Kidding around

I consider myself relatively optimistic. I’m a glass half full/look on the bright side kinda gal.

But being an adult is hard work. (I’m in my thirties and still don’t feel prepared.) There’s no sugar coating it; the world feels like a pretty crummy place right now and we’re faced with doom and gloom in the news every day.

As adults, our growing responsibilities tend to come with high levels of stress. The Mental Health Foundation conducted a UK study earlier this year. Of the 4,619 respondents, 74% stated that they’ve been so stressed in the previous twelve months, that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.

So, it’s no surprise that there’s a huge and growing trend for adult escapism in the form of play. When browsing Time Out last weekend to find something new – and a little bit different – to do with a group of friends, I was amazed by how many experiences exist; all encouraging adults to be transported back to more innocent times. From Disney sing-along brunches to ball pit cocktail bars and adult-only bouncy castles, we can take our pick. (And yes, I’m tempted by all of these!)

Journalist Cherrill Hicks describes this movement as the ‘infantilising trend for adult play’, which has touched everything from products to services and toys to art galleries.

But why is infantilising so popular?

As summarised nicely in a Virgin guest blog, experts suggest a number of reasons:

  • Playfulness taps into a fun, stress-free era; and that helps to escape current problems and uncertainties.
  • It draws on our collective memory of the past and connects us to others.
  • It brings out our ‘inner child’, making us feel youthful and energised.
  • It embraces creativity, humour and optimism.
  • It’s spontaneous, interactive and frees us from ‘grown-up’ rules and structures.

This is by no means a new phenomenon; it’s been a gradual shift over time and doesn’t look like it’ll disappear overnight. In 2015, the adult colouring book trend was at its peak, generating sales of over £24m. Although these sales haven’t been maintained, we’re seeing more brands offering products & services that embrace playfulness.

Injecting playfulness into everyday life
Nostalgic experiences like mini golf, retro video games and escape rooms are big business. Exercise, which has been traditionally viewed as a chore, is being given a make-over and playground-inspired fitness activities are becoming more common. Companies like Rabble promise adults they’ll ‘have fun & get fit’ with sessions such as dodgeball, capture the flag, and the hunger games all on offer. The USA stepped things up a notch with AquaMermaid school offering the chance for participants to get fit while living out their fantasies of having a mermaid’s tail(!).

Infant embodiment
Adult onesies are an excellent example of this. And you can’t step into a high street shop these days without coming face-to-face with a unicorn (still!), or a flamingo, or even (the latest Instagram obsession) a Llama. What connects these trends? They’re all vibrant, cute, harmless, and allow consumers to revert to childhood. As brand strategist Jess Weiner put it, “women are in need of fantastical magic in their lives right now, because we’re surrounded by culture and politics that are very bleak and dark and oppressive”.   

Playful brands: packaging & brand experiences
There are many ways that brands use their packaging as a vehicle to spread joy and to appeal to the youthful mindset of their target consumers. During the 2017 festive season, Starbucks offered shoppers the chance to customise their own cups with colour & illustrations.

Then there are the brands who use child-like experiences to engage; a great example is Toys“R”Us, who installed a giant Etch A Sketch in a New York subway station last year to encourage adults to take a break from their stressful days.

Closer to home, breakfast brand Up & Go launched in the UK with an inflatable assault course on the Southbank. Even the Razors went along early one morning to take part!

The desire for fun activities, and products with a nostalgic charm, is clearly showing no signs of abating. And where there’s demand, there’s always supply…