If there’s one thing every brand wants more of, it’s reach. Clients are constantly looking for new ways to grow their user base or expand their target audience. But in a world overwhelmed by marketing messages, consumers have become acutely aware of when they are being marketed to. This skepticism and inundation have made it increasingly difficult for marketers to connect with new audiences.

To reach new markets, you have to give consumers a reason to act, or they’ll quickly move on to the next marketing message. You have to dangle the carrot, so to speak. One of the most effective ways to engage new consumers is to reward them for their actions, be it with a prize, discount, recognition, etc. 

What we’re really talking about here is gamification, or the practice of applying traditional gaming principles to other activities to encourage consumer participation. While many people tend to think of gamification marketing as a modern practice (the term wasn’t even coined until 2003), the idea of offering incentives to motivate consumers isn’t a novel one. Loyalty programs, sweepstakes, and other similar tactics have been doing just that for decades. And for good reason, these tactics work. Take a previously apathetic consumer, offer them something of value, and suddenly you have their attention.

Evolving Gamification Marketing Strategies

Gamification isn’t new, but it is evolving. As a general rule of thumb, all marketing innovations lose their novelty over time. When American Airlines introduced the first frequent flyer program in 1981, it revolutionized the way consumers interacted with airlines. Today, consumers have come to expect rewards when they travel. It has even become standard practice among credit card companies. While still effective, this method of gamification has lost its differentiating power. A frequent flyer program may help an airline engage its current audience, but it’s not going to help it stand out among competitors or attract new consumers.

The basic principles of gamification are still as relevant and effective today as they were 40 years ago, but our execution methods must evolve. Changes in consumer habits, culture, and technology demand it. 

We saw a huge transformation in gamification when smartphones entered the market in the early 2000s. Suddenly, we could carry the digital world in our pockets and access it at any time. People became more connected, marketers had more tools at their disposal, and digital gaming took off. It’s no coincidence that the iPhone and the first online gamification phenomenon launched within the same year. New technology, as it often does, created a vast new world for consumers, and marketers to explore. 

Level Up Your AR Gamification in Marketing

Today, we stand at a similar technological turning point. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) allow us to manipulate the world in ways we previously only imagined. If smartphones gave us the tools to escape from reality into the digital space, AR enhances our reality by merging the physical and digital worlds. This makes the practice of gamification that much more exciting and engaging. The entire world becomes a game board.   

We’ve only recently begun to understand the opportunities AR presents for marketers. Until 2016, the consumer-facing applications of AR technology were rather limited, being used primarily by car manufacturers to provide virtual step-by-step repair assistance. Then, Pokémon GO made its wildly successful debut, demonstrating the mass-market appeal of AR for the very first time. Marketers have been trying to replicate this success ever since, finding new ways to apply the popular gaming principles of Pokémon GO to marketing applications. 

Successes in AR: A Slam Dunks for Sports

In the years since Pokémon GO, many of the most successful AR marketing applications have been achieved by sports brands and leagues. And not surprisingly so. 

  1. Sports have a large, diverse, loyal, and young fan base, one that is receptive to experimenting with new technologies.
  2. Sports have a rich physical environment, offering lots of opportunities for augmentation. 
  3. Sports offer a treasure trove of information that can be communicated through AR. 
  4. Sporting leagues have the resources necessary to invest in AR technology. 

Through AR applications like At Bat, AR Sports, and NBA AR Basketball, the sports industry has uncovered new ways to create a more immersive experience for fans. And other companies are taking notice, partnering with sports brands to test the waters of AR and tap into their loyal fan base.

American Express is an excellent example of a brand that has done just that. At the 2018 US Open, the financial company sponsored an AR activation in which Venus Williams provided fans with tennis tips that they could then apply by hitting virtual tennis balls at actual targets using 3D-printed racquet controllers. The experience served to promote the brand’s Amex Band contactless payment product, which was available on-site. 

Everyday AR Gamification

While not all brands have the resources to launch an AR application of this magnitude, the beauty of AR is its ability to transform any experience into something extraordinary. Marketers don’t need big-name partners, high-profile events, or astronomical budgets to create an immersive, gamified brand experience. 

Let’s look at a smaller scale, yet equally effective example of AR gamification. As part of a family-focused campaign, Pizza Hut’s “Dive into the Pizza Hut world” AR experience invited consumers to compete in a trivia challenge for the chance to win “100’s of Family Days Out.” All users had to do was download the app and scan their box to unlock the trivia challenge and other exclusive content. The simple execution offered a clear incentive for captivating consumers and complemented the brand’s larger campaign aimed at bringing families together.

Just One Piece of the Puzzle

This brings us to our final, and possibly most important, point. Successful AR only works when used in tandem with your other marketing efforts. Occasionally, clients, and, yes, even marketers, can get caught up in the excitement of new technology and put all their eggs in one AR basket. 

A gamified AR experience can be an incredibly effective tool for reaching new audiences, but at the end of the day, it is just that: a tool. Will AR capture consumer attention? Yes. Will it foster brand loyalty and continue to engage? Probably not. 

To accomplish these long-term goals, AR needs to be supported by other marketing tactics. Think about using your AR experience to capture a user’s email, then continue to reach them with additional messages later on. Or create an AR experience with various levels of engagement that you can use to retarget and re-engage users later on. Strategies like these will help move your new audience down the funnel. 

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