If you’ve ever noticed how someone can get completely immersed when playing a video game, then you can start to understand why marketers are exploiting such behaviour to promote their products.

Smartphones, tablets, apps and the internet itself have fuelled a new trend in combining games and advertising. However, despite the new shine, marketing gamification has a deeper and older root: loyalty programmes, which have been around for ages. On a simple level, loyalty programmes recognise brand fidelity by rewarding consumers every time they make a purchase. Then when consumers have accumulated enough points, they receive a gift.

Loyalty programmes have now become exponentially more complex thanks to modern technology. One way in which these programmes have developed is the increased use of games which have become an integral part of any elaborate marketing plan.

Marketers use people’s natural desires to socialise and publicise personal achievement by using rewards, such as awarding virtual currency to players who accomplish desired tasks as part of their marketing plan. An added advantage of using such techniques is that companies can immediately quantify if consumers are engaging with their brand due to the analytics-driven nature of the process itself. In turn, rewards give consumers the incentive to proceed with a purchase or further engage with the same brand.

In the last five years, large companies such as Nike started to use games as part of their marketing plan. Thanks to Fuelband, a piece of wearable activity tracker technology which can record physical exercise levels, Nike’s marketing department took gamification to a whole new level. Fuelband runs on any Android or Apple device and allows its users to keep with set physical fitness regimes. Users can unlock achievements and progress to more demanding cardiovascular and endurance levels.

The Nike Fuelband was launched in early 2012 and is itself sold at cost price. However, the profit for Nike isn’t in selling the device: rather, it’s in strengthening the brand itself. In fact, Nike registered an increase of 12 per cent in sales over the previous year, which was an unprecedented record. Later that same year Nike launched an online community forFuelband users. This enables users to compete with other subscribers within the same level of fitness: winners are rewarded with prizes such as discounts on Nike products. This, in turn, helps to further increase sales.

Moreover, Fuelband users can showcase their achievements on social media: by doing so, they help Nike engage with new users. Nike’s research shows that users are more likely to engage with this campaign and members of this newly created social network are also more loyal to the brand.

In Italy, online business directory Seat achieved overnight fame after launching an addictive and innovative online game. Users were able to download an app on their smartphones and register items in their wish list. The online business directory would match these items with the closest real life shop offering these items. Then, at a random hour, Seat would notify its users that they had a limited time to visit that particular shop and get a 20 per cent discount on any items from their wish list. The discount would start graduallydiminishing as the clock ticked. Once the user bought an item using this method, a post would be automatically uploaded on Facebook or Twitter and inform friends and followers that this particular user just got a discount by using this online business directory. The system went viral within a few days of its launch. Some users went to extremes to win discounts: some skived school while others arrived late to work.

Seat’s success encouraged more businesses to register their offers on this online directory and nowadays Seat is competing with the larger and more traditional business directories. Seat now invests very little in advertising when compared to the millions its competitors spend in online and television advertising in order to keep up with Seat’s campaign.

A business does not necessarily need to implement such complicated and technologically advanced systems to incorporate games in their marketing campaigns. For instance, pizza delivery company Dominos has recently launched a smartphone app which is intended to help out hungry consumers who haven’t yet decided which pizza topping to order. By shaking their smartphone, the Dominos app chooses the pizza toppings at random: when users choose the suggested toppings, they receive a token which can be redeemed for free items such as a drink with the subsequent order. Marketing reports suggest that this simple app increased sales by 25 per cent and strengthened brand loyalty.

One major advantage of using games in a marketing strategy is that, if planned well, a game might go viral and the return on investment would be much higher when compared to the substantially higher budgets that would have to be allocated for traditional marketing campaigns. Companies have to ensure that the games they create elevate their brand and help them stand out from the competition. However this has to be achieved without crossing any boundaries, staying within decency limits and ensuring that no negative connotations are associated with the brand.

Ian Vella is a search engine optimisation specialist.


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