The New Rules for Gamification in Advertising

Dillon Tedesco MarTech Gamification thought leadership

By Dillon Tedesco, CRO of Octopus Interactive

The rise of gaming in our culture has skyrocketed in the last 30 years as technology has rapidly advanced from classic Nintendo and Sega consoles to mind-bending VR, eSports, and next-gen systems. Forecasted to become a $300 billion dollar industry by 2025, the power of gaming is immense and continuing to evolve. It also happens to be severely underused by brands looking to reach some of today’s most valuable consumers.

Gaming, at its core, caters to the most basic of human cravings – affirmation, reward and recognition. Brands that are able to align themselves with these emotions have the potential to unlock memorable and highly impactful experiences with consumers in a unique way. Gaming covers a wide range of experiences people seek out, from sophisticated modern video games to the simple thrill of a slot machine payout. Gaming provides rewards for investment, whether time or money, and that basic transaction is at the heart of a wide range of human behavior.

It’s no surprise, then, that advertisers have experimented with “gamification.” Generally speaking, gamification refers to the layering on of interactive challenges and reward onto activities that wouldn’t otherwise have them. Peloton, for example, keeps riders of its exercise bikes engaged by showing their rank as compared to others and awarding badges, encouraging a sense of competition. Gamification in advertising has been around in different forms for a long time (remember the McDonald’s Monopoly sweepstake?), but it requires a thoughtful approach that provides a tangible value exchange to the end user and an experience that aligns with the brand itself.

First consider what not to do with gamification. Simply throwing some gaming mechanics around a digital campaign without thoughtful planning can result in conspicuous failures. I recently saw an ad that looked like it could be a game, but wasn’t a game at all. There was no engagement and no reward, just a modern product slapped on an 8-bit game design with no context. It had all the potential to be a fun, unique experience with a new product, but seemed to stop well short of the end goal.

Another key factor that can be overlooked in gamification is the placement of the game itself. Properly executed, a gamified ad experience should surprise and delight. Very often that means inserting the advertisement in a setting where a person might not otherwise expect it, and might not be distracted by other media in the background. Our company, for example, uses gamification to enhance advertisements on screens in the back of rideshare vehicles – a unique environment where passengers are captive and “leaned in” to the experience. What looks like current events trivia is actually part of an ad for a news broadcaster or a CPG brand may use a remake of the classic arcade claw game to give passengers a chance to win their products.

Now consider another example: A major cosmetics company recently launched a virtual arcade that allows players to see products and earn “youth-generating power points.” While the creative is beautifully done and the games are unique, the arcade itself exists on an independent microsite that users must navigate to in order to play. The process is full of friction, to say nothing of the extensive resources the company must have committed to developing its “arcade.” It leads to the question of who is navigating a cosmetics site to find games and more importantly, why would they?

Gamification works for advertisements when it’s thoughtfully considered and served to the right audience in the right setting. Spending big money on a standalone, branded video game won’t work if your ideal customers either don’t like video games or have a difficult time finding it. Creating a website or separate app to engage with a brand’s game is inorganic and outside of the core focus of most companies. This is where platforms like Snapchat have seen considerable success in giving brands a frictionless and organic opportunity to enjoy the benefits of gamification.

Advertisers should be looking for opportunities where a simple game makes sense. Trivia, for example, is instantly recognizable and engaging, as are simple executions like matching games or racing games. Giving consumers a surprise chance at interaction, with score keeping, mastery and reward, is an effective way to generate engagement and deliver valuable, memorable ad impressions.