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The Gamification of Advertising
by William Volk on 03/12/13 03:08:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half."
- John Wanamaker, US department store merchant (1838 - 1922)

In current digital advertising, I'd say half would be overly optimistic. In mobile even more so.  

Most of the advertising in mobile apps is ... SURPISE other mobile apps.  Where are the brands?

The brands are avoiding mobile apps because the apps aren't as effective channel as hoped for. The effective cost per thousand impressions (CPM) for desktop web ads is about $3.50, while the CPM for mobile ads is just $0.75. Print ads, by comparison, can command rates of as much as $100 per thousand impressions.  The bulk of advertising still is driven by television.  The lower value of digital (and mobile) driven by the lack of effectiveness of these ads.  Users simply don't care, don't click and don't convert.

So brands are turning to new ways of engaging with players.   

One recent example is what we've been doing with our "new kind of crossword game" Crickler.

Video of the game:            Crickler 2: A New Kind of Puzzle         

We're working with Ford and their advertising agency to bring Ford themed puzzles to our players in honor of the 150th birthday of Henry Ford.  Puzzles about the company, the man and the machines are made available to the players.  Here's an example:

Ford promoted these puzzles on the Facebook pages and tweets, we promote to our players via push and in-game messages.  We also ran a contest, awarding prizes to players that bragged about solving these puzzles via Twitter.

So what's so great about this?

Well the time to solve a puzzle is minutes, not the second or so a player might take a look at a banner ad or even the 30 to 60 seconds for a video (that they will probabily skip).  They are engaging with the brand and it's not forced.  It's fun and who knows, it may even sell some cars.

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Eric Schwarz
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I can't imagine why anyone would know, or want to know any of this pointless trivia about Ford, except perhaps the guy who runs the company tour.

I'm not sure I can have "fun" when the activity I'm taking place in is specifically designed for advertising purposes and exists not to benefit me or entertain me, but to improve mindshare and brand recognition of a company I don't care about.

Eric Salmon
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I have to agree. Anyone who plays a Ford trivia game probably already owns a Ford (and probably already owns a few and was planning to buy another).

William Volk
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I agree that this appeals to gear-heads and trivia fans. We had a similar promotion a few months ago with Bass Pro Shops and we had messages from players solving the puzzles in duck blinds.

As to Ford, in the first day 1000's of puzzles were played. Here's some comments (from Touch Arcade Forums):

Great app. Just did the first set and I'm really enjoying it. - XvEsunavX

Finished!!!! Man, that was more difficult than I anticipated - zachman

This is more engaging than a banner ad or video spot, when you consider that the average player spent 5 minutes solving each puzzle (there are 11 Ford Puzzles). The same thing would make sense for a cult movie fan base or even a company promoting healthy eating.

TC Weidner
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Personally I have no problem themed or sponsored games, as long as the sponsorship is upfront about it. and dont dictate or influence game design too much.I think its is more above board than say micro transactions etc. Let players play for free, for real, let sponsors pay for the game and use it as both a fun outreach and advertisement to the public.

Look back at early TV, the game shows were much better simply because the sponsor was above board, had some advertising on set, and thus did away for the need for almost all commercials. I mean commercial TV today IMHO is unwatchable with so many commercials. Today we are down to like 20 minutes of content in a 30 minute show, back then is was like 28 minutes.

To me above board sponsored games are a win win win

William Volk
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Crickler is a 'interesting' game in that the game is solving a crossword-like puzzles. There are over 1000 puzzles in the system. So the game isn't really themed, what we did is add a Ford category to the puzzle directory. The contest is just our way of co-promoting this with Ford. It's a pilot project as part of their social marketing strategy.

TC Weidner
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well its themed is so much as the Ford portion, and can themed to match other needs. As I mentioned as long as its upfront I see no problem as that will avoid the Ralphy complex in so much as no likes stuff like... " Be sure to drink your ovaltine"

William Volk
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By themed, I was referring to logos/graphics etc.

One thing we do in this game, you can LOOK at a puzzle (download it in the app) and until you start playing it, we do not deduct a puzzle credit. That allows users to decide if they want to even play a particular puzzle.

Ray Beez
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Congratulations, you discovered "adver-gaming", a concept that's been around since the late 1990's and became a big buzzword in early 2000's.

William Volk
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Uh, yeah. I know all about brands spending $$$ to launch branded games. In fact I once met with ad agency that was doing this for Buick and others in 1990! They were doing advergames even back then (and earlier, if I remember my history).

This is not that :-)

This is a game with puzzles that are loaded, with some of the puzzles being tied to the brand. Puzzles being about the brand's products, history etc. The game isn't branded, the content is.

Zynga has done some of this with Farmville as an example. The thing here is that the content is more than just a brand/product appearing in the game, the content is information about the product.

Andreas Ahlborn
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"It's fun and who knows, it may even sell some cars."

Don`t get your hopes up. My data suggests that the exposure duration doesn´t correlate with sales in any stretch of the imagination.

Since 2007 I am developing promotional games for a toy company and have found that it doesn`t help to pimp sales, it`s a pure CRM-Image-related Fanservice. Meaning (like some other comment suggested) It will only reach customers that bought the product already but doesn`t draw new buyers in.
Over 50+ games and 6 years the subbrands I themed my games around doesn`t show any indication that the more the kids are enjoying the games the better the products are doing on the market.
In 2010 we started a new Sci-Fi subbrand and I specifically designed a Towerdefense-game with Leaderboards etc. to see if this higher enagement-time would have an influence of the performance on the market.

Usually a promotional game is designed to be fun for 5-10 minutes, but this game that tracks the player behaviour shows that some kids invest up to 10+ hours to improve their scores on the Leaderboard.
It didn´t change anything in the fact that the toy on the market performed (as we expected because of our bad trackrecord with sci-fi themes) subpar.

William Volk
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Remember, this isn't a promotional game. The game wasn't changed. It's a crossword-like game and what was done was to create a category for FORD. So the people playing the puzzles, for the most part, are existing Crickler players.

Looking at Wed., the most popular puzzles were:

Wed March 13 (A Daily News Puzzle)
Entertainment News - Wed Mar 13
Henry Ford Trivia - 1
Ford General Trivia
Ford Mustang Trivia - 1
Ford F-Series Trucks Trivia
Henry Ford Trivia - 2

There were 705 unique puzzles played (the catalog is about 1500). So we exposed the FORD puzzles to the existing user base.

I'm just arguing that 5 minutes spent with a puzzle is more effective than a banner (and a heck of a lot easier/cheaper than a branded app). I know of some branded automobile apps with 6-figure budgets and 4-figure download counts.

A Question to you: What if the promotion gave away prizes that had to be picked up at the store in question?

Andreas Ahlborn
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"A Question to you: What if the promotion gave away prizes that had to be picked up at the store in question? "

We actually give away prizes of of our new brands when they first launch and the game is usually the way people participate in these competitions, but we send them directly to their doorsteps. Would it be marketingwise better to let the winners pick up their prizes in one of our stores? Its highly likely that when they pcik up up their prizes they would buy some other things. But since our prizes have a value between 10 and 50 Dollars this could create some bad feelings, if we "blackmail" our customers to drive 50 miles to their nearest toy store to get a 20 Dollar Toy.

Besides: the Logistics would be a nightmare and getting the product to the store might easily be more trouble than its worth.

William Volk
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So, in a future promotion with a retailer ... the prizes will be gift certificates to be used at the store. The stores in question are in a great enough number so not to be an issue.

In the future, we'll evolve the Ford promotion in interesting ways.

The bottom line for me is, we made our players happy (they love new puzzles), we made Ford happy (a easy way to create engagement on the iPhone).

All good.

Christian Petersen
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I completely agree with the premise that retailers have to make their mobile marketing relevant to the context of what the consumers are doing on mobile. That means that brands should help and or entertain users in the games to create a positive brand exposure and engagement.

In my past I was the producer of over 100 advergames (advertainment as we called it back in the nineties) for brands like Mars, M&Ms, Kellogg's, Nestle, Lego etc.

Today I am Vice President of Zigi,, where we have made a platform that allows large retail brands to drive foot traffic to their locations by helping mobile game users get free in-game items and have more fun in their games. It is a great way to monetize non-paying users in mobile games.

William Volk
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That's cool. Sort of like the offer walls.

Granted Crickler's a "special case" as in the game play are these crossword-like trivia puzzles, but I think providing incentives is a great idea.

I could see awarding puzzle credits as a good incentive to users in the game.