We have written a lot on advergames and the role they play in marketing over the last 4 months. Here is a list of the top 10 blog posts from that period. (This post is part of our 100 Days of Games for Growth 🎈 project. In this post, we employ Tip #29: the Top Posts Digest.)
Loyalty programs are as old as is trade. As games became the biggest entertainment industry in the world over the last few decades (now 116 Billion compared to 105 Billion for television), we have seen the rise of gamification as a way to change people's behavior, the idea being that the same psychological hooks used in games can be used to influence how people behave.
Loyalty programs are themselves a form of gamifying visiting a store and buying. However, by taking away the most crucial part of games – the fun – we argue businesses are not seeing the results that are otherwise possible. We explore this difference in the post 1️⃣ Gamification marketing vs. games for marketing.
One important aspect of games (and indeed gamification) is competition. While not all games rely on a competitive aspect, when done well, it can be used to drive virality. Who does not want to be better at something than their friends? Competition is a driver of engagement in games as explored in our post 2️⃣ Why add a competitive aspect to your marketing campaign? In addition to beating their friends, competition makes promotions that use prizes much more successful. Because players "work" to win, they value prizes more, and prizes awarded as the outcome of a game are much more likely to be redeemed by customers. But the viral aspects of games are also better exploited in competitive games, giving players not only something physical, but also a proof of their dominance.
The digital era has transformed loyalty programs in ways that benefit both businesses and customers: they are easier to track and use. However, despite clear advantages of digital loyalty over traditional physical systems, many customers abandon loyalty apps, and by extension, the loyalty programs they support. In the post 3️⃣ Why aren’t customers using your loyalty app? we examine this phenomenon. The reasons are not surprising: loyalty apps of corporations are not very interesting to customers, and often gamification does not work.
Our answer to this problem is to add a game to the mix. Many businesses are already doing this. In 4️⃣ How games oil your c-store loyalty machine we look at the role games play in the loyalty programs of convenience stores. While loyalty programs do work, games can make them more effective in several ways. As mentioned earlier, promotions tied to games lead to higher redemptions and more people taking part. This leads more users to find the app useful, and app retention is dramatically higher. With higher retention and app usage, your communication channel (notifications and in-app communication) reaches many more users.
Fast-food restaurants were some of the earliest adopters of games in their marketing mix, and indeed McDonald's, Burger King and KFC have released dozens of games over the years on any imaginable platform. In 5️⃣ How these 3 games effectively promoted food products we look at three examples of restaurants using games to effectively market – and sell – food:
- McDonald's M.C. Kids, a game that copied a lot from Super Mario Bros, but was still praised for its innovations.
- Chex Quest, a game distributed to 42,000,000 players, that saw three sequels, and still has a fan-base more than 20 years after its initial release in 1996.
- The infamous Sneak King was one of the top-10 best selling games of 1996 and it increased Burger King's sales by 40%.
Every successful advergame should have three ingredients:
- It must be fun. If no-one is playing your game, it won't have any effect on how your customers see your brand or on your bottom line.
- It must be branded. If no-one recognizes this game as yours, you will not get the bump in goodwill a game can bring.
- It must have a business goal. By definition, advergames must drive sales, loyalty, brand-awareness, or perform some other function for the business. Without this, your game is simply a entertainment game.
We explore these features more fully in the post 6️⃣ 3 must-have features of a successful advergame.
While games can improve app retention and drive sales through effective use of promotions, games are also compelling above-the-line marketing tools. In 7️⃣ 5 ways games increase brand awareness we look at the different ways in which games can be used to tell your brand message.
- Games can be used to create compelling worlds around brand elements. You don't have to merely "place" your logo; the game can embody the visual style of your brand, and more.
- Of course, many services and products are suitable elements of games. Porsche in the racing game Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed, in racing games, furniture in simulation games such as The Sims 2. This gives the player a chance to interact with the products in a way that will connect with them emotionally. A car is not just dropping the kids off at school; it is the wind in your hair and the cops on your back.
- Games can communicate brand values through mechanics: do you promise speedy delivery? Then timed mechanics is the way to go. Quality? Then accuracy is your friend.
- Because games can wield emotion so powerfully, and engage players for so long, whatever message you are delivering with the game has a much higher chance of sticking.
- Games provide you – or rather, your customers – with unique, branded, often personalized content that they would more readily share than your latest Facebook ad (for you have to pay thousands of dollars for less than 1 seconds of interactions). Games, when done well, give your customers something to share and turn them into promoters.
To players, all these are secondary concerns; they play to have fun. In 8️⃣ Delightful advertising: how games advertise seamlessly we look at what makes games different from other forms of marketing media. Because games require action from players, games are by definition "permission marketing". Games cannot be consumed passively. Once a player chooses to play a game, they give their full attention. And the game is not some intrusion in their feeds or stream of activities, it is something that occupies the full screen.
But not all advergames are equal. In 9️⃣ The 3 levels of advergames we distinguish between games based on the extent that brands are incorporated them.
The first level is simply placing your branding or products inside a game, the same strategy that is also used for film and television. When matched with a game relevant to your brand and a suitably large audience, this is a good strategy.
Playable ads are at the next level. They are often based on existing games, but use your products or brand elements. These are often used as interactive replacements for banner ads. While they are certainly more interesting than mere images (animated or still), the experience is often shallow and not matched well with the brand.
The third level is when a world is constructed around the brand, and the game is a manifestation of your brand promise. These games are often the most effective at delivering your message.
Our most popular piece of content is our overview of the history and impact of advergames 🔟 Four Decades of Advergames. We wrote the post for Gamasutra after compiling our list of more than 100 advergames.
The first advergames appeared soon after the first entertainment games; in 1983, Colgate, Budweiser, Kool-Aid, and Purina all had advergames. In the early days, these games were not usually free, and the successful ones did well just in terms of their sales. In 2006, for example, Burger King's ridiculous Sneak King which I mentioned earlier, sold more than two million copies. Free-to-play games have upset this trend; today paid advergames are rare; Monster Energy Supercross - The Official Videogame is a notable exception.
Not everything is positive; we also look at some of the questionable choices, and the remark on the sheer number of unimaginative clones. Advergames follow the same trajectory as entertainment games, and companies use them with new technologies such as VR and AR to create fantastic experiences; examples include KFC's bizarre KFC: The Hard Way and Nike's Reactland.
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