Gamification In Advertising: Delivery Sessions Interview with Damon Harman, Founder / Chief Content Officer / Brand Partnerships Strategy at Integrated Content

Gamification. It’s a very trendy word for advertisers right now. We’ve always thought of the world of gaming as a complete escape from the real world we live in, but lately, those worlds are starting to blend more creatively than ever before. 

So what does gamification really mean in terms of brand and consumer relationships? How are marketers turning their ads into game-like experiences that actually drive ROI? We sat down with Damon Harman, Founder, Chief Content Officer & Head of Brand Partnerships Strategy at Integrated Content, to get the answers. Here’s what he had to say about how gamification is changing the way we see — and play — with ads.

Tell us a little bit about what gamification is and how it’s infiltrating the advertising world?

To define it at a high level, it’s adding game theory and mechanics to things that are traditionally not a game. A lot of people are trying to figure it out through various approaches on different digital platforms, but in the live streaming space, it’s everything that we do. We’re taking this concept and trying to position brands as a supporter of content versus an interrupter.

And you can take this definition a couple of ways; it can be as literal as putting audiences into a virtual world where they are fully immersed into a customized reality. This is something we are currently exploring with Epic Games Fortnight Creator Mode where we have colleges building an Esports facility in their virtual realm. We are exploring a competition around this facility and the events it hosts virtually where the winning college gets a real budget from a sponsor to then build that facility on their actual campus.

On the flip side, it can mean making a game out of an ad experience by simply creating a challenge and offering a reward system, whether it’s a contest or a challenge. By establishing this social currency, you make the experience more valuable — even though it still looks like an ad.

Really, the definition of gamification itself is totally flexible right now.

What are some examples of how your company and other agencies are helping brands use gamification to elevate their digital marketing?

As a certified Twitch Expert and Partner Agency, we’re constantly exploring how a brand can be part of the overall experience. When we’re developing content for different shows, we’re thinking about how we can bring the audience into the live stream. You have polls and chats, but we’re taking that a step further. One of the ways we’re exploring this is through the creation of a digital overlay for the live streams that allows the viewers to play a mini-game as they watch.

If you google Procter and Gamble’s Charmin toilet paper campaign: “The Deuce Destroyer,” you’ll see what I mean. In this case, the goal was to get in front of the younger Millennials and Gen Z audience and promote a more healthy lifestyle through their bath tissue. A lot of gamers and content creators spend hours at a time streaming, so they looked for a way to give their viewers a game-like experience to keep them entertained while the creator took some personal time; and they used an overlay called a Twitch extension to do it. When the creator took a break, the viewers would see floating “poop” that presented moving targets they could strike with their “Deuce Destroyer,” aka Charmin toilet paper rolls. The campaign was the perfect way for P&G to support the content creator and their community, not simply by sponsoring them, but also by giving their audience value.

At Integrated Content, we are currently working with our client CSMG (Collegiate Sports Management Group) and Apple Music to build a curated playlist where all the music is chosen by the audience (i.e., college kids) through a voting system, and then we use that music to kickoff a dance competition with user generated content to win money for college. In order for them to participate and have a say in which songs are chosen. as well as enter the dance contest, they have to download a free Apple Music trial. Simply offering a free trial isn’t enough anymore; people want it attached to a cool experience, and if the experience can also bring them a reward, then they are more likely to engage.

Is there anything marketers should think about before exploring gamified advertising?

I think the biggest thing for us as an agency is finding clever ways to make these competitions come about naturally. I think the Ice Bucket Challenge was the first phase of this concept. It went viral because it presented a “challenge” (dumping cold ice on your head) and a reward (challenging others to do it and getting recognized for your accomplishment when they do).

In order to go viral, we always get marketers to think about the value their idea will bring to the community. Right now, we’re creating an American Idol-type show on Twitch with One True King, one of the largest groups of streamers on the platform. It’s designed to help give smaller streamers a boost by putting them in front of OTK’s audience to do their thing. So when partnering with Progressive as the show’s sponsor, we’re asking “what’s the main goal?” and “How do we achieve that goal by giving value to the community we’re trying to get in front of?”

I always tell brands that they have to be willing to get laughed at. These audiences want authenticity, so if you want to get in front of them in the right way, everything has to be “Meme-able” and “Clip-able” — meaning it has to be a moment viewers will remember and be willing to share as a form of social currency. Knowing about it and sharing it will elevate them inside their social circle which gives them that social value. And a lot of the time, that translates to a brand being turned into a parody or mini-game (e.g., the Deuce Destroyer). This type of content is strategic; it has the power to make them feel left out if they don’t see or share it.

What do you think the future of gamification in advertising looks like? What’s next?

There is so much untapped opportunity in this space, and I think augmented reality is where it is. The fact that we can blend the real world with an overlayed virtual one without having to be at a computer or TV screen is huge. We saw it take off with PokemonGo, where these worlds collided in public places and outside spaces, and that was just the start.

I think Apple will get us to the next phase of this soon with their wearables. In my mind, that means using technology to take the knowledge of how long it’s been since we last purchased a pair of shoes and our proximity to the mall to not only show us some available products, but also alert the salesperson who will have your size pulled by the time you get there. In the past, consumers would see an ad and choose whether or not to respond. But as brands start living within this virtual space, ads are now making us respond because of the experience they provide, and it’ll be exciting to see where this takes us — in every world.