Gamified Advertising: What work and What doesn’t?

Technological advances are changing how consumers interact with brands. Nowadays, millions of millennials engage with gaming everyday. Hence, advertisers are thinking of gaming as an innovative solution to reach consumers.

That’s when we welcome the born of a new term “Gamified Advertising”.

When done right, gamified advertising can bring about brilliant and impactful outcomes for our advertising campaign. Let’s have a look at how Nike and its Nike+Fuel app connect with its customers through gamification.


Appealing to people’s competitiveness and desire to measure their own progress, Nike+ created an application where runners can track their activities, share their training results on social media and compare with people around the world. It is more exciting when runners are rewarded with trophies and badges after they complete different levels and they can share their awards on social media. The campaign is great because it successfully communicates Nike’s brand essence and increase Nike’s presence to a wider range of audience.

gamified ad

However, not everyone joining the gamification race can be the winner, even the big companies with great marketing reputation.

In 2010, Google introduced Google News Badges, which rewarded users with more than 500 types of badges based on the number of articles they read. The more they read and share google news with friends, the higher level they can achieve within the game. However, did this really motivate people to read more articles on Google News? Earning badges for reading is not incentive enough for readers to engage with the game. And in this context, it is an irrelevant effort which distracts users from their reading purpose rather than keeping them engaged.

Why some Gamified Advertising are heap with praise while the others are epic failures?

There’s a lack of motivation. In a study about motivational effects of gamification in product advertising, Bittner and Schipper (2014) argue that if people don’t engage with your gamification projects, it’s because they aren’t motivated enough to do so. “Intrinsic motivational incentives” (e.g. avatars, storyline, choices and feeling connected) need to be combined with “extrinsic incentives” (points, bonuses and leaderboards) because they
create flow and enjoyment for the gamified ads. If the gamified ad is not designed with basic human motivations in mind, just like the Google News Badges, the users probably think of it as a force or a “to-do list”, and they don’t want to engage.

It’s not tied to strategy/business goals.  A research conducted by Gartner reveals that 80 percent of current gamified applications will fail to meet business objectives. The author argues that some companies are blinded by novelty and hype when executing gamification advertising projects. They focus too much on game mechanics, such as meaningless points, badges, etc., and create poorly designed gamified applications which can’t engage the target audience. Many companies forget that gamification is the use of game mechanics to engage with target audiences and influence their behaviors (e.g. generate real purchases, build brand community, generate consumers’ interaction with the brand).  It is important to think of the target audience as people with needs and desires.

This reminds me of what Roman, Maas and Nisenholtz (2003) argue in their book ‘How to Advertise’ as major points of an advertising strategy:

  • What is our objectives? (or What action do we want the consumers to take?)
  • Who are we talking to? (A clear portrait of the target audience)
  • What is the key consumer benefit and core idea?
  • What is the reason for consumer to believe what we say?
  • What should our tone and manner be? (p.13)

Even though an ad concept can be implemented across various media (e.g. Outdoor, Ambient, Direct response, TV, Digital, Social, Gamification), advertisers always need to keep the advertising strategy in mind. This will be a useful guidance to keep us focus on the final goals during the creativity process.


Bittner, J. V., & Schipper, J. (2014). Motivational effects and age differences of gamification in product advertising. The Journal of Consumer Marketing, 31(5), 391-400.

Roman, K., Maas, J., & Nisenholtz, M. (2003). How to Advertise : What Works, What Doesn’t – and Why / Kenneth Roman & Jane Maas with Martin Nisenholtz.


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