Gamification in Marketing: The Science of Having Fun

What do FitBit, Fantasy Football and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge have in common? They are all wildly popular and they share one powerful theme: Much of their success has been achieved by making their activity fun, interactive and engaging. It’s a tactic called gamification; taking an ordinary experience and introducing elements of play — such as point scoring, competition and rules that build community.

Earlier this month, Chempetitive Group sat down with Patrick Dwyer, a video game designer and professor at DePaul University in Chicago. It’s his field of expertise that businesses and marketers are drawing on to popularize products and services. Dwyer walked us through the principles behind outstanding gamification — principles we can apply to life science campaigns.

Gamification Basics

Most of us would agree that exercise is good for our health. However, a 2013 report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found only 20 percent of American adults get the recommended 2.5 hours of exercise per week. How can we motivate the other 153 million to start slugging it out at the gym?

Cue: FitBit and the expanding class of activity trackers. In their simplest form, they track the number of steps you take each day and set goals for improvement over time. You are then rewarded for reaching those goals and can share your success through social media, helping to motivate others. FitBit is exercise, gamified.

In a separate sector, Fantasy Football has gamified the experience of watching sports, making it engaging for fans even when their home team isn’t playing. At the heart of this gamification system is the idea of meaningful play. When a virtual team owner makes a move, such as drafting a certain player, it impacts everyone else in their league and the moves that they can make. A persistent engagement loop results as the game is changed by each participant, motivating fantasy team owners to study the players, set the best lineups, and get ahead of the play. Sharing the activity with people in your real life circles extends that meaning into everyday life.

However, fun is not the only component to consider. In order to make an activity compelling there must be a set of rules and engagement hooks that draw an emotional response. This approach underpins the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which became a viral success in the summer of 2014.

Social media organized and rallied people around a set of rules — pour a bucket of iced water on your head or donate $100 to charity. Participants felt compelled to participate as their community called upon them, a strong emotional pull. The novel, yet simple initiative reverberated around the world, without changing the basic rules and commitment to ALS.

Upping Your Life Science Game

As we have just learned, gamification is an innovative way to build buzz and promote interaction. So how can it be applied to the life science field? Many modern marketing campaigns naturally include features of gamification. Level up and add the finishing touches to yours…

Example: The Discovery Fast Track Challenge, an initiative by GlaxoSmithKline.

The Aim: To attract the attention of researchers worldwide, driving submissions for a scientific partnership with GSK.

Ideas at Play: The idea of a challenge plays on the competitive nature of researchers. As the popularity of the competition soared, the information passed from researcher to researcher and throughout academic institutes worldwide, building a sense of community participation.

Gamification Advanced: While this campaign was a clear success, not every project will naturally gain the traction required for viral growth. In these instances, extra layers of gamification can be added to engage your target audience. Consider adding more features of meaningful play. This might include real time rankings or public voting.

Gamification is a proven effective learning technique that has the ability to drive educational and marketing objectives for the betterment of the company and their clients. Now that you know what gamification is and how it works, bonus points can be gained by sharing this article broadly… well, maybe not. But keep having fun with life sciences.