Gamification: What Monopoly is teaching marketers about engagement

 
Annabel Denham
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GAMIFICATION has been popular with businesses for decades: loyalty programmes and cereal box prizes are just two examples of the strategy in action. In recent years, however, it’s become a marketing buzzword. But what does it really mean, and is it here to stay?

Many consumers associate gamification with apps or digital games. Certainly, there are good examples of adver-games enhancing the consumer experience, like Kellogg’s Krave cereal (which created mobile game Pitfall). In the marketing world, however, accepted definitions include: “The transformation of mundane tasks to more enjoyable ones,” or “The process of using game concepts to alter user behaviour”. Everyone likes that feeling of achievement for completing a task, and it’s this characteristic that gamification is trying to tap into. Take, for example, the McDonald’s Monopoly game, where customers tear off board pieces from the side of drink cups.

Yet some find even these terms too rigid. “We believe it is about creating a more useful relationship between brand and consumer, one delivered in an engaging way,” says Russ Lidstone of Havas Worldwide. And Nick Bailey of Isobar agrees. “It’s all too easy to think of gamification as points and badges. But if we think about applying the principles of game design to how we create user experiences to change behaviour, a much broader range of opportunities emerges,” he says.

If he’s right, the opportunities for brands are significant. “As marketers, our age-old challenge remains: how do we ask purchasers to give their time and attention to a brand interaction? What value do we provide to make it a fair trade? Gamification helps us provide our side of the bargain,” says Eric Weaver of IPG Mediabrands.

When done right, gamification can be a powerful marketing approach, driving consumer engagement, brand awareness – and sales. Take Nike+, a range of products that require users to log details of their fitness efforts to gain points. Its membership increased by 40 per cent in 2011, which helped boost revenues in the company’s running category by 30 per cent.

But as Projekt202’s Peter Eckhart asserts, gamification for the sake of gamification is not going to hit the mark. Consider Google’s now-defunct News Badge, which failed to motivate consumers to use Google to read news articles. “People are aware of brands using gamification to target them,” Richard Smith of Mindshare warns. “So anything gaming-related needs to be rooted in a genuine consumer insight to be successful.” Failure to do so runs the risk of being viewed as just another self-interested ploy by marketers – one that erodes trust.

Its limitations do not stop there. As Lidstone points out, gamification requires very detailed understanding of the consumer mindset and behaviours – which comes at a cost. It demands significant forward planning, and it makes the task of producing compelling content and ideas on behalf of brands challenging. “In a content rich world, creating standout campaigns is more tough than it has ever been,” Lidstone says.

Nonetheless, most industry experts believe that gamification has a bright future. According to marketing research firm M2, the worldwide gamification market will grow from $242m (£146m) in 2012 to $2.8bn in 2016. And IPG Mediabrands is even using the tool to develop client business strategies. “When we create their strategy, we use games to put them in the minds of their customers. In doing so, we capture their attention, and end up with much more valuable data.”

But gamification is all about the consumer experience, much like other user interface design strategies. And the right tactics will lead to the holy grail for any brand: customer loyalty.

Annabel Palmer is business features writer at City A.M.