Gamification and consumer engagement

First published on 2Degrees in 2011 when I was working for OgilvyEarth. The conversation’s moved on since then, but, it covers an interesting application of behaviour change principles which should be used to inspire creative in a world of real time media buying. You can also see my Futerra blog post on the same subject here. Enjoy!

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Gamification is the hottest of all the buzz words right now. If you believe the hype, it’s about to revolutionise healthcare, marketing and our working environment. However, as with all hyped issues, it is not based in completely new theory. Investment banking relies on game dynamics such as feedback, competition and reward. You could even argue a great meeting or pitch amounts to an ‘epic win’, a promotion ‘levelling up’. However, applying it to products or campaigns is a complex task, requiring detailed knowledge about the audience you’re trying to reach, plus the dynamics needed to create the intrinsic motivation to stay involved. The role of gamification in consmer engagement is complex, but here are my thoughts on its importance:

Gamification can broaden your audience
The work that Greenpeace have already done on their Volkswagen campaign show us that gamification can spark the interest of those who would not normally be interested in environmental initiatives. Many of those that signed up for the Greenpeace campaign didn’t get involved just because they cared about the issue, they were initially intrigued by the game dynamics and the opportunity to become a Jedi Knight. Some will have more deeply engaged with the issue than others and the game dynamics could have done more to encourage continued participation, but the sign up rate was excellent.

Gamification can drive sales
The Tesco computers for schools system is a simple, yet effective campaign. Parents who shop at Tesco receive vouchers for free computing equipment. The more the school collect, the more computers they receive. The same is true of loyalty schemes, clubcards and frequent flyer points. The incentive is desirable, but requires frequent visit/use of the service to obtain. By creating an incentive to choose one outlet over another, the decision over which supermarket to choose or mode of travel becomes instantly skewed in favour of those with the best incentive. Gamification can drive decision making and create loyalty.

Gamification has the power to change behaviour through play
The Nissan Leaf and supporting ‘Carwings’ website’ use visual displays to feed back to the driver how fuel efficient their driving is. Not only that, but it publishes region-wide and global leader boards, allowing drivers to compete against each other. Aimed at the green pound, it resonates well with its audience. It encourages efficient driving by promoting autonomy through goals and feedback, as well as encouraging the user to build their driving ability to experience key game dynamics of ‘flow’ and ‘mastery’. Nissan are claiming a significant cost saving when running the Leaf, enhanced by users trying to beat their best drive and become more efficient than others around them. Most consumer products have their biggest impact during use, meaning companies such as Unilever, who are looking to reduce the impact of their customers’ behaviour as well as their own, must be looking to gamification to help them achieve this goal.

However, we must not forget what we know
For all the opportunities that gamification presents, we will see many poorly planned campaigns where little heed has been paid to the personalities and values of the intended audience. The key to success will be to finding effective methods of identifying the audience’s motivating factors. If used badly, gamification has the potential to be counterproductive. Dan Pink has comprehensively documented how ill advised incentives can actually cause the opposite behaviour to what we expect. Anyone who has bribed their teenager with money to clean their room will know what happens when the incentive is removed. One of the big stumbling blocks will be building longevity into the game dynamics.

In conclusion
The key point is that we must not forget that gamification is simply the latest development in a field of motivational psychology that has developed enormously over the last 30 years. It should be used with skill, but has great potential to both engage and change behaviour. In the words of Albert Einstein:
“You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.”