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Should luxury brands be playing games?

December 10, 2014

I used to associate gaming with spotty teenagers sat in their bedrooms killing aliens at four in the morning. But, I have since come to realize that gaming is much more than just that. Gamification is a technique that marketers are using to connect with consumers on a deeper level.

Gamification is the idea of using game mechanics and game design techniques in non-game contexts. It’s a concept that’s been around for some years. It taps into basic consumer desires and needs around the idea of status and achievement. Airlines were the early adopters of gamification with their frequent flyer programs – the more you fly the more rewards and benefits you unlock. Many other brands are now realizing its potential in building stronger customer relationships and loyalty.

Everyday brands such as Starbucks and Nike are using gamification with great success. Nike uses it in their Nike+ apps to inspire and reward users to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The My Starbucks Rewards loyalty app allows customers to earn stars every time they buy a drink. The more stars they have, the more free drinks or perks they can enjoy.

So the benefit of gamification for these more mainstream brands is clear, but what about those in the luxury sector. Does this work? Are luxury customers really the target audience for game-playing?

Well, a handful of luxury brands are proving that gamification can in fact be very effective for them. Fashion retailers are leading the way: Jimmy Choo wanted to create a social media buzz around their new trainer collection, to achieve better brand engagement and boost sales. They launched The Jimmy Choo Trainer Hunt in collaboration with Foursquare. They would ‘check in’ a pair of trainers for a short time at fashionable hangouts around London and players would rush to get to the venue so they could win a new pair of trainers. 4,000 people participated in the hunt. With 285,000 mentions on Facebook, over 4,000 tweets and 250 blogs covering the event, the game created a wild media buzz. In-store trainer sales also increased by 33% after London-based newspaper The Evening Standard covered the story.

London’s luxury retailer Harrods has also just launched a ‘heel-themed’ game called ‘Stiletto Wars’ to introduce its recently expanded footwear sales floor. The game can be activated either via the Harrods magazine app or their window display. Players have to match at least three of the same shoes in a row to earn points. They get three minutes to gain as many points as possible and then can submit their scores for a chance to win a Harrods gift card.

Volkswagen Group recently used mobile gaming to bring consumers closer to their premium sports car brands: Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini and Porsche. The ‘Sports Car Challenge 2’ app gives players the chance to engage with these vehicles via hyper-realistic, 3D product renderings. Players can compete for a position on the global leaderboard, as well as customize their vehicle, racing environment and driving conditions. The result: 25,000 dealership inquiries in the first 10 weeks.

So gamification and the luxury sector can achieve results together. Play in this sector is not just about fun: it’s about building engagement and aspiration. In particular, gamification allows aspirers to access an otherwise unobtainable brand.

But what’s the long term picture? Doesn’t gamification blur the lines between mainstream and luxury brands? In reaching for aspirers are luxury brands at risk of eroding their luxury status for their core customers? Marketers need to consider the real effect of gamification on their brands in the long run.

For more information contact Claire Harding at claire.harding@gfk.com.

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