Following an approach established through decades of static mass media marketing, a substantial proportion of advertising campaigns are still based upon a passive audience model and fail to take advantage of the interactive and integrative capabilities of new technology. Despite the potential for high-involvement communication through today’s expanding media platforms, consumer engagement is still one of the greatest challenges facing marketing.
One of most powerful solutions to the problem comes in the form of deep-media engagement (Rose, 2011), in which consumers are invited to immerse themselves within a unified multi-platform brand experience. Deep-media engagement goes beyond experiential marketing, which sees the generation of ‘buzz’ through advertising in unexpected locations and situations, to the immersion of audiences within a multi-platform immersive experience.
Perhaps the best example is 42 Entertainment’s viral campaign, Why So Serious?, that ran for 15-months prior to the release of The Dark Knight, the second of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The 2009 Cannes Grand Prix winning campaign, engaged audiences on a level that had never been seen before, and has yet to be repeated to such an extent since. Cryptic clues were scattered across both the internet and real-world locations, requiring collaboration from fans who would live the backstory to the movie through elements including phones hidden in cakes, Bat-Signals on skyscrapers, and protests in city streets.
The Why So Serious? campaign was so successful in consumer engagement as it went beyond just promotion to create a multi-platform real-life immersive game for fans. Games, both in virtual and real-world environments, hold a unique ability to invite players to into the universe that the author has created – taking participation far beyond watching, to engaging and manipulating, where a participant’s actions have consequences within this alternative universe. As stated by Judah Schiller, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi S, “well-designed games have the potential to create dynamic, rich and deeply enjoyable experiences that can foster innovation, reinforce positive behavior and increase engagement” (Marketing Weekly News, 2011).
Gaming has resonated within society for centuries, holding an important position in our social interactions – from sporting contests, to gambling and card games, to traditional board games, to the network-connected video games of recent years. As humans we seem fundamentally inclined to engage in games of some form, and as gaming has evolved its principles have become deeply emerged within our cultures. For instance, we have been using reward-based incentives such as loyalty programs or sales performance leaderboards to motivate individuals for decades. Now, fueled by the growth in social and interactive technologies, game mechanics are appearing even more frequently in elements of our daily lives.
Gabe Zichermann, co-author of Game-Based Marketing, defines gamification as “the process of using game thinking and mechanics to engage audiences and solve problems” (Zichermann, 2010). Here, the standard concepts of gaming – points, achievement badges, leaderboards, achievement levels, progress bars, challenges, and levels of ascending difficulty – are applied to non-gaming situations to increase engagement, enjoyment and/or to act as an incentive.
To further understand gamification, I highly recommend watching Zichermann’s presentation at Google Tech Talks:
Zichermann (2010) sees ‘status’ as the overarching motivator in game dynamics, whereby people play games not for some form of financial reward, but social status in achieving a high score, level completion or outperforming friends. He further explains this concept, and its relation to real-world game implementation, through his “Gamification Loop Point System” (Zickermann, 2010), shown below.
In this sense, the worse a game’s status structure is, or the lesser the value found in building status within the game, the less engaging the game is and the more a form of financial reward is required. Jerry Lloyd-Williams, strategy director at MediaCom, clarifies this potential for gamification failure, sating that “without meaning (why is it relevant to me?), mastery (why is practicing worthwhile?) and autonomy (why can’t I play my game on my terms?), most attempts to change behavior via gamification fail.” (Campaign, 2012).
For example, Foursquare is a multi-platform game in which individuals ‘check in’ to locations in a competition with friends for points and achievement badges. Whilst the platform is an interesting concept, and has reached some levels of success, it is on the whole without meaning (in that beyond receiving offers and discounts, there is no relevance to playing), mastery (in that there is no sense of practice required) and in many ways autonomy (in that whilst you choose where you ‘check-in’, the points and badges are somewhat pre-determined). Overall, the value found in building status within the game platform is not rewarding enough, which has ultimately become a ‘Catch-22′ situation for the platform – users need companies to create offers to make using Foursquare valuable, and companies need users to make creating offers worthwhile. In this sense, if the platform could increase the social status of being ‘Mayor’ or having unlocked 26 badges, the platform may reach critical mass and increase in popularity.
Gamification in Marketing
Gamification in marketing sees games mechanics applied to products, services or elements of branded content in order to increase consumer engagement with a brand or campaign, or generate interest and enjoyment for potentially ‘uninteresting’ brands or elements of brands (e.g. cleaning products). Discussing the implications of gamification to marketing, Lloyd-Williams states that “gamification can help curate communities in an engaging, sustainable and cost-effective way…it enables marketers to add layers of genuine and sustainable consumer engagement to campaigns” (Campaign, 2012).
A major benefit to increasing engagement is the shift from associative to cognitive learning. Low-involved consumers in a low-involvement media will only learn about brand through associate learning such as conditioning, in which they form brand associations based upon repeated exposure to a message. Whilst learning can be accomplished in this way, it is always beneficial to allow individuals to learn for themselves – something that can be accomplished through immersive and engaging gamification experiences that encourage more cognitive learning, a stronger and more powerful technique.
Perhaps one of best examples of gamification in marketing can be seen in the Nike+ platform. Nike debuted its Nike+ technology in 2006, enabling users to track and share the distance and pace of a walk or run with a branded smartphone app. In 2012, the company expanded upon this technology to extend the Nike+ tracking capabilities to all physical activity within a user’s life. Essentially an intelligent movement-tracking wristband, the Nike+ FuelBand enables users to monitor, and set goals for, their energy usage across the day: from climbing stairs, to cycling to work, to an evening tennis match with friends. Increasing engagement with the Nike brand, and encouraging a healthy active lifestyle, the technology turns any activity into a game through implementation of gaming mechanics including points, goals, and status building. Following Lloyd-William’s (Campaign, 2012) definition of successful gamification, the Nike+ platform provides meaning (increasing health and fitness), mastery (improving your physical performance) and autonomy (selecting your own activity and assigning your own personal goals) to create a high-reward and high-status game.
Future of Gamification
We are still in the early stages of gamification in both marketing and life in general. Yet there is no doubt that the digital/social revolution will increase gamification in both advertising and public relations. A recent study by Saatchi & Saatchi S (2011) found that 58% of respondents (over 2,000 male and females participants between the ages of 18-44) felt it important that brands be “fun and playful” in their communication, with 37% preferring to hear of a new brand through an online game (compared to 3% for traditional mass media channels). Furthermore, it has been suggested that loyalty programs, already a form of gamification, be upgraded to incorporate further game mechanics such as “building in levels, challenges to achieve and badges to collect” (Baker, 2011) to increase their value and engagement, and utilize their status-building potential to increase word of mouth brand promotion.
Overall, gamification has the unique ability to make the more arduous elements of life more fun, and has potential to increase our productivity. For as Zuchermann (2011) explains, “fun and theme are not correlated” – with theme (e.g. a farming simulation, personal fitness, or cleaning) only being a lure to bring people in to the underlying enjoyment we receive from gaming. In marketing this means that non-lifestyle or non-entertainment brands, such as cleaning products, could create branded content with game mechanics to engage consumers in both their brands and product usage. Furthermore as gamification increases, there is potential for a new social media platform of Facebook proportions, offering a social and collaborative ‘game of life’, in which users/players compete across levels to earn points, rewards, and achievements for actions across their everyday life. For based upon the potential that gaming holds in society, if Shakespeare were alive today he would have instead stated that ‘all the world’s a game’ (Zichermann, 2011).
Baker, R. (2011, July 14). Gamification is the future of loyalty. Marketing Week. Retrieved from http://www.marketingweek.co.uk/gamification-is-the-future-of-loyalty/3028438.article
Campaign (2012, January 20). Is gamification the next big thing in marketing? Campaign. Retrieved from http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/analysis/1112742/
Marketing Weekly News (2011, June 25). Saatchi & Saatchi S: New study from Saatchi & Saatchi S shows majority of Americans want gamification at work and from brands.Marketing Weekly News Atlanta, p. 861.
Rose, F. (2011). The Art of Immersion. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Saatchi & Saatchi S (2011). Engagement Unleashed: Gamification for Business, Brands and Loyalty. Presentation retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/Saatchi_S/gamification-study
Zichermann, G. (2010, October 26). Fun is the Future: Mastering Gamification. Speech presented at Google Inc., Mountain View, CA. Retrieved fromhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O1gNVeaE4g