Here's What Your Brand Can Learn From Gamification


I know what you’re thinking — “gamification” sounds like yet another new, hollow marketing buzzword. And you’re right. There’s certainly no shortage of businesses frantically trying to “hack” gamification and apply its mechanics to their existing strategies.

But while the term “gamification” only entered the lexicon in the late-2000s, rewarding your customers for engaging with your brand is nothing new. Put simply, gamification at its core is about taking everything we’ve learned from 40 years of making games and applying it IRL (in real life) to make work more engaging and rewarding.

Why gamify? Because traditional advertising no longer works. After a century of being bombarded with one-way messages, audiences now ignore billboards, fast-forward through advertising, and use ad-blockers on browsers. You can no longer catch the attention of your audience by casting a single wide, one-sided net. You need to create a marketing strategy that focuses on interaction and even “levelling up” to keep people interested.

This dopamine seeking reward-loop effectively relies on the same principles that gaming does to keep users playing. This goes beyond a simple rewards or badges program; there’s a careful balance to strike between collaboration, competition and sharing.

Let’s look at some best-practice gamification tactics and check out some great examples of brand’s improving their engagement by rewarding their audience.


Nike +


Here’s a very famous and relatively early example of gamification in marketing and product design. Back in 2006, Nike debuted Nike+, an app that integrated with its footwear to calculate running distance, speed, and time. The app stored this data and also had public leaderboards to encourage people to run more (and more importantly, use Nike’s products when doing so). And of course, users could publish data to personal social media accounts also.

Nike+ gained 500,000 within the first year. By 2013, there were 11,000,000 Nike+ users. Around that time, Nike also released the FuelBand (a wrist wearable tracker) that served a similar purpose. In the year that Nike+ launched, the brand’s market share was just below 14%, as of 2018 that number is a little over 31%.


Magnum’s Pleasure Hunt

Not that kind of Magnum…the ice cream kind. In 2011, Magnum released a quite literal example of gamification with a browser-based campaign. It integrated with web pages, turning a regular page into a platform-style Super Mario-esque experience to help a princess find her kidnapped prince. Web pages were transformed into infernos, which the user had to extinguish, or featured high-speed train chases. More than 20 million people played and there have been numerous Pleasure Hunts since. This video explains their thought process and its success.


Target’s Wish List App

This one fits perfectly in the “just-evil-enough” category. What better way to sell your products than to guilt parents into buying their children toys? Target’s Wish List app allowed children to create an avatar and walk around an augmented reality Santa’s workshop — which was conveniently only filled with Target products. The kids could then drop items into a wish list for Santa. (Spoilers: Santa was your parents all along.)

Other apps have gamification written into the core of their design. Duolingo is a language learning app that uses badges, reminders, and reward systems to help users learn languages. Carrot Rewards rewards you for taking a number of steps during the day and lets you share and compare your score and points with friends. Gamification is at the heart of these types of user experience; indeed, the product manager of the Duolingo called it the key to the app’s success.


What can digital marketers take away from these examples? There’s more to “rewarding” your consumers than badges or levels. Your branding is the game and Your Best Customer is the protagonist, so treat them as such. Even big traditionally “boring” businesses are introducing elements of gamification internally to engage employees and externally in their marketing to engage customers.

Of course, as is the case with anything we humans get our grubby little hands on, there’s also a dark side to gamification. We see credit card companies use gamification to encourage users to rack up debt. And in some cases, it just may not work for your brand or your audience. Remember though, gamification goes beyond badges and levels.

Still, gamification has a lot of potential. It offers value to customers, giving them a warm, fuzzy feeling about your brand without having to first push them to make purchases. That being said, gamification takes some fairly old concepts and repackages them together under a shiny new marketing umbrella, which can confuse trigger-happy marketers who don’t invest in a careful strategy. In any case, it’s worth exploring how some brands have successfully disrupted a largely one-sided industry and are using gamification to their benefit. Game on!

Amardeep SomalComment