Taking advertising to the next level with gamification

Quentin Moreau-Defarges, Head of Creative, North America at Gameloft, looks at gamification in advertising: what it is, why it works so well, and how to do it right.

Playing games is part of the human psyche, and has been for a very long time. A set of dice found during an archaeological dig in Iran dates back 3,000 years, while tile games are known to have been played in China 2,900 years ago, and the oldest-known board games are 5,000 years old. In the modern era, of course, games are a big part of everyday life for a lot of people, from card and board games at one end of the spectrum to video games played on consoles and, increasingly, peoples smartphones.

So with so much interest in, and natural affinity for, gaming, it’s no surprise to find that brands are increasingly turning to games and gamification in their marketing. In fact, gaming has become a medium of choice for any digital campaign that wants to stand out, and where connecting and engaging the audience feels crucial to create a memorable moment.

Fresh creative thinking
Gamification allows brands to inject fresh creative thinking into digital marketing campaigns. In a sense, when you bring game mechanics into your campaigns, it allows you to play with the codes of advertising, where the marketing lower funnel is usually synonymous of simply “pushing” content to a target audience. Instead, you allow your audience a certain degree of freedom and creativity, and they really appreciate that, and can proactively engage with a brand.

As someone who has a foot in both worlds, I believe gaming and advertising feed off each other. That’s because they have so much in common. At the core of gaming, there has always been this will to tell stories that are at the intersection of the real and imagination, just as a good story is at the heart of all the best advertising. Gaming and advertising also appeal to the same neuroscientific triggers. Both need a strong hook to instantly catch the user’s attention, whether that takes the form of a strong visual or a memorable concept or tagline.

The main difference is that gamification experiences bring an additional layer of interactivity, engagement and therefore focus that really makes the user think about what they’re watching. A good gaming creative will require 100 per cent of the user’s attention and coordination in order for them to understand the message. Brain and body are one in that case.

Gamification works
This, in fact, is why gamification works so well in marketing. It augments the creative, with elements of playfulness, stickiness and interaction. When consumers are bombarded with so many advertising messages each day, one that incorporates a well thought-through game mechanic stands a much better chance of cutting through the noise.

Part of the gamification process is to find new and engaging ways to tell stories that consumers will actually want to engage with. Studies have shown that Millennials and Gen Z bond especially well with gaming as a form of entertainment. It appeals to their need to create, but also to escape. Because they’re highly connected, these demographics tend to favour experiences with a strong emotional component, and one that they can play around with.

And perhaps most importantly, gamification delivers results. Using multiple, clever retention tactics, gamification can lead to a boost in growth, lower churn and increase revenues in the long run. Whether it’s about increasing footfall at a retail store, driving eCommerce sales up, or creating an efficient and fun loyalty program, gamification covers a multiplicity of roles.

According to a study from ReportLinker, organizations are attracted by gamification’s ability to raise engagement and loyalty by an average of 30 per cent, measured by time on-site, repeat visits, and viral distribution. 

Another report from DemandGen found that 93 per cent of marketers  love gamification. That 81 per cent  believe interactive content is more attention-grabbing than its static counterpart. 88 per cent plan to add interaction to between 10 and 30 per cent of their B2B content.  And 70 per cent believe that interactive content is successful at converting visitors. Finally, smallbiztrends.com report that, by incorporating gamification elements into their product, businesses claim to have experienced an increase in user engagement and website traffic.

And it works for any industry. While there may seem  more obvious fit between gamification and desirable consumer product sectors such as tech and fashion, gamification can be and has been used successfully in industries ranging from healthcare to banking and beyond. And it’s not just a consumer-facing tool. Gamification can help in the B2B space too, for things such as sales training or livening up a trade show , especially as so many have now gone virtual.

Successful campaigns
So what makes a successful gamification campaign? The first rule is to understand what the brand is about: its values, its history, its tone, its mission. Creating games or gamified content for brands starts the same way as with any creative brief. Make sure you’re in line with your client’s campaign objectives and key messaging: are we launching a new product? Are we looking at driving sales? Are we looking at rejuvenating the brand? This will help define the scope of your project and determine whether or not you need to implement additional features to your core game concept.

Next, be memorable. In order to stand out from the crowd,  bring something unique to your concept. It can be anything from a visually striking art direction (in line with your client’s branding guidelines of course), the use of a new tech such as Augmented Reality or a new type of shopping experience.

But equally, you should bring a sense of familiarity: a gamified concept must be instantaneously understandable. You can always have a unique take on a familiar gameplay (e.g.: a vertical platformer) but you always need to keep in mind that you want the largest reach possible. Don’t try and force a feature just for the sake of appearing innovative. A strong gamified concept relies on a strong ad campaign concept.

Next, be distinct.  Your ultimate target is to uplift the brand’s equity through your gamified campaign. To do so, you want to make sure your audience will recall the brand after playing your game. The average person is estimated to encounter between 6,000 and 10,000 ads every single day so it’s now more important than ever to ensure that your game is strongly associated with the brand you’re representing.

Remember too that the gamified content should be seen as part of a larger, overall campaign, and think about the different environments in which it can be used, such as mobile, desktop, social, in-app and on DOOH (Digital Out Of Home) displays.

Choosing a partner
My final piece of advice would be to choose a partner with experience of creating successful gamified ad experiences. Because while gamification can work well if done right, for all the reasons described above, Gartner estimates that 80 per cent of gamification initiatives will fail to meet their business objectives, principally due to poor design. There’s more to creating a great piece of gamified content than creating a great game. It must be a piece of content that meets the business objective.

Gameloft has been creating gamified branded ad experiences for the past five years. In that time, we have delivered more than 10,000 campaigns for brands such as Air France, Coca-Cola, Ford, FOX, Kellogg’s, McDonalds, Netflix, Procter & Gamble, Samsung and Unilever, in over 40 countries around the world, and picked up no less than 50 awards in the process. 

Our gamified solutions range from bite-size playables and interactive videos to custom online games, standalone native applications and even AR gamified lenses. We also can integrate brands directly into several of our games through native features and products, such as track billboards, branded boosters or time-limited events and contests. Finally, we’ve strongly developed our eSports partnerships and opportunities in the past couple of years through the ESL Mobile Open and the creation of the Asphalt Series.

Since we’re currently observing a convergence between social media, gaming and eCommerce, campaigns we’ve delivered for the Dubai Shopping Festival, Magnum, Shopback and Unilever P/S are great examples of how gamification has helped drive sales increases through the creation of retention loops, based on fun and addictive gameplays tied to real-life and digital rewards, with the ability for people to challenge their friends by sharing on their favourite social networks. These are campaigns crafted with a holistic approach in mind and that benefited from a media push to drive traffic and create a virtuous cycle of engagement with the players.

We’ve also recently teamed up with UNICEF and VaynerMedia London to create an online game that presents refugee and migrant children in a new light. Proof that there isn’t a particular sector or activity that can’t be gamified. From sales training programs to dating, fitness, banking, trading or airline loyalty programs, gamification allows immediate feedback and offers the ability to hook users from the get-go. So what are you waiting for?

Discover what a gamified advertising campaign can look like for your brand, connect today