Gamification: Why HK campaigns are hitting peak playtime

In recent years, an increasing number of campaign descriptions have included claims of reaping the benefits from some form of gamification. But beyond the buzzword value, what worth does gamification present to Hong Kong’s marketing scene? Rick Boost speaks with two agencies who have won awards using it.

Rules of the game

“I really don’t think gamification is something new, in APAC, or in the world,” says Penny Chow, managing director at Reprise HK.

In the past year, the Reprise team has had notable success using gamification to great effect in campaigns for Nike and Coca-Cola. But Chow thinks the industry has a major misconception about the term.

“There is a very big misunderstanding where people think gamification means a game or gaming,” she says.

“In the past, people asked, ‘what is gamification?’, and other people would say ‘you use games to amplify something’. That means the gaming tactic or execution can help you to achieve something. If you ask me, I would say gamification has now become an advertising or marketing tool, that in itself, is different from many other strategies we are using.”

Like many in the industry, she believes people have become hung up on the tech connotations of the term and vehemently reminds Marketing that gamification predates smartphones, AR, and VR.

The toys may have changed, but old standards such as loyalty schemes, vouchers, and point collecting all included game elements long before their digital facelift.

“Marketers have always used gamification to engage with their consumers when there is something not easy to be engaged by,” she says.

That wisdom aside, it’s still undeniable that a growing number of agencies are using a vast array of digital capabilities to bring elements from the world of gaming to the fore of their campaigns. “I think gamification is not just in your face, it’s in your head. It makes an emotional connection with the audience and leads to a longer relationship, not just simple brand awareness,” says Alco Ho, chief creative officer at Webs s’up.

He also supplies a reason for the sudden gamification push.

“Campaigns are no longer a sustainable form of marketing because consumers are getting smarter. They are blind to traditional advertisements. In order to reach the heart of our target audience, we need to incorporate fun and an element of competition to a marketing strategy.”

Ho posits his own definition of gamification as an integration of brand promotion via challenges and rewards. So, for example, a standard free product giveaway with a thematic relevance with the brand can be better promoted through contests.

“It triggers a sense of achievement and makes use of the competitive nature in people, encouraging them to visit the brand app/ website even more, just because they enjoy it,” he says.

Chow, likewise, believes games tap into something buried deep in our collective psyches.

“When we played games when we were young we got engaged because we wanted to achieve more, we wanted to see more, and we wanted to accumulate more. So I think it’s playing with the psychology or mindset of consumers.”

All the pieces matter

Producing a gamification-focused campaign looks like a dauntingly complicated proposition in a digital world full of information and constant updates. Yet, it’s because of that environment that Ho believes the key to success is dumbing things down.

“Keep things easy, simple and fun. What’s the main point of gamification. How to net people? So make it easy to win, with a simple game structure, and user-friendly. Make attractive content where every user can feel like a champion. Who wouldn’t like that?”

Ting Shie, team head for the social and content team at Webs s’up, urges marketers to resist the allure of complexity and, instead, advocates going with a basic approach to drive a brand into people’s minds.

Shie says: “We want to make it stupid. Simplicity is about patience. You don’t have that patience to figure out how to play. You want to figure it out instantly or within seconds, then it will attract the user to play it or even share it afterwards.”

That is one of the obvious drivers for the gamification push we’ve seen across marketing.

Agencies are not only seeking to capitalise purely on the ability to generate – through promises of reward or glory – a motivation for users to engage by joining up. The real promise of a connected gaming world is that players draw others into their play, as rivals, allies, or simply spectators. And that kind of seemingly just-add-water kind of hype is hard to resist.

But, as Chow points out, the lure of gamification isn’t just its rapid spread potential, but the quality of each of those hits.

“When there’s a social video you engage via viewing or commenting or sharing. But gamification means you engage longer and engage deeper.”

She cites the difference in approach Reprise could have made when handling a campaign for Coca-Cola.

“It’s very easy to just ask teenagers to drink more Coca-Cola every summer. We can hire the most popular bands or singers in Hong Kong and give them a lot of prizes in a lucky draw. But then the consumer action just stops there. When they’ve drunk the Coke, they stop. They don’t consider, when will I drink it again?”

"Gamification is not just in your face, it’s in your head."

Reprise instead chose to launch a Tetris game mobile activation where customers collected in-game puzzle pieces from bought cans. This hooked them emotionally and drove them to be invested in their next purchase.

Chow says: “I think gamification is playing with magic. If you can use it in a smart way you can actually engage with your consumers longer and deeper.”

Yet, as she tells Marketing, it’s not just what she calls “bling bling” beverage, fashion, or lifestyle brands that this engagement works for. In fact, the biggest beneficiaries of gamification techniques could reside in brand categories perceived as more sedate.

“Who wants to know about a banking company? If you launch a brand campaign and say, ‘OK, we’ll put you in the heart of our business, and we have these services for you to choose from ...’, well the younger generation are not interested to know more. So gamification can take a very important place in this area if a marketer knows how to use it.”

If a brand has the information on hand and the ability to indirectly tell younger groups of consumers what the brand is about, they can tailor-make a gamification campaign.

“There could be lots of different ways for you to engage with those consumers who are not easy to engage with and tell them your hard-core messages through more interesting ways,” Chow says.

Shie and Ho concur, telling us they think any brand can have a gamification campaign. However, that campaign will not magically yield results unless it’s thrust into the conversation.

Ho says: “Local culture elements can be put into the marketing strategy. Ride on some hot topics, KOLs, and local slang to make it easier to drive the audience attention.”

High scores

Despite the temptation to hire an army of developers to build a flashy multi-layered app, our subjects agree it’s a rash impulse. Though some strategies require something of the sort, Reprise and Webs s’up have successfully based campaigns around gamification with a far more frugal approach.

Webs s’up’s 2018 Christmas campaign for Fashion Walk embraced O2O by luring customers to the location for a scavenger hunt themed around the Looney Tunes character Marvin the Martian.

It began with a live teaser video showing local rock band Dear Jane encountering extraterrestrials during a busking performance outside the venue.

Meanwhile, the agency had also pulled a total of 200 KOLs/influencers who simultaneously posted they had had the same experiences that very same night. Heightened interest drew customers to Fashion Walk where the final actual gamification phase kicked in by challenging visitors to physically find and scan codes at various locations at the mall.

Shie says: “We had to think of a lot of elements to put it all together. We knew fashion walks attracted younger fashionistas who really care about what they wear. Then we’re getting the Looney Tunes and Marvin the Martian.”

From a development standpoint, it required little more than building a site for customers to claim rewards, but the offbeat approach stimulated conversations with the audience and client.

Webs s’up’s believes this resulted in people being strongly motivated for a longer period of time and more engaged with the content. Ho says it allowed them to “become part of the story, part of the journey”.

And though that project sounds minimalist, Chow tells Marketing how Reprise built a gamified campaign for Nike to cash in on the 2018 World Cup out of nothing, but Instagram and a single page on an existing site.

“The normal practice is, if you launch something for the World Cup, for example, some football apparel, you just send emails to all your members. Another way is you send emails to football-related members you have in the pool. But last time during the World Cup we discussed with the client that it didn’t seem enough.”

Using the hashtag, #BelieveToUnlock, users would find coded messages in Instagram posts, which could be used to unlock rewards such as shopping discounts, event passes and training sessions with local players.

Nike had a huge pool of data on its HK users from its eCommerce activities, so tiered into categories of engagement and influence – from VIPs down to the more casual – Reprise was able to strategically pick when specific users saw which posts.

It bore huge results, doubling the membership and driving up click-through rates, sales and promotion code usage. Using little more than a hashtag, Chow puts the decision down to just having the right information.

“If a brand really needs to do gamification they need to understand their audience first, what’s their habits, what do they want,” she says.

“If they want something, no matter if you’re an app or if you’re an outdoor event or just a simple Instagram or Facebook activation they will engage with you so you need to understand their habits or their intentions if you want them to take action.”

Shie lays out his own view on the importance of social: “Ninety-five per cent of all gamification has to go through social channels. Nobody wants to download an app simply to play a few games. So we’ve been planning a lot of games based on the DNA of Facebook and Instagram. And YouTube now is allowing interactive paths where you can choose A or B to continue the story.”


As customers are incentivised to take part for rewards, game-infused campaigns provide a grand prize for marketers: data. While regulations have made it harder to gain access to user information, gamification creates a reasonable bargain for consumers to grant those required permissions.

“All the clients want to collect data for further upselling or engagement or even to target their audience. So, we can make the games have a filled form for incentives and rewards (and) they just have to input some personal data. That can be quite sensitive so we have to make it natural for people to give it a try,” Ho says.

“We prefer to make the user feel comfortable to provide their information, play the game and redeem their rewards.”

Chow is in agreement about how games can calm skittish users: “If a bank asks you to give them your data or log in with their app and give them the data to use the app, people will be quite sceptical. But what if you say, ‘there’s a pretty good gamification campaign here, you can enjoy these benefits or play with your friends and all you need to do is login with your details’?”

She concludes: “It’s basically a very good channel for marketers to collect data that they couldn’t normally as people are more likely to tell you more.”

This article was produced for the July issue of Marketing Magazine. For more features and other magazine-exclusive content from this and upcoming issues, you can subscribe to receive your free monthly print copy here or you can read our digital version in its entirety here.