MAKE IT POP!: All Fun and Games for the Holidays

More marketers have been including games in their email this season, trying to distract us into playing when we all need to be in Q4 work-mode. The game-playing happens, truth be told, and it can be a good thing. With so many retailers trying to reach shoppers through the same marketing channels daily, the games “pop,” functioning as fun ways to inspire clickthroughs.

While I appreciate the festivity, there’s a danger that games might draw subscribers in just enough to play and then let them slip away without further engagement. A lack of clear call-to-action and a weak connection between the games and the brands could end up offering subscribers an enjoyable activity without yielding benefits for marketers.

“Gaming” marketers might consider these five ideas for optimizing the play:

1) Include a strong call-to-action. Make sure that the marketing purpose of your game isn’t lost; prominently feature a CTA (or multiple CTAs) to get game players back into shopping. Make sure it’s simultaneously integrated with the game experience and attention-grabbing.

2) Plan a series of games. Consider creating a multi-part game that is marketed through a series of emails, keeping subscribers engaged and anticipating next steps.

3) Send follow-up messages. After playtime is over, send a follow-up email that reminds subscribers of the fun they had and that invites them to play again, and/or announces the game winner.

4) Incentivize the playing. Offering a discount or free gift to people who play the games will encourage them to shop and take advantage of their reward.

5) Incorporate product into the games. Design games that complement your brand in an obvious way so that there is a smooth transition between playing the game and moving toward shopping.

Let’s take a look at how some retailers “game” this holiday:

TopShop invites subscribers to play in a Christmas fairytale land, where a few easy clicks and drags can spin a carousel until it transforms into a beautiful girl. Players in Australia and some European countries can win prizes, but all subscribers can play. While the game is fun and engaging, I’m concerned that its calls-to-actions are too weak to be effective: only small text links along the bottom of the page ask players to forward the game to a friend and to shop at Subscribers from eligible countries are enticed into shopping with a discount offer, but subscribers from other places aren’t drawn to as strongly as they could be.

ElfYourself by OfficeMax is back again this year—elfier than ever, as the email says. (I just got “Elfed” by my dad this morning!) This popular holiday game lets subscribers upload photos and see themselves virtually transformed into dancing elves, which can be forwarded far and wide—kind of like spreading holiday cheer—to friends who can then “Elf” themselves, too. Widely popular, OfficeMax’s sponsorship of the game must reap some holiday rewards for them, but subscribers are brought back to the OfficeMax site only if they click on the “Brought to you by: OfficeMax” sign. Those who do are rewarded by an “Elfed” OfficeMax landing page, which allows subscribers to shop around in an elfy environs.

Sephora wins the relevance award this season for its own ElfYourself-inspired game called the Sephora Mistletoe Makeover. Players can upload photos and see themselves dolled up in four fabulously festive looks—Smokey Sugar Plum, Merry Berry, Santa’s Little Temptress and O, Tannen-Babe—and then send out emails of their holiday selves to friends.

The whole experience engages customers in a way that’s clearly connected to the brand, incorporating Sephora’s product offering (makeup) into the fun. When a subscriber creates a card to send to a friend, she or he is offered free eyelashes or mini-lipstick with a purchase: a “wink” or a “kiss.” After the transformation, the player can click on a link to “Get this look,” and Sephora shows just the makeup needed for a real-life mistletoe makeover. The game further entices players to go back into shopping with a free-gift offer and an immediate reminder email about the offer. Try it out—the link to the game is at the bottom of the email.

We all love a good game. (When was the last time you played “Monopoly”? We brought it out recently and had a blast.) Subscribers’ positive experiences with games should effectively strengthen their relationships with the brands that send them. The best games provide a smooth and compelling transition from playtime into shoptime; shoppers feel even more jazzed for holiday gift shopping after being playfully put into the spirit of the season.

Have fun!
Lisa Harmon and Alex Madison of Smith-Harmon

–>Read other Make it Pop! posts.