Marketing Gamification: Understanding how to play the oldest game in the book.

Whether you believe games are for children or an intrinsic element of human nature, the value of how you played over what you played is one of those classic existential subjects debated until that last breath. From this perspective what or how you played isn’t as important as the act of playing. In fact, the value of any game comes from the engagement of the player(s). We develop and impose the structure of a game system as a means of measuring engagement. Interesting enough, engagement of a specified target audience is what defines a win in marketing. Marketers strive to know who their market is, but perhaps what is commonly missed is an understanding of how their target market plays.

Each of us have physical, mental, social and spiritual facets that shape what attracts us. In marketing these details are called demographics and psychographics. Understanding these elements leads to deeper insight into what message and design will appeal to the target market. But today’s “in” quote is that “the average American consumer is exposed to 5,000 advertising messages a day”. Which makes any brilliant but passive message easy to miss. Marketing clutter has been an complaint since 1759 and still some campaigns stand out while most don’t. So, perhaps the problem isn’t so much the amount of content but the passive delivery. Anthropology documents gaming to be as old as storytelling. The problem isn’t the message but the advertising’s failure to facilitate participation.

We all like to hear a good story, but the patience to sit and wait for the whole telling of a story is something we have to teach our children to do. Play is something children do naturally. Now consider the potential power of engaging our natural inclination to participate.

Gabe Zicherman, a forerunner in game development says “Fun and theme are not connected.” Think of theme as the insight and messaging that marketing leverages today. He goes on to say that theme is a lure to bring people into an experience, but fun can be anything. It’s all in the execution and design.” He defines fun as a unit of measurement for player engagement. A perfect illustration of this at work is the air traffic controller game rated in the top five selling games for the last ten years. As a profession, air traffic controller is high stress and has the highest suicide stats, yet with the right engagement mechanics in place it can also be the theme of a top selling form of fun.

Actions speak louder than words. So play is as important as theme. It means advertising needs to pay attention to the system of engagement built between the business and the target consumers. However, player type is not necessarily an aspect of target audience. Rather, it’s important to engage all five player archetypes.

The characters of the movie "the Breakfast Club" illustrates the 5 types of players; Disruptor, Spectator, Achiever, Explorer, Socializer

Here are award winning examples of gamefication and how they incorporate a system in which play does occur.

Nike+ Fuelband

Initially centered on the achiever, the more you run the better your score. However the leaderboard is geared to appeal to the socializer by showing your rank in relation to your social circle. Plus, hidden goals and easter eggs were included to appeal to explorers.

My Starbucks Reward

The rewards program has three “levels” depending on the degree of user loyalty which appeals to achievers who are seeking status. The ability to share or post rewards as they are earned appeals to the social player type. Surprise rewards were created and randomized to delight explorers.



Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture, Johan Huizinga, 1938

The Myth of 5,000 Ads J. Walker Smith, Yankelovich, Inc, Hill Holliday

The Benefits of Playing Video Games, American Psychologist, Radboud, University Nijmegen, Isabela Granic, Adam Lobel, and Rutger C. M. E. Engels, January 2014

How brands are using gamification to boost engagement, Marketing Week, Thomas Hobbs, 23 Oct 2015

Top 10 Marketing Gamification Cases You Won’t Forget, Yu-kai Chou: Gamification & Behavioral Design blog, YU-KAI CHOU, August 12, 2013

How to Tell if Gamification Is Right for You, Advertising Age, Cotton Delo, February 27, 2012.

2 years ago

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