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China 2015: BRAND BUILDING BEST PRACTICES | Gamification

Favorable factors will converge in 2015

Eden Chen
Training Manager Ogilvy & Mather, China
Jane Liu
Training Manager Ogilvy & Mather, China

In collaboration with Lynn Liang, Freelance Researcher and Theresa Loo, National Training Director 

Gamification is the use of game mechanics and experience design in non-game environments to motivate and engage people to achieve their goals. Gamification is powerful because it drives fundamental human motivations, such as social needs (collaboration), esteem needs (status) and self-actualization needs (altruism).

Gamification is not a new concept in marketing. Brands have been using it for many years, as in frequent flyer programs (game points) and “star employee of the month” (leader boards). What

is new, and transforming, is that gamification is now being played out in a digitally connected world and it can achieve immense scale. Consider the recent ASL Ice Bucket Challenge. People poured iced water over their heads to raise money for a charity that fights degenerative muscle disease.

The viral phenomenon started in the US, and people in countries around the world participated within a short time.

The 2014 Gartner’s Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, which maps the lifecycle of technology trends, puts gamification in the disillusionment stage, a low point, which is a true reflection of where gamification is at in China. There has been much misunderstanding and misuse of gamification. A lot of the endeavors to gamify have been half-hearted and piecemeal adjustments, bolting simple game mechanics here and there onto marketing programs. Marketers have also failed to utilize the huge amount of data generated by games to do real-time optimization.

A few converging trends, we believe, will reenergize gamification for the Chinese market. China has a strong gaming culture that is getting more widespread by the day.
The number of Chinese gamers has reached 495 million and annual sales revenue of games and gaming has already climbed up to ¥83.17 billion ($13.7 billion). The rapid development of mobile games has 215 million gamers playing online via mobile phones and 84 percent of them play more than 10 minutes a day. Demographically, the post-90s generation is beginning to move into mainstream. These are digital natives who grew up with computer games. Motivating them using the language and rules of games will be more relevant. 

Gamification offers lots of potential that marketers have not fully explored, and 2015 will be the year when all the favorable factors come together. It would be worthwhile for marketers to reboot their gamification efforts. Here are a few tips and examples: 


The advancement of mobile technology allows games to be played anytime and anywhere. Tying mobile technology with location-based information to create activities or offers for consumers are huge opportunities for gamification.

McDonald’s collaborated with the Baidu Map mobile app to launch Sakura Run to promote its new sakura ice cream cone. When a consumer was within three miles of a McDonald’s restaurant the app calculated the distance between the consumer’s current location and the nearest McDonald’s. A running time appeared on the screen together with a melting sakura ice cream icon. If the consumer raced and arrived at the store before the ice cream melted completely, he or she won a free sakura cone. Consumers commented on social media that the promotion created more excitement than the launch of iPhone 6. 


Gamification and social media have a symbiotic relationship. People choose to play to be with friends or because of friends’ recommendations. Gamified solutions should be linked to social media sites to amplify achievements by spurring encouragement, collaboration and competition. This allows a brand to cultivate a relationship with not just a consumer alone, but with the consumer’s circle of friends.

During Chinese New Year in 2014, Tenpay, the online payment platform of the
Internet portal Tencent, recruited users by introducing a red packet game on WeChat. Consumers could send red packets to friends once they tied their debit/credit card to their WeChat account. Consumers had the option of appointing a total designated amount and the number of friends to receive red packets, but the amount of money in each red packet was randomly assigned. The element of chance, as a game mechanic in this game, largely increased the level of excitement. The game helped Tenpay recruit more than eight million users within two weeks. 


With increasing proliferation of data and the capability to analyze them, brands can now learn more about which points on the customer journey are important or problematic. Deploying gamification mechanics at critical points of the purchase pathway can allow brands to “reroute” the customer journey or improve brand experiences, thus creating a virtuous loop from awareness to post-purchase evaluation.

Smart Car found that consumers spent too much time between considering a Smart Car and actually purchasing one. By deploying flash sale as game mechanics, Smart Car created a sense of urgency via “seckill,” a type of sale that creates a buying frenzy because merchandise
is available for a strictly limited amount of time. This approach, derived from an online game, shortens the purchase decision time, cutting out asking friends’ opinions and visiting physical and online stores. The approach worked for Smart Car, which sold 200 cars in less than three-and- a-half hours in 2010. Smart Car has deployed gamification in its ecommerce ever since. The most recent success was selling 388 cars in three minutes on WeChat in 2014.


There is a propensity to spend money in a gaming environment; 34 percent of Chinese mobile gamers are willing to spend money, albeit in small amounts, in games. If brands can integrate their products (real or virtual) into a gamified system, then there are opportunities to sell to consumers while they are in a gaming mood.

Tsingtao adopted a game + social + ecommerce program on WeChat and introduced fun to an otherwise mundane beer-buying process. Consumers played a game called “Everyone making beer,” in which Tsingtao weaved beer- making technology into the game and guided gamers through the beer-making process.

The virtual beer made in the game could then be shared with friends or redeemed as a free beer on Tsingtao’s WeChat ecommerce site when consumers make beer purchases, thus completing the O2O, online-to-offline loop.