If you're wondering what engages people consider this: Globally,
there are now 1
billion people on the planet who play games for at least an hour
a day. And that number is climbing
fast with the growing adoption of smartphones and tablets. In
fact, Jane McGonigal, director of game research at the Institute for
the Future argues in her wildly
popular TED talk, we should spend more time playing games too.
Games like World of Warcraft give players the opportunity to save
worlds, and the incentive to learn the habits of heroes – as well
as solve big real-world problems.
Gamification, the process of applying the best elements of gaming
to real-world, non-game situations, is also incredibly effective at
creating behavioural change. A classic example is Volkswagen's
Fun Theory experiment from 2009. By turning a set of subway
stairs into piano keys, researchers were able to encourage 66 percent
more people to use the stairs over the escalator. More recently and
relevantly to digital media, a new Gigya
study of billions of user actions with partners like Pepsi, Nike, and
Dell, showed that adding gamification to a site boosts engagement
It’s no wonder then that brands have been quick to consider game
mechanics to solve an advertising challenge: increasing ad
engagement. And it hasn't been just the usual suspects like Pepsi and
McDonald's who are trying it either. In 2011, Clarins
launched a Facebook game aimed at women which involved managing a
successful beauty salon and Aldo created the brilliant Aldo
Shoe Paradise. But brands can play games in more places than just
Facebook. 2013 was the year that gamification
went big in social media and Superbowl ads, proof positive that
this is no passing fad.
This appetite for gaming creates greater scope for brands in all
their online advertising. Videos in banner ads used to be novel, now
they're standard practice. Where brands can really drive user
engagement is by getting consumers to play. When consumers become
players, they are by definition more engaged. And that's where the
But as with any type of content marketing, there are rules of
Rule #1: Find the right game fit. Games make
great content, but only if they make sense in context. A game that
lets you shoot aliens doesn’t quite work for a beauty brand, but a
guessing game does. Clinique’s
online campaign to promote its new Chubby Stick Moisturizing Lip
Colour Balm required players to rotate a candy jar and count the
number of Chubby Sticks buried inside. The art direction fit
completely with the Clinique brand, and the candy theme was linked to
a ‘sweet treats’ promotion taking place in Clinique’s online
Rule #2: Use a carrot when you want something in exchange.
Sometimes games can be used to persuade your audience to
enter into a data transaction, like this
recent example from Sony Xperia which required players to
register personal data to gain access to the game. Just make sure
it's worth their while on the other side.
Rule #3: Familiarity breeds content. Matching a
brand to a game doesn't always mean creating something from scratch.
For this Virgin
Media campaign, a simple button-bashing game reminiscent of the
famous Track & Field arcade staple, engages the audience and
communicates the brand message of speed perfectly.
Rule #4: Create an experience - and make it social.
Gamification is a natural meeting point for experiential and
digital marketing, like this impressive driving
competition from BMW. But as far as branded games, one of the
finest of recent times has to be the Red
Bull Formula Face which was well-made, scalable, shareable and
rewarded repeated plays. Was it gimmicky? Of course it was, but it
was also a fun and memorable experience for the millions who played
(and shared) it.
Slapping a game into an ad isn't automatically going to deliver
results, nor should marketers include games in ads just for the hell
of it to boost engagement. But it is a useful tool in the arsenal.
And if you want consumers to take the time to play your brand game,
you have a responsibility to deliver a meaningful experience – just
like you do with any other piece of content, whether it's sponsored
Carla Faria is Solutions Director for Say Media UK.