FEATURE11 October 2021

Teeing up: Launching crazy golf in the US

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London crazy golf company Swingers wanted to expand to the US – but how would its risqué name play with consumers there? By Liam Kay.

Golf ball on mini golf pitch

At first glance, Swingers is an unusual name for a company. Yet, when people realise it is a crazy golf brand in central London, the reasons behind the branding become much clearer. In a British market used to somewhat irreverent humour, the name is an amusing marketing quirk – but how would the name translate elsewhere?

A couple of years ago, Swingers decided to expand into the US, aiming to appeal to the millennial and corporate booking markets. It wanted to open a branch in Washington DC, but was keen to examine whether its branding and business model would work on the other side of the Atlantic. The company approached Feeling Mutual to conduct research among its two target audiences in the city.

Tom Woodnutt, founder of Feeling Mutual, says that potential issues with Swingers’ communications and image needed to be run past a US audience before the Washington DC launch.

“The concern was there is a potentially risqué interpretation of the word Swingers,” he explains. “The risk was it might seem inappropriate, as a big market is not just millennials on a night out, but large corporations who are booking team days.”

‘Swingers’ was not the only term that had the potential to cause confusion. “‘Crazy golf’ is a very British term – in the US, they don’t call it crazy golf, and don’t recognise it,” says Woodnutt. “There was the question of whether to keep the British heritage, which can be appealing in the US, or choose something more meaningful locally.”

Other factors also needed to be considered – the menus, music, location and format. Feeling Mutual developed a mobile phone-based, asynchronous online qualitative study.

“We were using a method that was more natural for young people,” Woodnutt adds. “It gave them space to answer in their own time, and got them to answer in a real-world setting.”

Feeling Mutual recruited 12 people from Washington DC – six corporate bookers and six millennials – through behavioural recruitment company Liveminds, which used Facebook to find people who matched Swingers’ customer profile.

The company developed a video platform to allow participants to provide diaries of their preparations for a night out, such as choosing a venue, their time socialising, and how social media was used to plan their social life. Participants supplied an average of 40 minutes of content a day, and the researchers used mobile tool Indeemo to analyse it. There were 10 hours of content from 260 videos at the end of the six-day project.

Participants were also shown mock-up stimulus of Swingers launching in Washington DC, such as fake magazine reviews or adverts. This was combined with real details of Swingers’ London venues, including videos, menus, and reviews from London magazines such as Time Out. The researchers asked participants for advice on the best areas of Washington DC for Swingers to open and local independent food producers to provide catering.

Most people in the study liked the brand, and the results were positive enough to persuade Swingers to proceed with the launch, which took place in June.

“The reaction from most people was to be relaxed about the name,” says Woodnutt. “They thought it was a bit risqué, but when they realised it was a classy golf experience, it made sense, and was seen as cheeky. The fact it was British was a selling point, as they liked British exports.

“Any issues with it potentially being inappropriate melted away, even among the corporate bookers.”

  •  Swingers started in 2014 as a five-month, pop-up crazy golf, street food and cocktail experience in Shoreditch, east London
  • The US miniature golf industry was worth £434m in 2021
  • Between 2016 and 2021, the US miniature golf industry grew by 1.9% (IbisWorld).