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  • Can interactive ads wake up a passive audience?
  • Can interactive ads wake up a passive audience?
    Midia NINJA, Creative Commons (2016) ©

How can gamified adverts boost brand loyalty?

As banner ads and billboards struggle to draw attention, brands are increasingly adopting novel forms of advertising to engage people. Gamification offers one solution by rewarding ‘players’ for their active participation. How can brands use these adverts to build stronger bonds with audiences?

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As banner ads and billboards struggle to attract attention, brands are increasingly adopting interactive and novel forms of advertising to get people engaged. Gamification offers one solution by turning audiences into ‘players’ and rewarding their active participation, with a study conducted in 2014 finding that click-through rates for such ads averaged 28.8%, compared to 3.9% for standard ones. [1] “The competitive landscape of our digitally driven age has trained consumers to look for value before buying in,” says Brett Hyman, the president of experience marketing firm NVE Experience Agency, adding that people, “have come to crave (and expect) some sort of incentive or reward from nearly every brand interaction.” [2]

Gamified advertising draws people in through an emotional trigger known as the ‘reciprocity principle’, at the same time enabling them to feel included in the creative process. As José Pérez, the CMO of e-commerce personalisation solutions provider BrainSINS and co-founder of the Gamification World Congress conference, notes: “Gamification provides a higher level of engagement with the participants as it requires them to be involved in the process. Compared to traditional ads where users ‘consume’ the ad content but can't interact with it, gamified ads require users to interact with the ad, complete a quest, provide feedback or interact with their peers.” [3] So, how can brands best approach this form of advertising to build a stronger connection with audiences?


The ‘reciprocity principle’
Cadbury’s Share the Taste campaign, which connected people across Australia to play a digitised version of rock, paper, scissors and win free chocolate, is an example of how gamified ads can drive high engagement. By providing a freebie, people may feel obliged to reciprocate a favour by buying into the brand. The ‘reciprocity principle’ “speaks to the human need (and tendency) to want to give something back when something is received,” writes Sam Fiorella, chief strategy officer at Sensei Marketing. “People feel a sense of obligation to do something for you when you’ve done something for them... When done right, the principle of reciprocity is a powerful tool in the acquisition of new customers as well as in the development of existing customers. It can facilitate stronger, deeper, and longer lasting relationships with customers and advocates alike.” [4]

Fiorella goes on to cite a case study from the 1984 bestseller Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, in which a waiter’s tips increased by 14% when diners were given two mints with their bill compared to 3% when they were given just one. Additionally, when the waiter left just one mint but then returned to offer a second, their tips increased by 23%. “Aside from the basic concept of reciprocity, what we learn from this case study is the power of the unexpected gift,” Fiorella writes. “When customers are singled out and made to feel that they’re special, the likelihood that they’ll respond more favorably increases dramatically.” [4]

Pérez, however, believes this science can’t be applied to all gamified ads. “The principle of reciprocity is more obviously involved in other marketing activities such as asking for emails to download a PDF or asking for an email after providing good content,” he says. “In that case, most users feel that they have received something with a value and they should give something back. But it's not so connected to gamification as not every gamified ad involves giving something to the user.” Referring to the use of point systems in gamification (i.e. giving credits for actions like sharing a link or inviting friends), Pérez explains: “Points generate engagement not based on the principle of reciprocity but because you use those points to get something in return – a ‘virtual currency.’” [3] Starbucks’ 2017 Summer Game campaign is a great example of this mechanic. Through a dedicated website, people could click on the words ‘Shake It’ to earn ‘Stars’ (or points) that could be redeemed for one of a million-plus prizes.

Gamification relies on a little give and take
Gamification relies on a little give and take
Fancycrave (2016) ©

Channeling creative spirit
Beyond the rewards on offer, gamified advertising may also appeal to people as it allows them to unleash their creativity. “The concept of playing a game and possibly winning something stimulates the creative, playful and competitive spirit in pretty much all of us,” writes Peter Daisyme for Forbes, adding that the process, “involves a way to improve skills or get better at something, plus it involves some type of prize.” [5] Nike’s Reactland encompasses this concept perfectly. Created by Wieden + Kennedy Shanghai, it invited the public to test-run the Epic React sneakers via a video game experience. Users could control a pixelated version of themselves traveling through a variety of landscapes from around the world simply by running on a connected treadmill. “This kind of advertisement works because it really activates the customers and involves them in the process of creating a new and interesting experience for themselves,” says Vasilis Gkogkidis, a gamification designer at GAMIFICATION+ and organiser of the Gamification Europe conference. [6]

As well as letting brands be more creative with their message, the playfulness of these interactive ads enables people to channel their inner child. Research conducted by Dr. Stephanie Carlson, an expert on childhood brain development at the University of Minnesota, suggests that kids spend roughly two-thirds of their time in ‘imaginative play’. Engaging in this ‘non-reality’ as an adult can promote alternative ways of looking at situations, subsequently making people more creative and better at problem-solving. [7]

Gkogkidis believes the effectiveness of gamification relates to consumers taking a more active role in the creation of ads. “One thing that we should always remember with gamification is what can the player get out of playing the game? Can they learn something or get some discount if they play the game and perform well? Then they will be interested and more active.” [6] It’s this sense of learning and gaining via doing that can draw consumers in. Pérez adds: “In a gamified ad, the user has to participate and it increases the probability that you remember that ad and then the brand or product it advertises. It makes sense as we are used to learning by doing and repeating.” [3]

People are tired of simply being spoken to by brands
People are tired of simply being spoken to by brands
TED Conference, Creative Commons (2018) ©

Green ad gamification
Sustainability is no longer a subject that brands can ignore and actively getting people involved in green gamification (where the mechanism is used to increase environmental awareness) is one way to provide mass appeal. “Talking about sustainability and social responsibility is no longer enough for consumers, who in 2018 seek more radical transparency from brands and push their desire to become the creators, feeding into the design and production of products,” writes Alison Angus, head of consumer lifestyles at Euromonitor International. [8]

Guiding consumers through fun, engaging ways to help the environment could help brands stand out from competitors, whether their key strategy integrates sustainability or not. Writing for B2B Marketing, SEO consultant Cormac Reynolds notes: “In order to improve your position and attract a healthy group of customers constantly, you will be required to give back to communities. For example, if your business involves keeping the environment green, you can encourage your viewers to practice greener activities by rewarding them with gift cards and discounts.” [9] Greenredeem does exactly that. Users generate points through pledges that include activities such as cutting down screen time, using the crusts of a loaf, and completing quizzes on composting effectively. These points can then be processed as donations towards community groups and charities or redeemed for prizes in the form of discounts towards holidays, food shopping, and clothing from partnered retailers.

This element of eco-positive gaming is increasingly being used in direct advertising too. Several brands are using gamification to give people the chance to win prizes in a charitable sense. For instance, eco-friendly lifestyle brand Under the Canopy’s ‘Spin the Sustainability Wheel’ pops up on its homepage and incentivises visitors to enter their email for a chance to spin for a prize. Digitata Insights partnered with Unilever brand Sunlight on a mobile phone-driven gamification campaign. It was focused on water-saving awareness with a goal to deliver 120,000 litres of potable water to the drought-stricken Western Cape. So, as opposed to winning prizes for themselves, gamers gave directly to green causes. [10] Meanwhile, the Nissan LEAF electric car is installed with an ECO Indicator that tracks speed and power usage. Through an analysis of in-car metrics, it provides feedback and creates efficiency-based achievements (in the form of points shaped as trees) that appear on the dashboard.

Values-based advertising can strike a personal chord
Values-based advertising can strike a personal chord
Treefort Music Fest, Creative Commons (2018) ©

Insights and opportunities
“Many ads feel like a chore for the audience and gamification can be a breath of fresh air,” says Gkogkidis. “When a brand gamifies their ads, they are proving to their customers that they spent the time to think and take a step towards improving their ads. People have a voice and they want to use it. Everyone can play your game and give you feedback from their mobile devices and if your game is interesting, then they will think higher of your company.” [6] Putting more effort into ad concepts that are interactive and directly get consumers involved could prove beneficial for any company, no matter their sector. And with the global gamification market set to be worth $11.9 billion by 2021, up from $4.9 billion in 2016, brands are seemingly waking up to the potential of this type of advertising. [11]

According to Pérez, it’s more about the execution of the gamified ad and the hype it creates as opposed to exact interaction figures. “Most users won't interact with the ad, but they may have a higher engagement level with the brand because of the novelty of the ad's approach,” he explains. “But the users that interact with the ad have a much more intense experience and they'd remember the brand or product for a longer time due to their active participation.” [6] Research carried out by Demand Metric in 2014 found that 93% of content marketers felt that interactive content was effective at educating buyers and 88% felt it differentiated them from competitors, so although not everyone who sees a gamified ad will play it, those who do are likely to be more engaged with the brand. [12]

Gamified adverts can perhaps be categorised into two main segments: those that possess the ‘fun’ element and those that enable players to do good at the same time. One of Pérez’s stand-out examples for 2018 is Ally Bank's AR mobile game, which was activated during the Super Bowl. The app saw users enter their savings goals, such as accruing money for a new home, college tuition or a dream wedding, then it showed money raining down on their smartphone screen during commercial breaks. Users could collect points by dragging the money into a virtual piggy bank for a chance to win cash to help them achieve their goals. [13] “It is a game with a purpose, as it encourages consumers to save when spending is tempting while promoting the bank,” says Pérez. [3] When coupled with innovative technologies such as AR, gamification has vast potential in advertising, enabling brands to not only grab attention when there’s so little to spare, but to make themselves memorable through an immersive experience that players can mould.

1. 'Turning mobile ads into games helps them perform better', VentureBeat (October 2014)
2. 'How to use gamification and technology for a better experiential marketing campaign', MarketingProfs (February 2018)
3. Interview with José Pérez conducted by author
4. 'The principle of reciprocity and influence marketing', Sensei Marketing (September 2014)
5. 'How to add gamification to your marketing strategy', Forbes (June 2017)
6. Interview with Vasilis Gkogkidis conducted by author
7. 'Why unleashing your inner child will make you insanely creative, according to science', Elle Caplan | Medium (October 2016)
8. 'Empowered consumers disrupt business in 2018', Euromonitor (January 2018)
9. '5 benefits gamification can bring to your marketing business', B2B Marketing (June 2015)
10. 'Digitata Insights partners Sunlight on water saving awareness campaign', Bizcommunity (December 2017)
11. 'Value of the gamification market worldwide in 2016 and 2021 (in billion US dollars)', Statista (2016)
12. 'Research shows interactive content is key to the buyer’s journey', Ion Interactive (June 2014)
13. 'Ally wants people to play with an AR app during the Super Bowl', Tearsheet (February 2018)

Featured Experts

José Pérez

José Pérez is an all-purpose digital professional with a mix of technical, marketing, product and business knowledge. Throughout his professional career, he has launched several projects (Gamification World Congress, BrainSINS, Wipley, AINetSolutions, En.Digital) and has participated in other projects either as an investor or as an advisor (Fotografía eCommerce, Product Hackers, SinDelantal, Ad-Pure, Tockit).

Vasilis Gkogkidis

Vasilis Gkogkidis works as a gamification trainer for GAMIFICATION+ LTD, an innovative gamification consultancy based in Brighton. He also the organiser for Gamification Europe, a new international gamification conference held in Europe.


Lara Piras is a writer, researcher and brand strategist based in London. Considered a youth culture expert, her vast industry knowledge comes from working with some of the industry’s best including The Future Laboratory, MTV, WGSN, Vogue UK and Vogue US in New York. She has previously worked on branding projects for Facebook, size?, Westfield, IKEA and Peroni.