Companies looking to promote their brands are turning to websites that use elements of games to try to capture consumers’ attention and loyalty in ways that traditional advertising can’t. These sites offer people rewards for completing tasks or stage competitions between users to encourage repeat visits. Over time, the sites hope to reinforce behaviors that benefit advertisers, such as watching a particular television program or making purchases.
Entertainment companies have been prominent adopters. For example, for the USA Network’s television show Psych, the startup Bunchball helped build Club Psych on the show’s official website. It rewards fans who sign in, browse though photo galleries, or play mini-games online. In those games they can earn points that can be spent on virtual items that make their “room” on the site resemble the main characters’ office, or on physical Psych-related merchandise. USA Network used Bunchball’s technology in a smart-phone app that is meant to be used while the show is broadcast, rewarding viewers with more points.
The Psych website’s page views have jumped to 16 million from nine million per month, and the average time people spent on the site in one sitting has increased to 22 minutes from 14, increasing the site’s attractiveness to advertisers. Club Psych was an important part of a broader marketing campaign that included a tour of college campuses that featured members of the cast and writing team, and which led to a 40 percent boost in viewership among 18-to-34-year-olds.
For networks that don’t want to build such complex websites, another company, GetGlue, has created a social network that lets people “check in” to their favorite television shows, movies, and music. They can earn rewards for checking in a certain number of times. User activity on GetGlue can be automatically posted to Twitter or Facebook; GetGlue says its members are typically responsible for about 30 percent of tweets about a television show when a new episode airs. And such social-network activity appears to correspond with a show’s success: a report from NM Incite (a joint venture of Nielsen and McKinsey) said that among people aged 18 to 34, a 14 percent increase in online buzz about an ongoing show corresponds to a 1 percent increase in ratings.
Non-entertainment companies, from fast-food chains and retailers to health-care providers and technology companies, are exploring gamified branding as well. BigDoor, a Seattle startup that builds gamelike behaviors into clients’ websites and tracks the rewards programs, asks new clients to get very specific about their business goals. Do they want to drive people to a specific section of a site? Encourage people to leave comments? Get them to share something on Facebook or Twitter? Then BigDoor figures out who the client’s community or customers are and what could really motivate them.