A Lesson in Making Learning Fun

Today’s lesson is about learning. You’ll discover how a company harnessed the love of learning to get the word out about one of its products — which just happened to be a learning tool.

The History Channel, part of the A&E Television Networks, focuses on bringing lives and events of the past to the present. In this campaign, the channel wanted to show history teachers how its resources could be used to teach both in the classroom and at home.

So the educational initiatives department at The History Channel created a study guide, called the Save Our History: Frontier Homes study guide, for history teachers of grades 5 through 12. It was to be used in conjunction with a television program scheduled to appear on the channel on February 9, 2001. The challenge was to get as many teachers as possible to the Web site to download the study guide.

And here’s where the fun starts.

The History Channel worked with e-tractions, an Internet marketing campaign company, to create the campaign. E-tractions has developed a variety of templates for its customers; you may remember Whack-a-Flack, where you got the chance to shoot badly written press releases back to their makers in the form of paper airplanes. (If you’re in need of a stress release, this just might do the trick!) E-tractions took its back-end engine and worked with The History Channel to create the Save Our History: Frontier Homes game.

The game was designed using e-tractions’ EnterAct technology, which creates the game, delivers the message, and tracks results. The content itself came from the folks at The History Channel. Players were presented with four different types of homes (post and beam, log, sod, and adobe) and 12 different objects. The goal was to match each home with the three objects associated with it.

A mailing was sent out to an internal opt-in list of history teachers on a Tuesday afternoon, about a week before the show was aired. The subject line read something like “Play The History Channel Frontier Homes Challenge!” and it directed recipients to the “fun and fact-filled historical challenge.” You can try your hand at it by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page.

Recipients went to the page in droves. About a third of the recipients opened the mailing, and more than 80 percent of those who did clicked through to the site. The landing page asked users to register and provide their email addresses, as well as subjects and grades taught. It also had a checkbox for those who wanted more information about the channel’s online teaching tools. And, in numbers that would make most marketers jealous, more than 90 percent of them accurately filled out the form. (E-tractions’s president Mike Gauthier notes that the teachers get an A+ for capitalization and punctuation.)

The key measurement, however, was how many teachers would actually download the study guide for use in the classroom. More than 40 percent of the registrants downloaded the guide.

Why was this campaign so successful? I’ve talked in the past about how games are a great way to encourage email recipients to pay attention to your message. If I’m any reflection of the average recipient, I know that I looked forward to trying out the game, and once I started I refused to quit until I’d gotten all the answers right. (Which took much longer than I’d like to admit…)

And apparently, I had a lot of company. Teachers thought the game was so much fun that they forwarded it along to friends in huge numbers. In fact, the EnterAct stats showed that about 40 percent of the players weren’t even on the original mailing list, indicating clearly that teachers were passing it along to friends and colleagues.

They also passed it along to students. The morning the game was released, e-tractions noticed that one teacher had registered dozens of times. Turns out the teacher had encouraged the classroom to play that morning. Consequently, e-tractions modified the landing page so that students could play without registering (given the restrictions on collecting information from children).

“We didn’t realize [at first” what value the game had,” said Gauthier. “So it has led to a discussion of a series of games.”

That’s good news. As this case study shows, it’s an approach that has worked well for The History Channel. And it’s good news for me, too. I look forward to spending time “working” by playing another game.

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