Picture: 123RF / PSKOV
Picture: 123RF / PSKOV

Online gaming is a growing industry globally. According to futurist and game designer Jane McGonigal around 2.6bn gamers worldwide spend an average of an hour a day playing games online.

And don’t fall into the trap of thinking that gaming is a waste of time. “There something physically engaging about gaming,” said McGonigal, speaking at the BCX Disrupt Summit in Johannesburg last month. McGonigal designs alternative-reality games – taking real-life scenarios and reframing them as a game that she claims helps people deal with depression and pain – and is the game designer behind SuperBetter, a mobile app and web-based game. She says research has shown that gamers foresee something positive happening, and tend to stay engaged for longer in expectation of this positive outcome.

The big take-out: Online and mobile gaming has enormous potential for marketers wanting to engage with consumers for longer periods of time than a traditional ad takes, in a fun environment.

According to a 2016 Forrester report Chinese brands are engaging online “hyperconnected consumers” by leveraging mobile games to increase the effectiveness of their digital marketing performance.

Digitata Insights’ chief marketing officer, Henk Swanepoel, agrees with McGonigal that gaming breeds optimism, and says the medium has enormous potential for marketers wanting to engage with consumers for longer periods of time than a traditional ad takes, in a fun environment. “There is no doubt that online and mobile games offer brands the opportunity to connect more deeply with consumers,” he says.

“When consumers are exposed to a television ad the interaction is limited to around 30 seconds. The amount of time a consumer is exposed to the mobile games we produce typically varies between 35 and 45 minutes.”

Swanepoel says it’s been an uphill battle to get SA advertising agency executives to understand the opportunities gamification offers brands. “Agencies just aren’t getting it, but clients are starting to see the benefits,” he says.

Digitata Insights recently partnered with Unilever brand Sunlight on a mobile phone-driven gamification campaign focused on water-saving awareness that aims to result in the delivery of 120,000l of potable water to the drought-stricken Western Cape.

“The campaign relates to the re-engineering of Sunlight hand washing powder to include a ‘smart’ foam that reduces water usage by half. It has been designed to entrench proactive water wisdom by educating consumers through a mobile game,” reports Swanepoel. “We have created a game that can be downloaded on both feature and smart phones. Using the six top tips for domestic water saving, players move through a number of levels to earn points that can be converted to airtime. The game costs the players nothing except for a limited amount of battery usage. We’re using digital and washing powder technologies to embed greater water awareness.”

Swanepoel says that as mobile gamers progress through the Sunlight Smart Water Savers game, they collect digital buckets of water. The technology platform allows Unilever to be provided with accurate reports on the number of buckets collected. Unilever has pledged to match the litres represented by the buckets with the equivalent amount of water delivered to Western Cape communities.

“Given that gamers are typically engaged for far longer than in the case of a traditional ad, games allow a brand to communicate multiple messages over a longer time rather than only one or two messages [would take],” Swanepoel says. “It’s also fully measurable and provides marketers with very accurate data, which is why we’re so excited by the opportunities it offers brands.”