Gamifying Cause Marketing

On the heels of my posts on games and cause marketing in this space and at, people have been asking me about how so-called 'gamification' can be used in cause marketing.

Part of the answer has already been provided by Joe Waters (and others) in their coverage of Foursquare, which can be easily utilized in cause marketing.

Zynga and its suite of games have done meaningful cause marketing, notably for disaster relief in Haiti and Japan.

A handful of sites including (whose revenue model is based on advertising) offer donations to nonprofits based on how long you play standard faire.

Plus 3, a social networking site for people increasing their physical fitness does much the same, albeit with fewer gamified elements.

Big brands like Coke and General Mills have built games into their cause marketing strategies.

Even still, gamification and cause marketing are still basically at the Atari stage in their co-development. Pong was the start of video/computer games, not the finish. There is plenty of room for the growth of gamified cause marketing.

Gamifying something isn’t necessarily about technology. Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh can be ‘played’ on paper trading cards, for instance. Instead gamification relies on five basic elements according to Josh Bersin: Progression; Achievement and Rewards; Cascading Information; Countdown; Levels and Quests. Read Bersin’s intriguing column here.

What follows are some early thoughts.

One likely place for growth is in the arena of personal development software. Because of the ubiquity and power of small portable computers (aka smartphones) a raft of personal development software has emerged; Epic Win, Chore Wars, Super Better, and physical training apps like Nike+.

How would this work? Suppose you make a goal to give some combination of 10 percent of your time and money to good causes during the year. An app sponsored by the University of Phoenix, Gold’s Gym or the like would offer rewards to your favored cause as you meet and record your goals.

It would be a kind of matching donation.

Such an approach could be used within companies as well. As employees achieve certain milestones…sales results, training completion, customer satisfaction scores, and more… they might garner rewards not only for themselves but for a cause.

Bersin, for instance, notes that the Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain has an iPhone game that teaches its chefs how to assemble a hamburger. The elements of a proper burger start at the top of the screen and collapse to the bottom if you don’t stack them before the timer goes off. As you gain proficiency the game speeds up. Imagine, then, that as you pass levels in the chef’s game that a donation is triggered for Feeding America, one the company’s favored causes.

In the past TOMS Shoes has invited customers (at their own expense) to help it pass out shoes to needy children in the developing world.

Imagine a series of levels that such people can achieve as they go on TOMS Shoe trips, post pictures of the trips on Facebook, buy shoes, etc. I could conceive of a game whereby whenever certain of TOMS super-fans buy a pair, they trigger a donation of multiple pairs of shoes instead of the usual one pair.

In a like way, it would be possible to gamify customer retention efforts. The shopper card from your local supermarket could be a game that benefits, in part, a cause. Same with MyCokeRewards and its peers.

Certainly causes that have a strong promotional element like Movember could be gamified. Get your Movember Tweet retweeted to more than to more than 10,000 people and you get a special Movember badge, for instance. Certainly many variants are possible.

I can imagine, for example, that getting your Movember whiskers on local TV might be worth a special ‘Ron Burgandy’ badge (see above).

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