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Do Games Keep Brands From Boring Consumers?
By: Jeff Louis
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RouletteWheelIn an ideal world, everything involving product and brand interaction would be carefree and fun; rubbing up against a brand would leave consumers with some degree of satisfaction following brand contact. This is the theory behind sites like Foursquare.

Our thirst for entertainment seems unquenchable; games come standard on most cell phones, MP3 players, and computers. Constant entertainment is an obsession that's become an accepted part of our culture.

Our cars come with DVD players, satellite radio, and built-in mobile hotspots. People share electronic-based games, whether on cell phone or iPod. They buy cigarettes and bottles of cola hoping to win an award for loyalty. Frequent-flyer miles, loyalty points, punch cards, customer discounts, scratch tickets, cereal box prizes, social media games, quizzes, contests, and newspaper treasure hunts are all aiming to attract then keep consumers.

Interactive entertainment is a worldwide phenomenon that shoppers have come to expect when companies interact with buyers.

So says Gabe Zichermann and Joselin Linder in "Game-Based Marketing: Inspire customer Loyalty Through Rewards, Challenges, and Contests." The book, based on 10 years of research, should come as no surprise since Zichermann is known as the "The Father of Funware."

It explains how some have achieved success by shaping their marketing strategy around fun, and why missing this opportunity can mean "game over" for some marketers. An excerpt of the book can be found on the company's site

In addition, the book illustrates how companies, no matter their size, can "win" using game strategy and the following guidelines:

  • Issue fun, social badges (as in Foursquare) that drive engagement on other social networks.
  • Build a simple point system and track consumer activity.
  • Create status and bragging-rights opportunities to turn users into evangelists.
  • Replace cash prizes and contests with virtual rewards.
  • Speak to consumers of all ages and genders with "casual games."
  • Improve the costs and success of marketing campaigns through game mechanics.

While I do agree that engaging consumers is a vital element for driving brand awareness among consumers, the only problem I foresee is one of time. Using a debit card in any store requires more than a single step. First, pick your language. Second, choose "credit" or "debit" Third, enter your pin number. Fourth, select whether or not you want cash back. Fifth, verify the amount. That's a total of five steps just to make a purchase. I don't think that I need a game to slow me, so while I'm not a big fan of gaming in general, I can see its appeal. 

Key points from the company's press release:

  • Everything can (and should) be more fun: From taking money out of an ATM (what if it behaved like a slot machine) to doing your taxes (rewards for finding deductions), everything could be made more fun through the use of "Funware" techniques.
  • Traditional advertising is dying: Tools like TiVo, Nintendo DS, Facebook and the iPhone have shifted consumers’ attention away from traditional ads to more game-like experiences.
  • A new generation is coming, and it’s called 'G': Today’s tweens are being raised on games, expecting challenges, rewards, status and socialization with every activity they find interesting. This Generation – called G for their love of games – will change every aspect of our society.
  • Adults love games, too: Funware, or game mechanics incorporated into everyday activities, exist in the most unlikely places: at the coffee shop, on the subway and between competitive parents at the PTA meeting. Understanding, exploiting and shaping those games helps companies succeed at driving consumer loyalty.
  • The competition is heating up: McDonald’s, JPMorgan Chase, Nike, Coca-Cola, small startups and even the US Army are getting into Funware – using game mechanics to inspire their audiences. Get on board or be left behind.
  • It's cheaper, faster and more social: A free cup of coffee as a reward might cost $.25, but virtual coffee is free and generates viral customer growth when given on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Sweepstakes are overrated: Giving away big big prizes can still be effective if you have millions to spend on a campaign, but virtual (and psychological) rewards are proven just as effective as cash - delivering user growth and engagement at a fraction of the cost.
  • Airlines lead the way: Frequent Flyer Programs have been generating billions in revenue while airlines lost as much flying. Find out why well-crafted loyalty programs can often be more profitable than the business itself.
  • Anything can be more fun: From media giants like NBC and it's hugely successful ICUE product, to Nike Fit and America's Army, examples abound of how to take rote activities and make them engaging (and profitable) using games.

After all, it's not who wins or loses; it's how you play the game. Winning, though, is much more gratifying -- and gloating over the victory. 


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About the Author

Jeff Louis: Media Planner, Brand Project Manager, blogger, and aspiring writer. Please leave a comment or get in touch with Jeff on Twitter. As always, thank you for reading!

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