A Quick History of Gamification in Brand Marketing

It’s not about ‘gamifying’. It’s about driving revenue, saving costs, making people more efficient.

—Bob Marsh, CEO, LevelEleven

Gamification may be a brand marketing buzzword, but the idea behind it is proving to be a strong, long-lasting marketing strategy for many businesses. It is an excellent tool for creating an emotional connection with brands and exciting consumers in a way that encourages them to take desirable actions. However, the successful implementation of gamification requires planning, expertise, and creativity. To avoid the potential pitfalls of poor gamification execution, it is a good idea to have an understanding of its history, as well as a few examples of how it has been carried out effectively.

Modern History Of Gamification

Promotional gamification has its roots in loyalty programs and sweepstakes going back to S&H Green Stamps in the 30s.  Sperry & Hutchinson Company sold stamps to grocers, gas stations and other retailers, who would reward customers with stamps for their purchases.  Families would gather around the table and paste the stamps into books that could be exchanged for toys or small appliances.  The program thrived until the late 70s. Along with the advent of "frequent flyer miles" by American Airlines in the '80's, Green Stamps established the model for modern loyalty and points programs used at retail today.

ecommerce gamificationSince the advent of video games, various fields have been utilizing video game elements to increase efficacy in mutliple areas. In the 1980s, psychologists used video games to make better learning disability diagnoses. In the 1990s, scientists and educators used video games to help illustrate more complex concepts. The eye-hand coordination aided in learning but it would be the added element of competition that would help the concept to take off.   The term ‘gamification’ was only introduced in the early 2000s. And, the popularity of the concept only began to spread as smartphones put a gaming system in every pocket.  Foursquare led the way, awarding virtual prizes, badges and honorary mayorships to frequent patrons of their apps network.

In 2010, venture capitalists saw the potential of rewards and competition in software of all types. It was because of this identification that gamification companies, like Bunchball and Badgeville, began to pop up and garner serious success with funding and sales. And it is companies like these that have teamed up with the likes of brands from IBM to Chiquita to implement gamification in different aspects of their training, as well as their marketing and promotional efforts. 

In 2013, more than two-thirds of the companies on the Forbes Global 2000 list had plans to use gamification in their customer retention and marketing strategies. Starbucks has used it for customer loyalty, Stack Overflow has used it to encourage user interaction, and Yahoo! used it to market television shows in Australia. And gamification is not just a fad simply because the giants of various industries are embracing it. Gamification works. It has been shown to more than triple user interaction, as well as significantly increase the likelihood of consumers completing desired tasks whether it's participating in an Instagram promotion or repeat purchases. 

Gamification: Success Stories

1. Heineken

Heineken has long been a leader of creating enticing promotions. They hit the mark again with their Star Player gamification promotion for the Champions League soccer season. They created an app that would allow game watchers to follow along with the game and make decisions that players have to make—at the exact same moment. They could score points and compete with friends. And, all the while, they would be engaging with the Heineken brand. In the end, over the course of a single game, Heineken managed to get more than 75 million impressions around the world and, on average, these individuals remained active in the app for 56 minutes. That is significantly more brand engagement than any commercial or field-side advertisement could ever achieve. 

2. Samsung

The smartphone market is a tough one to crack. The industry leaders are always trying to one-up the competition. When Samsung was about to bring out the Samsung Galaxy S4, they realized that the best way to entice customers was to highlight their most impressive technological advancement in the phone: eye-tracking. In order to highlight this, Samsung designed a game where contestants had to stare at a Samsung billboard for 60 minutes. They would send distractions in the form of hot dog vendors, taps on the shoulder, and barking dogs. If the contestant managed to last the full 60 minutes they won an S4. And not only were these competitions broadcasted live for anyone to watch, but viewers could also send Twitter and Instagram posts to either encourage or distract the contestants. In 2013, a summary of the competition was ranked number five on the Global Viral Video Chart, 1.5 million people live streamed the event, and the YouTube video had more than 4 million views.

3. Magnum

Magnum decided that to create excitement around their new Magnum Temptation ice cream bar, they would develop a game: Magnum Pleasure Hunt. The online game harked back to the days of Super Mario. It took users through interesting twists as the story line progressed and moved across different pages on the internet. But not only did the game feature their newest product, as well as their brand, it also exposed players to their partner brands' websites. The true success of the game came from the fact that it was well-developed, enticing users to mention it on their social media. In fact, it was so popular that one day during the game’s run it was the most tweeted url. 

4. Coca-Cola

For a short period of time, in Hong Kong, Coca-Cola ran a very successful gamification promotion. They offered a specific app that anyone could download to their smartphone. In the evening, when users were watching television, a Coca-Cola commercial would come on, telling them to open the app and shake their phone during the duration of the advertisement. When it was over, users could look at their phone and find out what they had won—the winnings included various prizes and discounts from Coca-Cola partners, like McDonald’s. The promotion was massively successful, with more than 380 thousand app downloads in the first month, nine million commercial views, and, eventually, the campaign spread to many other countries across Asia.

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