NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- All the world's a game. Well, at least it could be.
Game evangelists paint a picture of a world where planning your retirement, studying for exams, donating to worthy causes and even clipping coupons can be made into a game that will engage consumers and make even the most mundane of tasks fun. It's a lofty goal, but it's the kind of thinking that could change the way marketers engage consumers -- making anything from perusing ads to comparing products to studying user manuals more, well, fun.
"The future of all marketing is games," said Gabe Zichermann, who coined the term "funware" to define the application of game-like qualities to non-games and is author of the upcoming book "WebPlay." "It's a big statement, but I stand behind it. We're entering an era where an entire generation of people has grown up with games. Anything that's not gaming is not fun and that presents a real problem from a marketing standpoint."
Marketers who have played around with the concept are finding that it can create loyal consumers, increase sales or user adoption and garner plenty of free media. Take, for example, Old Navy. In late February, the retailer launched OldNavyWeekly.com, a one-page microsite that houses the brand's circular, as part of its SuperModelquins campaign, created by Crispin Porter & Bogusky. What makes it different from your garden-variety Sunday circular is the interaction. Consumers are urged to click around to trigger hidden coupons -- pick up a pail and douse a SuperModelquin or shake a coconut out of a tree, for example -- and they are playing in droves.
It's notching major traffic for a microsite -- 673,000 unique visitors in March and 507,000 unique visitors in April, according to ComScore. But what's more impressive is the amount of time users are engaging with the ad: an average of three minutes in March and more than five minutes in April.
Louise Callagy, an Old Navy spokeswoman, said the retailer has been most surprised by the number of mommy bloggers and value-themed sites that have embraced the site without any formal outreach from the retailer. Internally, Old Navy tracked some 550 mentions, including Facebook conversations and blog posts in the first week the site was launched. (Sample message: "I figured out the $10 off of $50. You click on Kelly's belly when she has her hand on it!! It's in the video right after Eva says, 'This isn't the only cover-up around here,' they flash back to Kelly and she is holding her belly. Pause it and click on her belly!!")
Since then, the circular has received between 300 and 400 mentions per week, sparked each Thursday when the retailer updates the coupons. It certainly doesn't hurt that there are high-value coupons up for grabs, as much as $75 off purchases of $100 or more.
"Absolutely it's more interactive than a flat circular," Ms. Callagy said. "We can see that it's driving traffic to stores." She declined to specify redemption rates.
OldNavyWeekly.com is a prime example of funware, which can take the form of leader boards, challenges and levels of difficulty and presents users with a reward, either monetary or emotional, for participating.
For marketers, the intrigue in the concept is its measurability. Unlike advergaming, which Jay Krihak, senior partner-gaming innovation at Mediaedge:cia described as a "brand-stickiness play," funware should draw a clear line to sales or user adoption.
A casino operator, for example, knows the yield of a slot machine to a high degree of certainty, said Mr. Zichermann. A marketer placing a static billboard can't be as certain about what that ad will inspire consumers to do. "Where possible, I would, as a marketer, prefer to put a game in front of my users, because I'll get more predictability, more engagement, more time spent," he said. "Games are a powerful mechanism for manipulating user behavior."
Still, surprisingly few marketers have mastered the concept. Jordan Weisman, a serial entrepreneur who founded, among other game-centric firms, 42Entertainment, said it's been a slow process. Agencies have understood the idea, even if they didn't know how to execute it, but marketers have been wary. "[The issue] is twofold," he said. "Most agencies don't really have the skill set internally to develop the content, and clients are taking a while to get comfortable. It's something an older generation considers trivial, appropriate for a kids' brand but not a car brand."
But what's become clear, with the popularity of Nike Plus and Wii Fit, both of which would be considered funware since they make working out a game, is that it's not just for kids. Mr. Zichermann posits that early socialization and competitiveness make everyone receptive to gaming, regardless of their age, gender or socioeconomic status.
Indeed, for marketers to embrace Funware, they simply need to look at the world in a slightly different way. Mr. Weisman illustrated that on the spot, imagining a game that would make it fun to learn the ins and outs of a washing machine and compare models, eliminating the need to labor through complicated descriptions.
"I'm starting to see [funware] in so many different places," said Dean Takahashi, lead writer-digital media at VentureBeat, who has a long history covering gaming. "You see the world through a different lens; everything starts to look like funware. It's like a skateboarder looks at the world and sees opportunities for skateboarding, not rails and stairs."
Getting in on the gameOld Navy's not the only one making tasks fun by borrowing classic gaming motivators. Here are some others:
WHAT IT IS: By correctly answering questions related to vocabulary, math, geography or other subjects, users donate rice to the United Nations World Food Program. Each correct answer merits a donation of 10 grains of rice.
WHY IT'S FUNWARE: Users watch a bowl fill with rice as they correctly answer questions. The "progress bar" is a common gaming motivator. And users get the emotional reward of contributing to a good cause. Total donations are tracked by day, month and year.
WHAT IT IS: Students prepare for the GMAT and SAT in live games with other users. They can then review the games in detail to understand the questions they missed. Games for the ACT, LSAT, MCAT and GRE are expected to be live soon.
WHY IT'S FUNWARE: Users all start out as beginners and gain status as they answer questions correctly, aspiring to the level of expert. Two leader boards rank users, one based on the number of questions answered correctly and another based on helpfulness to other users.
WHAT IT IS: A way for Google to improve the quality of its image-search results by tapping the brainpower of volunteers. Users are paired with an online partner to provide as many labels as possible in two minutes. They earn points when they come up with the same label.
WHY IT'S FUNWARE: It's a competition, making a game out of the mundane task of labeling images. It also has two leader boards, one tracking the day's top pairs and the other tracking all-time top contributors.
WHAT IT IS: A personal-finance website that consolidates user's accounts and helps them budget, pay off debt and manage investments.
WHY IT'S FUNWARE: Graphs and charts allow users to play with their finances, and a status bar tracks users' "financial fitness." One feature allows users to compare spending habits with others' around the country -- do you spend less on dining out than the average consumer in, say, Columbus, Ohio?
WHAT IT IS: A mobile application that allows drivers to find the quickest routes from Point A to Point B. It uses smartphones to anonymously send information about users' location and speed, creating a detailed map of the area.
WHY IT'S FUNWARE: It's both social and competitive, allowing users to report information, such as accidents or police traps and map new routes. Users are ranked using a point system, based on the reliability of their information.