When I was at SXSWi, I caught an interesting presentation from Jane McGonigal on the impact gaming can have in everyday life (check out her recent contribution to Big Think for a summary).
Essentially, McGonigal suggested:
- Gaming is an enjoyable experience and what is life if not the pursuit of enjoyable experiences
- Gaming is an essential tool for improving ourselves
While one could argue the merits of her first point, the second was an interesting reframing of a longstanding, yet still powerful, marketing idea. From hotel or airline points to loyalty shopping cards to Foursquare check-ins, advertisers have long leveraged the tracking and rewarding of consumer behavior. Yet it seems to be a more recent trend to connect these reward to the type of gaming structures McGonigal references.
There are two main reasons for this. The first (and most obvious) is the prevalence of technological tools that can layer digital gameplay on pretty much anything. Couple that with an increasing number of consumers who came of age in a post-Nintendo era and you have the ability to create digital games and an audience that will respond to them.
The second, more elemental reason: the place marketing can and should have in a consumer's life is changing. Now that consumers have attained a certain consciousness of advertising, the industry's goals are shifting from convincing consumers to providing for consumers. There are a number of ways to provide, of course, but the most compelling tend to either entertain or support.
Gaming can do both. If an activity is structured correctly, it can provide satisfaction (why else would you play?) and support (what do you win by playing?). Such activities are now being used for corporate training, environmental sustainability, and even email management, but one of my personal favorites is the Nike+ FuelBand. This tool tracks your every movement and translates your physical activity into points, thus encouraging you to be more active - a prime example of an experience that is at once enjoyable and beneficial.
The emergence of these types of consumer engagements should spotlight a specific opportunity for marketers: translate the elements of virtual gaming and transplant them in the physical space in a way that improves consumer's lives.
For brands, the prize will be well worth playing the game.