You’re invited to my party.


My four-year old had a birthday party a while back. Nothing fancy, just a few mates, an obstacle course, a cake, a piñata, goody bags – the usual stuff.

But the build up to that birthday was something else. He was so excited that anyone and everyone got an invitation.

“You’re invited to my party,” he said to his mates, his Kindy teacher, Oma, the neighbours and the check-out operator at Foodtown. And it got me thinking: what’s the difference between a four-year old birthday party and a customer loyalty programme? If the boy is the brand, the product is fun and the party gives you double points on Tuesdays; here’s why I think there’s stuff we can learn from four year olds.

Parties aren’t an extra. They’re hygiene.

It’s a brave parent who avoids throwing a party. It’s a social necessity, a rite of passage, essentially a hygiene factor when bringing up kids. Some go all out while others keep things simple, but just about everyone does something in the party space. You kinda have to.

There’s a very simple formula.

It’s always the same: Arrivals, presents, games, food, cake to signal impending close and a party bag on the way out. Obviously there’s wiggle room to vary on a theme (no pun intended) but the basics are set in stone and expectation.

Parties cost more than you think.

If you keep things tight and spend time in the kitchen you can knock out a party for a couple of hundred bucks. But that’s the baseline: the cost of doing business. Of course, you can spend what you like from there. And no matter how hard you hit the plastic, you’ll never beat the people with the pool and the pirate clown.

Consumers will rate your party.

“Danny had a clown”, “Sally had a bouncy castle” – since parties are largely commodified, it’s easy to compare and contrast… and they do. But the good news is, it’s horses for courses. Different parties suit different consumers and a little creative thinking can make all the difference. (FYI: horses are generally a bad idea unless it’s the miniature pony again.)

Inflating the party bubble.

“But I don’t like Simon any more,” he said. But he went to Simon’s party so Simon is on the list. That’s the economics of party reciprocity. It’s complicated. And it doesn’t stop at guest lists. If Simon took his mates to Snow Planet, can you really invite him to a barbie on the deck? Luckily people can and do.

So if parties pose a problem, what’s the answer?

I reckon, keep it simple. Go back and respond to the brief rather than the market. If it’s Dylan’s birthday make him feel special, invite some friends, create some fun and maybe bake a cake. Not everyone can be or should be invited – but pick the ones who matter and make sure they get something out of it. Better yet, cut back the party budget and have a bunch of play dates. Because surely it’s better to have the kid that people want to play with rather than buy a bunch of strangers for a party.

And if all else fails, hire a clown, invite the world and advertise double lollipops in your goody bags.

That’s what I reckon, what do you think?

Michael Goldthorpe