Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in May-Jun 2012

The name of the game

How gamification is changing the dynamics of the brand-user interaction.

It’s a social world out there. People love to connect, be it to their friends, family or associates and thanks to social media, brands too have started to socialise. Facebook alone has more than six million Pakistani users, and brands like Coke Studio are enjoying a record number of fans (last count over 1.1 million likes and still growing). Social media networks have become playgrounds for users and goldmines for brands; ultimately a rewarding experience for both parties.

But here’s the conundrum.

So you have a social (online) presence and you have millions of likes or hundreds and thousands of followers, but does your brand really connect or interact with its users? Or is your brand’s KPI simply a number of followers and nothing more? How does a brand translate brand followership/like into brand affinity? This translation occurs when a ‘like’ or ‘follow’ turns into an emotional investment for the user. A user’s emotional investment is nirvana for a brand, it is the highest state of involvement between user and brand. This is the main objective of gamification.

Gamification is the process of empowering the social connection process by rewarding users/followers of brands and in turn giving brands the opportunity to have direct insight into their customers. The process is essentially converting the social interaction into a ‘game’.

What’s in it for users? Users are rewarded for their brand interaction, loyalty and ambassadorship. They are rewarded with points which they can use for offline purchases, rewards and exclusive benefits. What’s in it for brands? Brands have a direct insight into their customers; their behaviour, emotions and aspirations. These insights are completely raw and a data goldmine. I remember being part of a social network-based campaign that ended up giving the client a complete footprint for their product across Pakistan. The footprint was better than any previous data they had because it was in real time.

There are, however, disadvantages to gamification. Critics hold that gamification is a ‘cheap gimmick’ that feeds more on the ‘game’ aspect rather than the interaction aspect and that rewards such as iPads, mobile phones and other expensive items often distract the consumer from the brand values itself. According to them when consumers are distracted by a prize rather than the experience of the brand, the online experience fails. Although it is true that there have been some campaigns that were more ‘game’ rather than ‘brand’ driven, more and more brands are learning how to integrate their brand values into the gamification process.

Gamification is the next step for social media. It is changing the dynamics of brand/user interaction, and this evolution is already spawning an entire industry of its own. Take for instance BigDoor, a Seattle-based company that provides “a gamified loyalty platform that powers social engagement through the use of game mechanics. [Their] goal is to help publishers grow and engage their communities.”

According to their website, BigDoor has rewarded more than 270 million users for their interactions – and that is a lot of user interactions.

I asked Carrie Peters, Vice President, Marketing, BigDoor about how gamification is shaping the future of brand/user interaction:

“Gamification builds deeper brand affinity. As users interact with a gamification platform like BigDoor, they are more likely to return to a website to earn additional points or spend virtual currency. Encouraging users to take actions across a site, such as registering, commenting and sharing with a social network can all be rewarded with game mechanics like points and rewards.”

This evolution is not limited to social media; it is changing the internet too. When I asked Peters whether this change was good or bad, she responded that “gamification is already changing the internet and we believe this will continue.”

“People will begin to expect deeper experiences and rewards from their favourite sites and the ability to share with their social graph will continue to permeate the web. Gamification is a great tool to engage and create loyal users.”

Gamification in Pakistan has not only arrived, it is thriving. Online competitions that drive user interaction based on points, leader boards and votes are on the rise among Pakistani brands. Pantene, Sufi Cooking Oil & Ghee and Vaseline are some of the brands that have jumped on the gamification bandwagon.

I asked Shakir Husain, CEO, Creative Chaos, if gamification was becoming a standard for online campaigns:

“We are seeing it already. CEOs and CMOs are catching this buzzword and asking their agencies to do the same. Creative Chaos has successfully started some of our clients on gamification.”

This trend towards picking up buzzwords also stems from the fact that CEOs and CMOs are paying attention not only to local trends (in terms of traditional media) but to international trends (in terms of new media) as well.

Although we are seeing more and more brands establish their gamification, is the Pakistani market ready for it?

“Absolutely,” replies Husain. “Pakistani digital audiences have matured not only in terms of critical mass but in terms of their expectations from the brands that want their business. The internet is a great leveller. Pakistani customers experience international brands and their digital engagements and then expect the same from their local counterparts. If your brand’s digital experience is not up to par you will run into trouble.”

The digital experience of a brand is crucial now. If the experience is not memorable (or rewarding), there will be no social interaction whatsoever. This evolution in brand-consumer interaction is also changing the landscape of advertising in Pakistan.

According to Husain “Gamification, when it comes to engaging their customers, is raising the bar for brands and their agencies. Gamification is a natural evolution of the digital experience. It also means that brands need to work harder and be more creative when it comes to consumer engagement. Gone are the days of ‘turn and burn’ and putting ‘something’ out there.”

Brands have to be more thoughtful in terms of what they use in their digital campaigns. Planning is essential and this is where digital agencies can get their foot in the door. A good digital agency can use all information and KPIs to develop and plan a digital campaign.

A pretty visual, a catchy tagline or tune are no longer options for digital campaigns. They may look good on paper and prove to be amazing on TV and radio, however, in terms of digital interaction audiences expect more, hence gamification is the only option, because a rich experience is the ultimate reward for both user and brand.

Khaver Siddiqi is a new media and content consultant.