Simple Article: Are Games for Marketing Effective?

By Ho Qingxiang

Yes, Unless it is No

Marketing has always been a tricky field to comprehend. In many ways, it is the same as games and many other forms of entertainment. The tastes of your target audience can change so quickly for reasons unknown. There is often a lot of speculation and assumptions built on trends, rumours and moods. It is like navigating the stock-market of keywords and best practices. There will be traditionally trusted strategies, one-hit-wonder techniques, deluded beliefs and risk-takers.

However, I strongly believe in the staying power of games for marketing. This may seem like a new mysterious territory for many marketers, but games (like sports) are so deeply interwoven into humanity’s culture that it is extremely unlikely for such an approach to suddenly fade into obscurity. Sure, the presentation and content will evolve over time. However, the principles will remain.

Since its introduction into prominent marketing in 2010, there have been case-studies and business examples shown to have successfully harnessed the potential of games. Yet, for all its touted benefits, why are so many businesses reluctant to use this concept?

The answer, in retrospect, is disappointingly boring and cliché.

Why? Why not? Unless…?

Getting a Power-Up with Games

Before I talk about the issues, it would be silly of me not to mention the capabilities of using games for marketing. Many articles have given numerous reasons on why games would be beneficial. For me, it all boils down to three main advantages: participation, immersion, and awareness.

Participation in games is largely to do with desire. We are naturally attracted to games due to the promise of fun. More so than an automated video ad or receiving a pamphlet, starting a game invokes a greater sense of agency and ownership of the moment. When the outcome of the play is positive, we get a sense of belonging with the brand. This, combined with a large number of players and different levels of achievements, creates a feeling of community and trust. Even when we lose in games, the participation can conjure nostalgia.

Immersion happens after participation. There are many game mechanics that can be used to keep players interested in the game and indirectly interested in the marketing. Playing a game demands attention and can result in higher purchaser intent. When there is replay value in the games, players are encouraged to return, hence improving customer loyalty. In addition, through the engagement, customer data can be accumulated in exchange for play. When partnered with quality customer service, games allow for long-term customer relationships.

Awareness through games is primarily done through strategically displayed branding. When the visuals and mechanics are related to the brand, the game creates a strong impression of the company. With repeatedly play, the game can enable players to be familiarised with the business as well as to be informed of new products and services. This exposure can influence customer purchasing patterns in stores through brand recall. Call-for-actions at the end of the game can also yield better results when players begin to trust the brand after familiarity.

My Starbucks Rewards is a strong example of how games for marketing can generate sales.

Mismatched Perceptions

This is where I discuss why businesses shy away from the idea of games for marketing. Unsurprisingly, here are the two reasons.

Firstly, it is not cheap enough.

Many businesses still hold on to the notion that anything that is for play cannot possibly be necessary enough to require a high budget. Artists constantly face this prejudice even in creating conventional marketing materials.

Imagine the shock when businesses learn that while video ads may take thousands of dollars to make, games may take three times the amount and time to develop to meet their aspired expectations. In my opinion, that is still relatively affordable considering costs for broadcasting is reduced, but that foresight is not shared by many.

Add on to the fact that many businesses want their marketing done easily and fast, it becomes apparent why games become less attractive of an option.

Can’t win the game if you are not willing to spend.

Next, it is too much work.

Good design is hard. But decades of marketing and industrialisation have convinced many developers that the best solutions are often generic ones. Methods that can be repeated without much thought are more favourable than customised development.

The mantra is often one-size-fits-all to avoid the hassle of actually doing research. Mindless application of points, badges and leader-boards create no relatability with the brand. Superficial rewards are prioritised over meaningful outcomes resulting in shallow gaming experiences that give poor returns.

This is further magnified when no defined strategy is used in planning and measuring the success metrics. Inevitably, this creates bad impressions of the usefulness of games for marketing.

A dream for some, is a nightmare for others.

Fast, Easy, Cheap (Maybe?)

Is there a work-around in using games for businesses who want to be frugal with a smaller marketing budget?

Well, the easiest solution would be game templates. They can act as simple enhancers to pre-existing marketing efforts. They allow for a quick turnaround time while providing light-hearted fun. However, they will be limited in features and details.

Regardless, having some personalisation goes a long way towards expressing your brand.

Branding is about representing who you are as a business, and how you wish to be perceived.

The requirement that truly matters when making the decision in using games is determining the baseline strategy. Map out events, steps and goals to avoid creating half-hearted attempts. If you are not sure what it is you want, do not be afraid to ask around.

Games for marketing, or gamification marketing in general, continues to level up in terms of accessibility, functionality and lifestyle integration. Do not let some old preconceptions hinder you from leveraging all the advantages from your new gamified campaign.

It is never too late to learn to play the game.


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