When I was a kid, there was a sugary treat called CrackerJacks. It consisted of caramel coated popcorn which got stuck between your teeth. But the big thing was, there was a prize inside–a cheap little whistle or toy soldier or something I would soon lose or break.
It was fun. It also generated conversations between kids who often swapped toys. Other kid marketers jumped in and soon we were mailing cereal box tops to cereal manufacturers who would send us magic decoder rings, in various colors so we could collect the whole set. We started buying gum that we would throw away, because it contained baseball cards to collect, share and shoot against stairs in competition with other kids.
Making marketing fun is nothing new. Making games of marketing is also an ancient art. Some of it was highly original and generated much conversation. That of course made it copied, and copied and copied until the thrill of surprise and the originality were sucked dry.
I’ve been researching my next book about the origins of social media and games are a significant part of it. Gamers gave us avatars, point systems, the thrill of competition, personal rating systems, badges, virtual money and intentionally addictive programming. Nolan Bushnell, inventor of Pong, the first really successful computer arcade game once told me, “The objective was not for someone to win. The objective was to get kids to put another quarter in the slot.”
I woke up the other morning and discovered someone had invented a new buzzword: “Gamification.” It has already found its way onto into Wikipedia. Last week I got my first invites to a Gamification presentation as well as a webinar. I’m sure I’ll soon see a business card from a consultant claiming to have gamification expertise.
I have to admit, the whole concept seems to be pretty long of tooth to be a candidate for the “Next Big Thing.” I think the whole idea of making marketing fun is a good one. It’s usually pretty transparent what marketers are doing and everyone likes a deal, a contest or a chance to win a free plastic whistle.
What I am afraid is about to happen is that all marketing and sites start copying all others in this gamification stuff. It can once again mess up what has started to happen in recent years in social media. There has been some motion toward making marketing about relationships with customers and less about seeing people who buy your products and services as sticky eyeballs with targets painted on their foreheads.
My really big thought for you marketers out there is to never underestimate the value of fun in business. Think about yourself and the people you hang out with. Think about the meetings, presentations, shopping experiences you remember fondly.
Be original. Use games, or entertainment to amuse, and even entice. But if you think cluttering a program with points and badges will really distinguish you from the competition in some sort of enduring way, then I wish you good luck in you next online job search.