The Extraordinary Tool of Gamification

Engaging the consumer is a constantly changing battle.  21st century marketing attempts to adapt itself to this evolution, but how do you achieve genuine engagement to influence behavior?

An emerging trend called gamification reframes the challenge to motivate consumers.  Simply put, the idea is to create a game or process to influence behavior.  The concept itself is hardly original, but the applications and the results of using this tool have become increasingly innovative.

An early and notable example of gamification is McDonald’s Monopoly promotion; the contest began in 1987 and continues today.  Customers participate in a game to collect corresponding Monopoly tokens which can be redeemed for food, prizes and money.  Because the tokens come with food items, the more one orders the greater chance one has of winning.  This is of course the intended influence, encouraging participants to buy more McDonald’s products.

A more recent form of gamification and brand engagement is Foursquare.  The GPS based application allows smart phone users to check into restaurants, stores and other venues.  Each check in wins the user points and badges, which are milestones tied to the user’s Foursquare identity.  The individual who has the most check-ins at a particular place in a 60 day period is crowned the Mayor of that location.  While Mayorship is often just a point of pride, businesses have since recognized the potential that Foursquare offers to increase foot traffic.  Consequently many businesses offer incentives to the Mayor, ie $1 off frappucinos at Starbucks or free milkshakes at Checkers.

You’ve likely heard of the above examples.  But how can the motivating concept of gamification be used with greater influence? Volkswagon, in conjunction with the ad agency DDB Stockholm, introduced which is founded on the idea that “something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better.”  It challenged individuals to submit transformational ideas based on this premise.

How can this be applied to promote exercise? The Piano Staircase was a finalist in VW’s contest.  In a subway station at Odenplan, Stockholm, the challenge was to encourage people to take the stairs in lieu of the escalator.  Each stair was wired with a pressure sensor which broadcast a piano note through a speaker.  Every step was an interactive musical experience.  The results? 66% more people than normal chose the stairs over the escalator.


Can gamification be used to influence safe driving? Kevin Richardson created The Speed Camera Lottery, the winner of The Fun Theory.  A speed camera was installed in Stockholm to snap pictures of every passing car.  The speeders would be sent a fine in the mail—as per usual.  However those drivers who obeyed the speed limit were entered into a lottery to win some of the money from the speeders.  The results? Average speed before the experiment was 32 km/h.  During the experiment: 25 km/h.


One of the most transformational ideas to employ gamification is called Help I Want To Save A Life. The challenge existed in the bone marrow registry, one of the most under represented programs in the world.  Only half of the people who need a bone marrow transplant find a donor.  Further, registering for the database can be both costly and time consuming.  The solution? A pack of over-the-counter bandages that also doubles as a marrow registry kit.  The next time you cut yourself, put a few drops of blood on the swabs, enclose it in the prepaid envelope, put it in the mail and you are a potential life saver.  This collaboration was brought together by Help Remedies, DKMS and Droga5.  Together they encouraged and influenced the behavior of people in an effort which has since tripled marrow registration.


Gamification is an extraordinary tool.  Other successful examples have been used in the recruitment of soldiers into the Swedish military and even ordering groceries through a virtual store in a Japanese subway station. If implemented correctly, gamification has a tremendous influence and a measurable impact on behavior.  Its applications are far reaching and its potential is only just being realized.


Post Script:

One sinister case of gamification was fictionalized in the movie Untraceable.  A serial killer would rig his victims up to a death contraption.  He then streamed a live video of the victim on the internet.  The more people that logged on to watch, the faster he/she would be tortured and killed.  The intent of the killer was to show how compelled and depraved people are when it comes to the suffering of others.  This is of course a fictional story, but it shows the power of gamification, albeit in the wrong way.

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