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Tania Luna runs a business called Surprise Industries in New York. The premise is quite simple. You buy a surprise for yourself or as a gift for someone else. And you get one. Maybe you get a ticket for an ice sculpture class, maybe a time slot for a zip line adventure across a canyon, maybe you get to feed the alligators at the local zoo or pose nude for a life drawing class.  You can set some parameters to do with risk and pleasure but most don’t. Doing that kind of misses the point. After all it is a surprise that you want. Her business is booming, and I know why.

Kill the Routine

Last year during my own Time Bending experiment (see video link above) I discovered that doing unexpected and novel things every day was the catalyst for living a fuller life. The opposite, namely routine, both kills creativity and sucks the joy from your very existence. And this needs to be harnessed by brands.Humans are naturally playful creatures.  As kids we are curious and we use imaginative play to explore the world and test boundaries. Sadly as we grow up both the education system and the work place crush this desire to play, preferring conformity and a ‘work’ ethic.

Play Forms Bonds

This is wrong. Very wrong. When we play, smile and laugh, bonds are formed and memories formed. Less so when we don’t. This is important for your personal life. To live a life full of opportunity, risk and play. But for brands this is the moment you need to start listening.


The ‘surprise’ is a great play conduit. From nice ones to pranks, they all result in an adrenaline rush and a reaction, laughter and smiles. Do it right and you get tears of joy. What brand doesn’t want to be associated with joy?

Lose the Point Counting

Most brand loyalty schemes are awful. They collect transactional data, rewarding the user with less than inspiring returns. Hotel ones are a great example. Collect points with every stay and then use your points to stay for free. When you calculate the points needed to redeem anything decent you’d have to live in their hotel for a year! Or the standard 1c for every €1 spent on retail schemes. Really? 1c? I spend an amazing €1000 in your grocery store and you give me a €10 voucher. Really?



What brand loyalty schemes need to move to is surprising and delighting users. Make being part of the rewards club mean something. Surprise them with random gifts, invites to events, preferential treatment. If I get to board the plane first as a loyal user, then why don’t I get to skip the long checkout lines in my grocery store the same way? If my airline loyalty card lets me go fast pass through security, how come they can’t bring me a glass of Chardonnay as a surprise on board. They have my transactional data, they have my flight and seat number. They know who I am and where I am on board. They can easily surprise a loyal customer with something that costs practically nothing but makes the user feel wanted. Recently Air Alaska announced it was going to start using Big Data to do just that – identify passengers on board and start personalising their interaction. They announced it as if it was something amazing, and it is. But it shouldn’t be. It should be the NORM.

Surprises Ripple Out

I think brands need to start asking themselves how they can surprise their current and future customers. How every day brand users can be turned into brand advocates? It goes for both consumer and B2B brands. Surprise and delight the customer. The reward is ten-fold on social media. Today everything that makes us laugh or smile we share within our social networks. It just makes sense.

As a playologist I use play to catalyse creativity and innovation with my corporate clients. But it can also be used to build brand equity. Have some fun with your customer rewards. Pop star Taylor Swift understands the brand value of surprising fans. She famously rewards fans for their loyalty by surprising them with home visits, gifts, or personal invites to come to her home.


She is a smart woman. She knows that these acts fuel social media conversations, rippling far and wide building her brand equity. Over 17m people have watched the video above. Surprises have REACH

Be different. Surprise Me

All brands need to find their inner surprisologist. Consumer value is now earned through providing shareable experiences (see a previous blog post). It’s time that brands stepped up and started surprising customers. Every day at every turn. If all you’re giving me is what I expect, then you are no different from the competition. If you want to be unique then do something that makes it so. Surprise me.

Don’t believe me? Today surprise someone in your home or office. Buy something nice for them as a treat, organise a funny office game for colleagues, treat your students to a crazy in class moment. Watch their reactions. And imagine multiplying that by tens of thousands and you get the idea of the possible reach of brand surprises.

And it feels good to surprise people. We should all do it more often. Life is too predictable as it is, weighed down by the routine. To borrow a phrase from Miss Swift, it’s time we all ‘Shake It Off’…


A blog to  inspire and delight

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A blog to  inspire and delight