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Gamification, Buzz Marketing, & BullSh*t


Global brands are injecting gamification into their marketing & sales strategies; is gamification a user-product engagement technique or a brand building tool? Is it both? Or is it bullsh*t?

Nike was one of the first to gamify a product to leverage consumer sales when they partnered with Apple to create Nike + (partnering with Apple=always a good idea.) In case you’ve been living in outer space, Nike+ tracks data about your workout via a chip in your Nike+ sneaks and syncs up with your computer. Once you’ve got your stats on your computer you can publish them online in the online Nike+ community; here users can share workout stats with friends or strangers, challenge other users, & set and track personal fitness goals. If you reach a goal or accomplishment, there are badges and awards that you get to rock on your user profile.

What was really smart was how Nike socialized the gamification aspect of Nike+; people love the interactive nature of the Nike+ community, and they all share 2 things in common: (1) They own Nike+ sneakers and (2) they’re physically active. What this gives Nike what Seth Godin would call a tribe.  Nike has collected a slice of their target market interacting with each other in one space that they can monitor– a very valuable marketing tool.

Since social interactions & competition between users provides 90% of the gamified experience that makes Nike+ popular, Nike doesn’t have to do much to keep users actively engaged– they engage each other. Sure, maybe they add a new kind of reward badge or feature every now and then to spice things up, but for the most part, it’s a self-sustaining entity (as long as the Nike+ community still has a large enough user base.)

Red Bull
Companies like Red Bull have leveraged gamification as a consumer marketing strategy– buy a certain number of Red Bulls, collect codes on the cans, enter them online, and a custom race track game is generated for you. The reward incentive of this campaign drives users to the Red Bull website. It only takes 10 seconds on to see that this website is oozing with brand identity; it’s littered with interactive games, extreme sports videos, and images of Sean White and X games plastered all over the place– we’re talking media everywhere you look, and in the back of your eyelids when you blink. is selling a young, fast paced lifestyle way more than an energy drink. End point: they know their target market & they’re using gamification to convert customers into product evangelists. Here, gamification is the bait used to attract & feed a bigger marketing concept.

The chain is: Buy Product-> Play Web Game-> Visit Website-> get sucked into brand lifestyle & media-> become a customer evangelist, sharing Red Bull media across the web.

Microsoft Power Point has a very different audience from Red Bull, and they too are leaning on gamification to leverage user engagement.  From 1997-2007, there was Clippy, a game Microsoft created that helped users learn to use Microsoft Word & PowerPoint in a fun interactive game-like setting.  Sometime this past spring, Microsoft revived Clippy in the form of Ribbon Hero— a free, downloadable add on for Microsoft Office suite programs that uses gamification to encourage dynamic use of PowerPoint, word, etc. When you complete new tasks and use new features, you progress to new levels in Ribbon Hero. I’ve heard that it also “unlocks” secret features like video/animation for PowerPoint presentations. I can’t tell you much more about it since I’m a Mac user & Ribbon Hero is only available for Windows 7/Vista and XP.

A week or two ago I posted a (mostly visual) blog about Google logo designs; featured in that post was a Google logo design that resembled a guitar.  This Google logo design certainly caught my attention at the time because it was interactive– rolling over the logo design played guitar chords, accurately and intricately enough for users to create & record music, a service that it afforded.  Google was using gamification for media & branding purposes– more to create buzz than to sustain any kind of long term business strategy or goal.  As far as I’m concerned, if that’s what they were going for, it worked, because we all noticed it, were delighted by it for the first few minutes, and shared it with others.

I’ve noticed that typically, when gamification is (successfully) integrated into a sales/marketing campaign, it uses social sharing and/or user-to-user interaction as a way to promote a brand.  We typically think about gamification as a strategy for driving user-product engagement, but these instances show us that it can be used as a great “buzz” tool to spur word of mouth marketing & customer evangelism.

Author Alex Stetson

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