Video games + Marketing = Gamification = Win

Video games + Marketing = Gamification = Win

Video games have the power to transport us to a different world. They captivate us with their stories, enthrall us with their spectacular visuals and hook us in with their promises of loot and glory. Users spend countless hours playing games lost in new and exciting worlds. So, what if we could take the underlying principles of game mechanics and apply them to marketing campaigns?

We can and we have.

It’s called gamification, a practice using competition and rewards to find new prospects and keep the current ones engaged. You’d be surprised by how much of our lives have been gamified. Fitness apps that motivate you to go from strength to strength. Money apps that turn weekly expenditures into an epic quest for financial responsibility. Even apps that turn your mundane daily to-dos into an IRL-RPG (in real life, role-playing game) where you can earn weapons and armour for your in-game avatar. There have been a number of marketing campaigns that have seen the potential and reaped the rewards.

Habitica turns your life into a role playing game

Game on

Gamification tends to rely on a few main features:

  •        Rewards
  •        Progress tracking
  •        Competition
  •        Social engagement
  •        Feedback

Are you looking to raise brand awareness? Educate customers on your product? Increase social engagement? Put a smile on someone’s dial?  These goals will determine which features will be the most effective for your campaigns.

Off and running

Take Nike and their fuel fit campaign. At its base level, you wear a wristband and then you run. The magic happens when that process is gamified. By pairing the band with the Nike+ app, users were able to track their exercise activities, gain points (called NikeFuel), earn badges and compete with other fuel fit users.

Nike FuelBand reached 11 million users by the end of 2013. Not too shabby for what was essentially a souped-up pedometer.

Nike+ was so successful because it both tracked fitness progress and provided immediate feedback in the form of virtual rewards. The weekly full-body selfie was replaced by levels and trophies. Engagement was further incentivised by enabling users to challenge and potentially thrash their friends, climbing their way up the leaderboards and earning bragging rights.

To do all this, the consumer simply had to purchase a Nike+ fuelband or a Nike+ sensor to put in their compatible runners, download the app and they were away. Nike+ forged an association between its brand and a community of health-conscious individuals driven by self-development and friendly competition and demand for Nike shoes exploded.

As FuelBand demonstrates, gamification doesn’t need to be overly complex, it just has to engage. The next campaign hasn’t even needed technology to hook you, it just partnered with a well-known brand.

Campaign: Park Lane

An iconic example of a gamified campaign, is McDonald’s Monopoly campaign. Designed to keep customers coming back into the stores, it’s been marketing gold since 1987.  

It works like this:  you buy some Macca’s, and on the wrappers and cups there are peelable tokens. You then match the tokens against the Monopoly board with the goal of getting all the pieces of the same colour to win prizes. This simple idea coupled with the brand recognition of Monopoly resulted in an increase of 5.6% in sales growth.

Mcdonald's and Monopoly are a brand powerhouse

McDonald’s Monopoly campaign took advantage of rewards, luck and chance. It increased product sales by giving customers a reason to keep returning. Many customers attest to impulse-buying food just for the token – purchasing a large Big Mac meal for an instant-win small fries. It turned buying fast-food into an exciting user experience with prizes being the prime motivator.

Fire in the hole

Another campaign which takes the concept of gamification quite literally, is America’s Army. As part of the US Army’s recruitment campaign, they developed a first-person shooter gaming platform. People interested in enlisting are able to download the game for free and receive a virtual experience of life in the army. Players are able to determine if they would be a good fit for the rigours of combat. It is an incredibly successful marketing tool. After interacting with the game it was reported that the campaign had attracted more army recruits than all other marketing methods combined, at a fraction of the cost.


And why was the US Army’s campaign so successful? Who hasn’t wanted to experience the life of a soldier, without actually having to go through all the trouble of actually being a soldier? The goal was to increase the number of recruits. And it did so in spades. By joining the “Online Army” using real details, potentials were able to test their mettle in a simulated environment and then earn “Badges of Honour”. The aim wasn’t to glamourise army life but provide an accessible digital representation of its realities and that was the secret to its success.

Each of these campaigns were a resounding success. But, what does unsuccessful gamification look like?

Please reconnect controller

A poorly designed gamified marketing strategy will waste resources and in worst-case scenarios, could harm your brand. Businesses should familiarise themselves with gamification principles and consult experts on creating gamified experiences. When done right, gamification is a powerful strategy that places players in the driver’s seat of a car on a one-way street to your brand. When done wrong, it’s as pointless as a peep-hole on a windowed-door.

A prime example of poor execution was Zappo’s attempt at gamifying the review functionality on their site. Zappo awarded participants with badges for each review they posted. The badges acted as the feedback for engaging with the brand. The problem was that the badges served no purpose aside from sprucing up your profile and letting others know you liked to review things. The reward had no value and so the gamification served no purpose.

Well played – Key takeaways

What can businesses learn from these campaigns? Gamify. Use progress tracking, points, badges, social elements, rewards and competition to keep your customers engaging with your brand. Constant interaction is the name of the game. What’s important to note is the need for clear objectives, whether it’s raising brand awareness, educating customers on products or creating purchase intent – defined goals are key. Marketers should also aim for a straightforward reward and progress system. Over-complication may prevent players from re-engaging. It’s better to break-up activities into small achievable milestones, providing feedback at more consistent intervals.

Gamification is about fun and engagement and in doing so, they turn customers from idle observers to active participants. They earn rewards, share their achievements and compete with their friends. Gamification creates an engine of motivation that moves passengers through a brand engagement loop.

Hopefully these examples have demonstrated the power gamification can have on marketing campaigns. If you want more great marketing tips you should check out the Enterprise Mobility 2017 @ CeBIT program today.

CeBIT Australia Digital Marketing Report