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Mars Wrigley on unlocking emerging markets through gamification

Mars Wrigley on why gaming is core to its strategy

Gaming may be one of the marketing industry’s latest obsessions, but it’s driving real results for Mars Wrigley, according to Sergio Peniche.

The marketing industry’s love affair with gaming knows no bounds. But what does that mean in the here and now for brands that want to build genuine connections with target audiences and sell products?

We catch up with Mars Wrigley’s brands and content senior director of global emerging markets Sergio Peniche to hear why gamification is at the heart of its plan to do just that.

How has Mars incorporated gamification into its marketing?

Gamification is presenting itself as a huge opportunity to retain existing loyal customers and capture new audiences. When done right as a marketing strategy, gamification not only allows us to create meaningful engagement with audiences in a unique way, but also builds brand awareness and can help increase brand loyalty.

In particular, emerging markets are set to become the primary growth driver for the gaming industry as mobile penetration and internet connectivity increase. Mobile gaming in emerging markets became the largest gaming segment in 2019, reaching 45% of the global games market ($68.5bn) – up 10.2% from 2018. Combining this with other market insights, we saw a clear opportunity to leverage gamification to drive marketing strategies for some of our key brands in emerging markets.

Esports, for example, is one of the biggest sports competition platforms globally that drive extremely high levels of engagement. In the Gulf region, gaming is growing at an incredible rate of 33% year-on-year – around 50% of our consumers there are gamers and the split is roughly even across genders.

With these insights, Snickers developed and launched its first-ever e-football tournament for consumers across the Gulf Cooperation Council this year. The Snickers Ultimate E-Cup tournament saw 260 participants battling it out for the title of Ultimate Snickers E-Champion and a total prize pool worth $35,000. This was livestreamed online across various media platforms, including Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter; the brand activation campaign also engaged some of the top gaming personalities and influencers, such as SHoNgxBoNg (one of the biggest gaming influencers across the Gulf Cooperation Council), to host and provide commentary and analysis for livestreamed games on Twitch and YouTube.

By leveraging gamification for this campaign, we were able to drive higher engagement rates and talkability around this moment. The campaign reached approximately 7 million people across Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and the tournament recorded approximately 200,000 views by the end of the campaign, with a quarter being live views throughout the tournament duration. Leveraging some of the top gaming personalities and influencers also allowed us to successfully deliver a combined reach of about 3.8 million viewers, with a high engagement rate averaging around 15% on the content these influencers promoted.

What are the challenges of this strategy?

Gaming is the new ‘buzz’ in the marketing space, and many brands are increasingly looking to leverage gaming platforms to engage gen Zers and appeal to their passion points. Campaigns need to be developed in a way that is relatable and interesting to the intended target audience, so these campaigns are naturally integrated into the gaming ecosystem. It is also crucial to identify the right brand to carry out gamification campaigns – not all brands will resonate well and be naturally accepted by the gaming ecosystem. There needs to be a holistic understanding of the profiles and needs of gamers before we can develop the best campaigns for our brands.

In emerging markets, there’s an added challenge of ensuring that gamification campaigns have the right penetration and reach within the local market. Power gamers based in these markets may not be able to invest as heavily in gaming hardware and software as compared to those in developed markets, and this could mean that the audience reach in emerging markets via gamification strategies for certain campaigns may be lower than those implemented in developed markets.

Additionally, there may be a lack of mid-to-long-term metrics that are crucial for understanding how gamification strategies are increasing brand connection and awareness, and in turn driving sales. KPI tools and benchmark metrics for such strategies are still being fine-tuned across the industry to better measure the effectiveness of these campaigns.

What are the upsides and why do you bet big on gamification?

The gaming ecosystem has grown and intensified over the past five years, and it includes not just personal computers and console gamers, but also mobile gamers. The trend that we see contributing to this gaming boom transcends consumer demographics and the various socio-economic backgrounds, and presents a large opportunity for market penetration.

The rapid expansion of mobile usage and technological advances have accelerated consumer access to games across different platforms, spurring an increase in gamers globally. The pandemic has also hastened the take-up rate of gaming as people have been forced to look for entertainment within the confinements of their homes. According to Accenture, with widespread mobile adoption, there are now nearly as many female gamers as males, plus greater representation of females in new gamers, fundamentally changing the gaming ecosystem and community needs.

Gamification has also unlocked a new platform beyond traditional channels, such as print and social media. It provides access to a wider pool and variety of captive audiences, as well as gaming-specific influencers and communities to engage. Consumers are also likely to be more willing to provide their data in exchange for a fun experience or the opportunity to win a prize or reward. Having access to such data will help marketers and businesses gain a better understanding of their target audience.

Additionally, the gaming ecosystem’s strong, tight-knit community presents the opportunity to create viral campaigns that have the legs to create large-scale social buzz and encourage user-generated content.

We saw this come to life through our 5 Gum brand’s recent partnership with Twitch in Australia to launch a team of Twitch streamers who assembled for three live squad streams tackling popular games, such as Fortnite, while embodying the brand’s ethos of ‘life happens in 5.’ This campaign is based on our research, which revealed that gamers are more likely to chew gum than non-gamers, as gum helps maintain focus. The livestreams challenged streamers to make concentrated, quick decisions in gameplay, all while entertaining their audience in real-time.

5 Gum’s partnership with Twitch and its streamers allowed the brand to speak to the gaming community in an authentic way that lives the brand meaning and shows the brand benefit live. The performance of this campaign has been excellent to date – it exceeded reach benchmarks and nearly doubled the benchmarked numbers of minutes watched, revealing that viewers are extremely engaged in the content. Fan response to the partnership was also immense, with several viewers taking part in the challenges themselves, including building 5 Gum’s logo in Fortnite and posting it on the Twitch influencers’ public Discord channels.

Are there particular markets where this works especially well?

We believe that emerging markets hold a huge growth potential for gamification, and we have been successful in implementing such campaigns in certain markets, such as Mexico, Brazil, Australia and Asia. We see gamification campaigns performing best when they are localized and curated in a way that best meets their target market’s culture. This creates a sense of affinity between consumers and brands and ensures that campaign messaging is culturally relevant, credible and impactful.

For example, as part of M&M’s new flavor launch in Mexico in 2019, the team incorporated augmented reality (AR) as a major component of the campaign. Using a web app, consumers were invited to ’capture’ M&M’s characters, which were ’present’ in different physical stores at our main retailers; a digital map was also provided to guide consumers to explore the different stores to find the characters and participate in M&M’s‑specific promotions. By gamifying this experience, we were able to grab consumers’ attention and engage them in an interactive and fun manner. The uniqueness of this campaign also created buzz and amplified discussions on social media.

How does this fit into the wider topic of gaming, which is becoming a big trend for marketing? Do you see Mars investing more into the gaming space with ads?

Gamification presents the opportunity to engage existing and potential consumers, and create campaigns that go beyond traditional advertising methods, such as the placement of static or video advertisements in games. Businesses can now explore integrating their brands within popular games, or even create games with their brands at the heart of it and drive authentic conversations among consumers. At Mars Wrigley, we are continuing to evaluate our marketing investments in the gamification space and look at creative ways to engage our consumers and stay on top of evolving consumer behaviors.

What is the future of this trend in your view?

Emerging markets are a bright spot for gamification marketing strategies. This is driven by gamification’s popularity surging in regions such as Latin America, the Middle East and many South East Asian countries, as guided by a mobile-first profile.

Businesses outside of the consumer sector may also begin exploring gamification as they seek new avenues for innovative campaigns to engage consumers and drive user-generated content. As gamification continues to find its place in marketing strategies, marketers will need to ensure appropriate metrics are put in place to have a robust measurement of the success of such strategies in comparison to traditional platforms.

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