worlds of Fun park in Kansas City for nine years. Cole runs the games department at Worlds of Fun, a division of 32 games. The kinds of games you see at any carnival or state fair, where you get three balls or a handful of darts. Just like most products we try to market, nobody seeks out the games in an amusement park. You want the rides, the food – the games are an afterthought.

So, how is Cole Lindbergh getting people to play games?

Have fun and share the fun with others

As Ira Glass says in the piece: “Have fun. If you have fun, that’s what’s going to sell the game.”

Too much of what we do in marketing doesn’t communicate fun. It’s too serious, too data-driven, not creative enough. Having fun spreads. People feel the passion and enjoyment advertisers had when they created their communication.

How to do viral right

Remember the last time you went to the fair and you saw all these people walking around with giant plush toys? They often cost less than the actual game and amusement parks use them as walking advertisements for all the games. The winners function as unpaid marketing vehicles. Think twice before paying for endorsements or blogger outreach. Find other ways to spread the word, make it part of your product and more of an organic process.


Amusement parks are pretty terrible places to work. You have to stand all day, the elements can be exhausting and the work itself is not much fun. Cole Lindbergh answered that challenge by creating contests, pitting each game team against each other. The high school employees work for hours without a break, create their own costumes and battle it out to be the big winner.

As customers, we have to fill out so many forms and finish really boring tasks, how can brands make this more enjoyable? Let’s not just focus on the outcome of our initiatives (likes, followers, conversions, etc.), let’s make the path to the outcome more fun.

Nobody cares about you.

“Ira Glass: Late morning, when I checked back at Games III, the pyramids of plush toys looked pretty much exactly as big as they had earlier that morning. Things were slow. And to goose the business, one of the supervisors, Sarah, was standing on the roof of this little hut.

Sarah: 88 more guesses until I’m coming off the roof.

Woman 3: She’s staying on the roof until she gets 100 guesses.

Sarah: I’m here until I get 88 more guesses, and then I’m going to allow myself to take a bathroom break. So any of you guys walking by, if you guys want to come play my game, help me out. Get me off this roof. It’s only $5 to play. I can guess your age, weight, or birthday month.

Ira Glass: This is a technique that I recognize from a thousand Public Radio pledge drives, and it was working about as slowly for her as it works for us. Strangers just don’t care if some girl on the roof gets to take a bathroom break.”

People don’t care about your brand. People only care about themselves and how YOU can help them getting things done better, quicker, nicer, etc.

Be yourself.

Just watch this video.

Low tech. Low budget. Completely uncool.

And that’s why they work so well. Because you can feel the heart and passion behind them. As Ira Glass remarks: “And their total commitment to what they’re doing actually flips the dorkiness and makes it kind of cool.”

We tend to turn marketing into a science filled with buzzwords and complex models. Sometimes you just have to walk around a amusement park and re-discover the basics.

You can listen to the full episode here.