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Gamification drives powerful consumer engagements. But is the technology too new to invest in?
Gamification drives powerful consumer engagements. But is the technology too new to invest in?

Direct marketers crave interactions more than impressions. The integration of game mechanics into campaigns has unlocked new engagement opportunities for marketers on digital channels, as well as on classic platforms such as out-of-home ads.

“As more marketing becomes social and viral in nature, it's critical that engagement times increase to allow for extended fan interaction and ultimately fan sharing,” says Doug Neil, SVP of digital marketing at Universal Pictures.

To promote its film Tower Heist, Universal Pictures sprinkled “Heist” buttons throughout the film's Facebook Pages and Ads. Consumers were asked to click the ads in exchange for Facebook Credits, which could also be earned by sharing the campaign with Facebook friends. Neil says the studio employed game mechanics via a scavenger hunt as a way to extend the film's narrative of characters seeking to retrieve stolen money.

“Gamification can assist in helping to build the story narrative and provide additional backstory and character elements that will help engage the consumer and interest them in a film,” says Neil.

As the game experience came together, Universal Pictures learned that the initiative actually emphasized the movie's themes. “It's a movie about the little guys getting to take back [their money], or heisting it back, from the rich penthouse owner who had squandered [it],” Neil explains. “The ‘Heist It Back'” theme … reinforced that thematic messaging of the film, and so it was a natural extension in a fun game-play environment.”

The scavenger hunt became a core part of Universal's overall campaign. The film's offline, TV, print and publicity efforts were designed to drive consumers back to participating in the “Heist It Back” program.

Peter Minnium, head of brand initiatives at the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), says a key aspect of interactive marketing should be encouraging people to share content by integrating “the gamification process and [leveraging] the social gaming mindset of people.”

Marketers that employ game mechanics in the advertising experience are creating more effective ads, says Minnium, because the ads don't feel like advertising.

“Certain groups [of consumers] are harder to reach, so reaching them through innovative approaches is necessary,” he explains. “And we all are bombarded [by advertising], so breaking through the clutter requires innovative approaches. Using game mechanics can be a very effective way of doing that.”

Despite gamification's potential, Minnium says he doesn't think it will be woven throughout interactive marketing on a broad scale for “quite a few years.”

In-game marketing

Ford Motor Co. traditionally unveils new models to auto show attendees. Not this year. Rather than introduce the 2013 Ford Escape amid other models, Ford opted to conduct the reveal by leveraging Zynga's Scrabble-gone-social game, “Words with Friends,” to better target “tech savvy young professionals,” says Crystal Worthem, manager of brand content and alliances at Ford.

During the initiative, consumers participated in a live game against actress Jenny McCarthy, and at game's end the 2013 Ford Escape was displayed. The automaker continued the campaign for three days after the live game by prompting “Words With Friends” players to use certain promoted words in their games to enter for a chance to win the new Escape.

“Every launch, we try to take a look at current trends in the market that we can leverage to get a new vehicle in front of consumers,” says Worthem. “We're competing for attention on multiple screens.”

With game mechanics emerging as an untapped strategy, it's little wonder that marketers have flocked to work with game developers beyond the typical confines of running a brand ad in “Grand Theft Auto.”

David Berkowitz, director of emerging media and client strategy at digital agency 360i, says on-console campaigns are especially valuable for marketers because of the monopoly they hold on consumers' attention.

“When people are playing these games, it's the only time in their lives they're not multitasking,” he says.

Brands such as Axe, Degree for Women and Lipton have worked with companies like BrightLine, an interactive TV advertising company, to develop standalone experiences for game consoles. Chevrolet partnered with video game giant Electronic Arts (EA) to integrate a sweepstakes into a free demo of Madden NFL 12. The initiative challenged players to complete a specific play in order to receive a code that, when input on the game's Facebook page, would enter the consumer for a chance to win a 2012 Chevy Cruze.

Bill Young, managing director at EA Ready, the game company's group responsible for the advertising partnership, says initiatives such as the Chevy sweepstakes are valuable for marketers because they cater to the target demographic.

Century 21 applied this theory within game developer Ngmoco's “We City” metropolis-building simulation mobile game. The company traditionally struggled to reach 25-to-44-year-old males. It had always wanted to market itself as a “very hip, very cool brand” but faced obstacles in reaching “a group that is resistant to traditional messages,” says John Henry, VP of brand management at Century 21, of the target demographic.

To solve matters, Century 21 adopted a non-traditional strategy. The company sponsored virtual goods within “We City” and incentivized players to include Century 21-branded buildings in their virtual creations in exchange for in-game virtual currency. Century 21 also doled out the digital dollars to consumers who responded to in-game calls-to-action.

“Certainly, we could have done the tried-and-true display advertising in a mobile application, but we wanted to insert our brand into the actual game because we believe, based on results, it has far more impact on the user of the game than a display ad,” Henry says.

App developers

Incentivized interactions are old hat, but marketers continually apply new tactics to make these communications more effective. App developers such as Klout, SCVNGR and Foursquare have emerged as almost de facto partners for today's interactive campaign.

Q&A: Tim Anderson, SVP of retail and foodservice, Challenge Dairy

Tim Anderson, SVP of retail and foodservice, Challenge Dairy, on the company's use of engaging, interactive marketing.

Click to read the Q&A.

Chevrolet capitalized on Klout's user base of social influencers to build buzz around its 2012 Sonic sedan. Consumers that carried a Klout influencer score of at least 45 (on a scale of 0 to 100) in categories such as music, technology or travel were eligible to win a  three-day test drive through the Klout Perks rewards program.

“One of the key strategies within the social plan for Sonic is to talk to influencers who  can take the message and spread it further within their social graphs,” says Carolin Probst-Iyer, manager of digital consumer engagement at Chevrolet.

Chevrolet also worked with SCVNGR to promote the Sonic. Chevy dealers hosted 27 events around the country that encouraged consumers to partner to complete challenges and earn points through SCVNGR, with the winning team receiving a 2012 Sonic.

SCVNGR often conducts exit interviews with participants after events have ended, and Chris Mahl, SVP and chief brand alchemist at SCVNGR, claims up to 73% of respondents say they would be inclined to buy a product promoted during the event. These types of interactive campaigns “cut through the noise and create, generationally, a new sense of the brand [by creating new touchpoints with consumers],” says Mahl.

Ed Kaczmarek, director of innovation and consumer experiences at Kraft, refers to game-play mechanics as “magic,” particularly because he says the gamification space engenders loyalty.

Relevance is especially important for consumer packaged goods (CPG) marketers because they must contend with in-aisle competition and what was previously an inability to attribute return-on-investment to in-store marketing. Kraft works with mobile app company Shopkick to offer consumers rewards such as recipes and points (called  kicks”) to be used for product discounts in exchange for scanning product barcodes, among other in-store actions.

“With Shopkick, we can see someone walking up and scanning a product in store and  earning points,” says Kaczmarek. “That's a high touchpoint. They're picking up the product and scanning the barcode. My gut instinct is that if they're thinking of purchasing a product, and they've picked it up and touched it, then [that positions Kraft] a few notches higher in the consideration step.”

Cyriac Roeding, cofounder and CEO of Shopkick, says the app's average user is a 27- year-old mom with one child — a highly sought-after demographic for CPG companies. But the user base isn't the only reason why companies like Procter & Gamble and  Unilever have joined Kraft in working with Shopkick to target its 2.6 million users while they are in-store.

“Mobile is the closest we can get to the point-of-purchase in an interactive manner,” says  Kaczmarek. This philosophy has also driven TV advertisers to integrate mobile apps.

“The cell phone is the only interactive medium that you carry with you when you're watching TV on the couch or you're in stores picking a product off the shelf,” says Roeding.

TV network The CW debuted a partnership with Shopkick in November that called on viewers to tag Macy's, Target and Best Buy TV ads through the app to receive “kicks” and exclusive offers such as $3 off designer cosmetics.

“While you're watching Vampire Diaries on The CW network, you're now getting  exposed to the latest Target commercial, and you're watching these commercials intently because you're making sure you find them,” Roeding says. “You click the listen button, it picks up the audio from the TV set, analyzes whether you're watching the right commercial, and if you are, it unlocks a reward and brings you to the store.”

Pros and cons of experimentation

But beware of shiny new objects. In February, the Gap Inc.-owned retailer eschewed its mannequin-centric effort in favor of a more musical approach. For the “Old Navy Records” campaign, Old Navy not only commissioned original songs to run in TV ads, as well as in stores, but it also partnered with Shazam to leverage that content for mobile interactions. Consumers could identify a song via the Shazam mobile app and receive digital coupons or product information.

Apps emerge as ideal interactive partners

These apps do the trick when it comes to interactive gamification.

Click for more.

Within months of the campaign's launch, Old Navy CMO Amy Curtis-McIntyre left the company and Gap Inc. chairman and CEO Glenn Murphy used part of the company's second quarter earnings call to berate the retailer's marketing performance.

“We had some story lines, but the marketing did not  pull, did not drive traffic as much as we wanted,” said Murphy, at the time. “So I'm disappointed in the brand. I'm disappointed in the leadership, that we've been unable to get enough people and the customers we target to come in and see what [Old Navy chief creative officer Nancy Green] has actually put into the store.”

Old Navy replaced the “Old Navy Records” campaign in early November.

Tricky as game mechanics may be, they haven't deterred marketers from experimenting with integrating the strategy into more traditional means. Out-of-home advertising, in particular, has moved away from the billboard in favor of full-on installations that heavily leverage the interactive tool.

Josh Cohen, president and CEO of OOH media company Pearl Media, says his company tries to leverage out-of-home advertising to “actually engage the consumer to spend some time with the brand.”

Pearl Media worked with TNT on the network's interactive storefront campaign to promote the season premiere of its crime series Rizzoli & Isles. To catch the eye of passers-by, TNT converted a New York City block into a crime scene and called on consumers to solve the matter. A touchscreen display enabled consumers to dust for fingerprints, analyze DNA evidence and view an autopsy report, and after the crime was solved, consumers could take a picture with virtual images of the show's two protagonists and share the photos on their Facebook Wall.

Cohen says the installation received thousands of interactions each week during the month of July, aided by the fact that consumers were engaged for minutes as opposed to seconds, creating a snowball effect that attracted other consumers.

Similarly, MasterCard mixed game mechanics with curiosity for its “Check-in to the Ballgame” campaign that ran in August. Consumers were tasked with spotting one of 20 seats from the old New York Yankees Stadium that were placed throughout New York City. Once the seats were found, consumers had to scan a quick-response code to check in via Facebook Places and enter a sweepstakes to win Yankees tickets.

“The digital aspect is hugely important because we want to make sure that when somebody sees the installation, they're interacting,” Julie Hogan, VP of consumer marketing at MasterCard Worldwide told Direct Marketing News at the time of the campaign's launch. “But the other piece of it is around the sharing and driving awareness that this program's going on.”

Check-in campaigns have grown in number since the launch of Foursquare in 2009. American Express partnered with the location-based service for a pilot program during this year's South by Southwest Interactive festival that rewarded cardmembers with discounts when they checked in at participating merchants.

Luke Gebb, VP of global network marketing at American Express, says this type of location-based campaign is “potentially game-changing” but notes that scale is a primary drawback.

“I think as you use a service like Foursquare and check-in at merchants and see a significant number of other people who have checked in at that moment, at that merchant, that starts to feel like scale,” he says.

For now, an industry-wide embrace of game mechanics remains years away. Until a SCVNGR campaign or an EA integration can rival the reach of a TV ad or online banner, initiatives that integrate gamification will fight for funds from the experimental budget. But marketers shouldn't be dissuaded.

“It would be a crime if agencies and the marketers they represent don't set aside a significant portion of their budgets for experimentation,” says Minnium.

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