Gamification may be one of the most buzzed-about words of 2011, but is it really ready to do the heavy lifting for online marketing?
That was one of the big questions at the first Gamification Summit in San Francisco recently, where speakers including Bing, Google, Farmville-creator Zynga and even Playboy touted the use of game mechanics for everything from enhancing online campaigns and loyalty programs to encouraging more green living and better work environments.
The challenge for many of the several hundred summit attendees is not only to get brands to better understand the game playing audience, but also to realize that gamification takes a lot more than simply adding polls, badges and a leader board to an online site. "Right now too many people look at gamification as a loyalty program on steroids" said Amy Jo Kim, founder of Shufflebrain.
Virtually all of the successful campaigns touted during the two-day event involve major media and television brands. For instance, Microsoft's Bing uses a points-driven rewards program to encourage consumers to do more with its search engine.
Rajat Paharia, founder of Bunchball, said that's in part because many media brands are already involved in games in one way or another, so adding game elements to marketing efforts is no big stretch. "Media and entertainment are arguably the industries being most disrupted by the Internet, and therefore having to think the hardest about how to engage their customers and elicit business value out of them" he said.
Paharia suggested the breadth of the audience now playing games is making it easier to pitch traditional marketers on gamification programs. "We've done campaigns with consumer package goods companies, because all we have to do is point out there are [millions of] people who are hungry for rewards, competition, status and self expression and they can participate in that" he said.
A 2010 Entertainment Software Association survey found 69 percent of US households play some form of interactive game.
The growth of gamification also requires brands to move beyond page view-based metrics for determining ROI, added Jesse Redniss, VP of digital for USA Network, which has worked with advertisers including Ford Fusion in gamification programs surrounding TV series such as “Psych” and "White Collar."
"The smarter companies are taking a 360 degree approach, where they buy on-air on USA as well as participate in the digital space," Redniss explained."For them success involves multiple metrics, including the number of uniques, the number of people that go from our program into their site and, most importantly, the time of engagement. Ford, for example, has tagged every single interaction players have with their car and they can see those interactions last about 8 1/2 minutes and that’s a much better ROI than a banner on a website."
Bunchball's Paharia noted that in order to drive the business, gamification companies also need to show that it's not just about the game, it’s about the brand and its message. “Trivializing the message by slapping a badge on it is something that every brand manager is worried about,” he said.
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David Ward is a veteran freelance journalist based in San Diego, who currently focuses on online marketing, digital entertainment and the growth on new consumer technologies such as 3D in the home.
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