How to win at gamification with augmented reality marketing

How to win at gamification with augmented reality marketing

Gamification has quickly become one of the most exciting marketing strategies for brands that seek out a competitive edge. By applying game design elements to real-life contexts, gamification allows you to engage consumers better than with traditional advertisements.

Yet, something seems to be missing in most gamification strategies. Marketers typically employ game elements in purely digital environments, for example by letting consumers earn badges for participating in online communities. However, classic games such as Monopoly and Chess share one thing in common — a game board.

With no tangible game board to play on, consumers’ gamification experience is often limited to a screen and their imagination.

Augmented reality (AR) can fix that by transforming the world into a living game board.

AR provides a playing board for gamification strategies

Augmented reality displays virtual information on the physical environment. I have been researching augmented reality for a while now and described many ways how AR allows marketers to create exciting customer experiences that engage customers better than traditional advertising or even typical experiential marketing campaigns.

In addition to boosting experiential marketing, emotional branding and customized selling, augmented reality can also bring gamification to a whole new level.

How? Gamification strategies rely on customer engagement. And with the help of augmented reality, marketers can design “immersive experiences that maximize customer engagement.”

Digging deeper into AR gamification

In 2015, USA Network used gamification with a campaign for their latest murder mystery television release, Dig. In addition to traditional marketing strategies, the campaign also introduced the custom “Dig Decoder” mobile application. This app used augmented reality to bring online, print, and outdoor advertisements to life.

Using the Dig Decoder app, consumers looked through the app’s viewfinder over specific areas embedded in the marketing collateral of Dig’s larger campaign. Consequently, this unlocked hidden clues.

You can see the campaign in action by clicking on the video below:


Without augmented reality elements, USA Network’s Dig Decoder would limit users to earning invisible badges and climbing digital leaderboards. Adding augmented reality, however, developed a more compelling campaign that brought gamification to life.

So what are some best practices to keep in mind while designing an AR gamification strategy for your own brand?

Winning plays with gamification

The Dig campaign included a few elements that are essential to great AR experiences.

Dig decoder brought gamification to life with AR.

  1. Leverage brand meanings:​ Dig’s AR campaign was consistent with its show’s brand. As television viewers became hooked on the gripping storyline, USA Network gave the viewing community another outlet explore the show. The game allowed viewers to further step into the shoes of characters and help solve the mystery.
  2. Develop a brand community: H​aving a single location for the Dig community to visit in between aired episodes generated large amounts of engagement. Viewers could interact with the Dig brand and engage with fellow community members. This variety of engagement extends the reach of a campaign ultimately draws in more users.

Weaving augmented reality features into the existing gamification strategy allowed users to fully immerse themselves in solving the mystery. New opportunities for unlocking exclusive digital content and 3-D animations lurked at every turn.

In short: Augmented reality tactics put consumers in the center of the story.

How you can incorporate AR

Marketers can also learn from USA Network’s mistakes.

Brands looking to utilize augmented reality must clearly define the goal of their campaign. ​If the goal is brand awareness, the AR content should be as easily accessible as possible. For example, using the AR magic mirror paradigm that uses public screens to display AR content (see Pepsi’s example here) would be a good choice, since it requires no further actions by users to enter the AR experience.

When the goal is to raise brand awareness, AR content should be automatically accessible

Dig, on the other hand, required users to search and download the custom smart phone app to view the hidden clues. Current fans of the show would be willing to do that, but not those who aren’t hooked yet.

USA Network could have maximized brand awareness if they added “brand‐triggered” content in a public setting, in addition to “self‐triggered” content served through the smart phone app. T​he​ Walking Dead campaign described in my previous article utilized a public setting to engage bystanders. Running a simultaneous campaign in public settings would therefore extend the reach of the campaign.

In other words: Don’t shy away from using more than one AR paradigm when designing your campaign. Taking a multi-paradigm approach allows you to achieve several goals (e.g., awareness, engagement, community building) at once.

In conclusion: AR gamification creates better games

Adopting a gamification strategy hooks consumers and ignites their competitive spirit. Through game‐like features, marketers are able to develop a riveting environment that fosters strong consumer engagement.

Augmented reality creates more lifelike gamification campaigns

Adding augmented reality fuels this fire e​ven further​ by adding more immersive customer experiences. Integrating augmented reality into a gamification strategy allows marketers to play a winning hand and captivate audiences like never before. But to be successful, brands m​ust ​clearly define and execute the goals of their campaigns through one or more fitting AR paradigms.

If done properly, augmented reality is able to transform a traditional marketing campaign to a game‐winning customer engagement experience.

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The author thanks Jessica Castellanos and Piper Wright for their contributions to an earlier version of this article.
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