How Digital has Transformed Gamification in the Sales Promotion Space

It's time to PLAY the game

Engagement. It’s the holy grail that every self-respecting brand seeks. A cereal brand doesn’t just want shoppers to pick its product off the shelf, consume it and not give it a second thought until the next time.

It doesn’t want a purely transactional relationship.

It wants to get under your skin. It wants to connect on a deeper level. It wants you to spend quality time with it. Ultimately, it wants to be your brand of choice going forward, developing a relationship that means you won’t consider a rival brand, but that means you will be curious about its other products.

In short, it wants monogamy. Cereal monogamy, not serial monogamy.

But how do brands achieve such engagement?

They have to make you curious, they have to challenge you, they have to reward you, they have to afford you status. They have to play the game. Or rather, you do.


That's why the ancient art of gamification has returned to the sales promotion fold in recent years. It is an age-old truth that people like to play. They like to compete, and they like to win.

Brands have long known that this is an effective way to a consumer’s heart. Think Green Shield Stamps, which rewarded shoppers with money off at certain retailers in the 1960s and 70s. Or collecting tokens on crisp packets in the 1980s, in return for a t-shirt adorned by Paul Young. Brands know that incentivising consumers prompts engagement, excitement, a sense of belonging.


McDonalds was one early pioneer. In 1987 it launched its Monopoly game, which ultimately encouraged customers to try different foods from its menu – and of course, to spend more. Certain products rewarded people with stickers which represented a property on the Monopoly board game.

These stickers were stuck to a paper Monopoly board. Once all the pieces of the same colour-coded properties were collected, the consumer was eligible for a prize. And it was big money, with $40m available in cash and prizes even in its first year.


The McDonalds Monopoly promotion has proved so successful that it's still running in 2016. This is largely because the company had the foresight to transfer the hugely popular concept into the digital world in 2007. The shift online enabled customers to add their stickers to a virtual game board from mobile devices by entering a unique code.

It means the same simple idea still applies but, critically, the fast food brand has responded to changing consumer behaviour and changing demands. 


In 2015, the social campaign created around the promotion was just as successful. Conceived by The Marketing Store, the content included Vines, 3D GIF’s and a Chicken McNuggets instant win post which generated an engagement rate of 18.4%. The post also gained over 1,700 retweets and 1,100 favourites.

Social media provides a potent way to amplify a sales promotion. Done well, with bespoke content that is anchored tightly to the core idea of the promotion itself, and tailored to the specific platform, social media can certainly take a sales promotion to the next level.

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While the principles of gaming remain the same, technology has enabled a whole host of new mechanics. It means sales promotions can use gamification in a much richer, more scalable, and immediate way.

Weetabix was one of the first brands to run a successful sales promotion with online gamification at its heart. It might seem commonplace now, but it was quite a gamble in 2002!

The cereal brand created a fictional Weetabix House, looked after by Fred the security guard and Doris the housekeeper.  Each of the six rooms in the house was represented on a different pack design.

Consumers could find a code inside the promotional boxes and enter it on the website.  If the code was a winning one, Fred would grant them entry to the house, inviting them to go in and peruse what was on offer.

And Weetabix didn’t skimp on the prizes, which totalled £1m. Goodies ranged from a Dyson washing machine to a Smeg fridge freezer and a Playstation 2 (top of the line back then!), not to mention a number of Vauxhall Astra SXIs, tucked away in the virtual garage.

It was an arguably simple concept, albeit backed up by a hefty budget - but it's one of the first examples of a promotion marrying on-pack and online.

And it worked:

  • The promotion increased Weetabix sales by 7% (a Weetabix record).
  • Average weight of purchase also increased by 7%.
  • The game generated more than 730,000 entrants.
  • Each entrant spent an average of eight minutes on the site.
  • Each entrant viewed an average of seven pages.


But it doesn’t mean that simply embedding the principles of gamification and taking the initiative online will ensure the success of a sales promotion.  Any sales promotion has to start with clear business objectives, and clearly identified KPIs.

Once brands have identified the purpose of the sales promotion, it's imperative to get the creative idea right. It has to be on brand, and it has to talk to the target audience and really resonate with consumers. It has to demonstrate that the brand knows what motivates people. And it also has to be a little bit different.

Gamification mechanics can then be used to bring this alive, introducing elements such as competition, play and reward into the equation.


Of course, the sophistication of digital technology and the ubiquity of smartphones has opened many more doors to brands when it comes to being creative with gamification.

Consider the following gaming mechanics, all enabled by technology:

  • Virtual currency: such as Starbucks Stars, which can later be exchanged for drinks and food
  • Progress bars: which show how far in the game or process a user is, keeping them engaged and interested
  • Gifting: enabling consumers to share their points or assets with a friend at the click of a button, promoting the feel good factor and spreading the word
  • Customisation: allowing consumers to create an avatar, for example, which expresses their own personality and makes them feel valued
  • Locked content: incentivising users to complete a task to access unique video or music content, for example
  • Leaderboards: giving real-time updates on winning players or most loyal consumers, fuelling the competitive instinct


Perhaps one of the best known examples of a brand leveraging technology to engage users through gamification is Nike.

The NikeFuel campaign was launched in 2012 as part of the sportswear giant’s Nike+ community, whose training products are digitally linked using the Nike+ FuelBand. The campaign appealed to the human competitive instinct in its rawest sense, encouraging users to compete against others all over the world.

Users collect ‘NikeFuel’ points depending on how much physical activity they undertake, and an app on their phone keeps a tally of their points – and their ranking in the Nike+ community.

This is a great example of an ongoing campaign that keeps a brand’s users engaged and motivated. It taps into their core interest – and the community does the rest. Because users are also encouraged to share their activities on social media it is self-perpetuating, which is really powerful.


Whether for ongoing initiatives or short term sales campaigns, gamification can have a meaningful impact.

Take a look at Dorset Cereals’ series of collect and win initiatives. Consumers simply collect virtual tokens by playing the mini-games on the site.

Spin to Win, for example, sees a virtual milk bottle hurtle round and round to the convincing sound of glass on slate. If it stops on a prize or a token, you are quids in. If it comes to rest on ‘lose’, you try again. The virtual tokens can be exchanged for money off cereals or redeemed at one of its partner sites.

Yeo Valley takes a similar stance with its virtual fruit machine, activated with just a click to be in with the chance of winning the prize of the fortnight. As with Dorset Cereals, even losing consumers are motivated to keep coming back because they can still collect ‘Yeokens’ for their efforts.

Of course, both Dorset Cereals and Yeo Valley require consumers to share their email addresses in return for the fun. And data is a hugely valuable asset to every brand. But that's another story!


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