How can purpose-led organisations use games to promote their brands?

Games in marketing are nothing new, but brands can benefit from taking a far more purpose-led approach to using them
Glenn Gillis
Chow Town game

Games as a form of marketing are nothing new. In fact, one of the earliest forms of game-based marketing can be found as far back as 1976, when an arcade cabinet called Death Race was released as a tie-in for the film of the same name. 

Since then, there’s been a significant evolution in the space. Over the years, companies have built games into banner ads, microsites, and social media feeds, among other things. They’ve also explored the potential nascent of technologies like virtual reality and integrated marketing into the gameplay of open-world games like Minecraft, Roblox and  Fortnite.

But the ways that brands use games have also changed. In the past, brands may have simply hoped for their customers to associate the fun they had playing a game with that brand. While some brands still do that today, many others have recognised  that they can achieve much more with games developed to drive  specific purposes beyond pure entertainment. 

Understanding impact games 

Before looking at what brands can achieve with impact games and how they can do so, it’s worth understanding what they are. 

Even if you’ve never heard of the term “impact game”, there’s a good chance you’ve interacted with one at some point. Anyone who’s ever encountered a game in their child’s or their own education or seen a game used as a workplace training tool, has witnessed impact games in action. 

These games mirror the dynamic interactions, structural complexities, and feedback loops that characterise real-world situations and scenarios. In doing so, they can encourage the kind of purpose-led behaviour that companies want to see from consumers, employees, and other stakeholders. 

In recent years, several companies have used impact games to raise awareness about issues and causes, tell engaging narratives, and inspire real shifts in behaviour change. KFC Mexico, for example, teamed up with Minecraft to launch an in-game mission to fight food waste, challenging gamers to take unsold food to the in-game Food Bank. For every in-game donation, KFC made a real-world food donation. Dove, meanwhile, partnered with Roblox to create an educational gaming experience designed to empower young women and build self-esteem, as part of their wider Self-Esteem campaign. 

Non-profit organisations (NPO) have found innovative ways of using impact games to help their beneficiaries too. For example, Ronald McDonald House (an independently run NPO that has a long-standing partnership with McDonald’s), created a virtual playroom to connect seriously ill children from over 60 countries staying in similar facilities, to meet and play together. 

Why impact games work 

These kinds of games work to capture attention while also offering a fun platform for consumers from all demographics to connect with one another and with a brand on a deep level. Even people who would categorically deny that they’re ‘gamers’ can be drawn in by impact games. That’s especially true if the players can positively impact their own or other lives by playing the game. 

Additionally, brands can help build trust among consumers - something that’s critical for fostering loyalty. Creating that sense of brand trust and loyalty has only become more important over the years with the evolving needs and expectations of consumers. Impact games in the marketing space also offer the potential to reward customers for their engagement and loyalty in ways that are far more exciting than a simple points balance. 

Getting closer to your target market through games also allows for the anonymous collection of data, such as the consumer’s behaviours, and preferences, which can then be used to inform future marketing campaigns. Tracking the results of a gamified campaign allows companies to see how many consumers played the game, what they did in the game, and how they interacted with your brand which is hugely valuable data for brands wanting to better understand their customers.

If brands can get the delicate dance going between that exchange of value where customers voluntarily engage with brands for minutes (or, in some cases, hours) at a time to experience brands in a meaningful and entertaining way, the future of branded engagement will be entirely reimagined in a way that actively aligns with the demands and expectations of today's consumers.

At Christmas time, everybody is pushing prices, shouting, and giving away margins. There is no other way to create a real and deep connection with your customers that comes close to what can be achieved by leveraging the world’s favourite entertainment medium - games. A carefully considered and well-executed gaming strategy can bring value to a brand that will last so far beyond just this festive season by actively and effectively promoting long-term brand equity.

Written by
Glenn Gillis
CEO, Sea Monster 
January 11, 2024
Written by
January 11, 2024