If you haven’t played Wordle, you’ve probably at least heard of it. Created by Josh Wardle, the free online word game is taking the US by storm, counting more than 2 million players since its release in October 2021.
The game is so popular that it was recently purchased by the New York Times, of crossword puzzle renown, at a hefty price.
Whether or not you’re a fan, you may be wondering just what it is that makes Wordle such a hit. You’re far from the only one. The game involves guessing which letters are in a secret five-letter word, and where they go. There is only one word posted per day, and players only have 6 guesses. Whatever their score, players often post their results on social media (if you’re not in the know, that’s what those posts with green, yellow, and gray colored boxes are).
It seems pretty simple. So why is this game such a big deal?
Theories abound. For psychologist Sebastian Ocklenburg, Wordle’s appeal lies in two major factors. First, it’s fast (a game can be played in ten minutes or less, unlike other thinking games like crosswords and sudoku), and secondly, results can be shared on social media. He reminds readers that studies show that social media likes have been shown to reinforce the brain’s reward system.
Additionally, philosophy professor Thi Nguyen attributes some of Wordle’s success to the way it’s designed. Its grid layout is easily shared on social media, without giving away the answer. The colorful boxes indicate where a player triumphed, nearly made it, and failed. A green box means a letter was put in the correct place, a yellow box means the letter was in the word but not in the right place, and a gray box means the letter was not in the word. Nguyen comments, “There's a huge amount of information - and drama - packed into that little graph.”
This social media shareability is part of another appealing quality. For psychologist Lee Chambers, it makes playing Wordle a communal experience. Creator Josh Wardle himself points out that this is something especially sought out in the days of Covid, when many of us are isolated and mentally fragile.
It’s clear that Wordle ticks the right boxes, so to speak, with many people. But could it be used for more than just amusement?
Interestingly, while it’s still a new phenomenon, some people have already started using Wordle in different ways. As online searches show many of them are teachers, who encourage students to play the game, and in some cases even have their class play together when there are a few minutes left in a class period.
But Wordle has also been used for less…intellectual benefits. As with just about any trend, brands have started making reference to it in their ads, at least on Twitter, the most popular place to share Wordle results.
This fascinating article documents the rise of Wordle and features some notable uses of it in ads by brands like Google and Lego on social media. Interestingly, one social media post featured in the article is by the NAACP. Unlike the others, this one is about awareness, and it makes you wonder if other organizations and causes might use Wordle in their communications as well.
This could be something like what the NAACP has done, which is just a reference to the game. But personally, I wonder if someone else might use it to bring words and abbreviations into the public eye.
For instance, could a health awareness campaign highlight a five-letter word important to their cause by presenting it as a Wordle grid, or even asking followers to guess what it is, as in the game? Could a pharma company promote a new five-letter product or talk about a five-letter problem their product can heal or help with?
So far, pharma and healthcare advertisers and organizations don’t seem to have embraced this trend, but maybe it’s only a question of time.
Of course, brands and organizations who want to use Wordle in advertising will have to keep the five-letter limit in mind. For inspiration, they could look to a recent Google tweet that cleverly asked, “What’s a 6-letter word for a thing that will help you solve 5-letter words?”
With its current trendiness and appeal, incorporating Wordle into awareness campaigns and healthcare and pharma marketing could be an excellent move. But it will make for some challenges - you could even say this would be a new way to play the game.
A typical Wordle grid
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