Pharma Marketing

Gamification in Pharma Marketing Explained with Examples

Gamification in pharma marketing is one of the hot topics of recent years. In this article you will learn what is gamification, see the examples of gamification used in pharma business (both marketing gamification and education gamification). We will also show the potential of social gamification, and try to show how to insert gamification into your app, website and other digital activities.

What is Gamification? Definition not only for Pharma Marketing.

One of the simplest and most appealing definition of gamification is: 
[box type=”info” align=”aligncenter” ]”Gamification is the use of game design elements in non-game contexts” [Source: Deterding, S., Dixon D., Khaled, R., and Nacke, L. From game design elements to gamefulness: defining “gamification” (2011). Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments, ACM, New York.].[/box]

What does it mean?
“Gamification” refers to

  • the use (rather than the extension) of
  • design (rather than game-based technology or other game-related practices)
  • elements (rather than full-fledged games)
  • characteristic for games (rather than play or playfulness)
  • in non-game contexts (regardless of specific usage intentions, contexts, or media of implementation).

Game design elements can be divided by the level of abstraction, starting from using game interface patterns (ie. using badges or leaderboards), to game design methods (ie. value conscious game design).

game design patterns

game mechanics

game principles and heuristics

game models

game design methods

badge, leaderboard

time or resource limitation, player turns

clear goals, recognition of different game styles

Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics (MDA), Core elements of gaming experience (CEGE )

Playcentric design, value conscious game design

Most applications of gamification in pharma marketing nowadays limits use of  game design elements to the first three levels. It is relatively easy and a no-brainer to add some badge or status to the user profile in hope that it would increase activity or completeness of the data provided. On the other hand, using game models and designing user journey with conscious application of game theory may bring the highest level of engagement and the best conversion rates.
As we mentioned “game theory” it is worth to explain this term as well. Basically, game theory is a study of how people make strategic decisions. The foundation of modern game theory is a classic 1944 work Theory of Games and Economic Behavior by mathematician John von Neumann and economist Oskar Morgenstern. Game theory tries to explain and provide mathematical models for decision making process. Using game theory in real life is difficult as the world does not provide to players full information, and “utility” or the prize in the game does not have to be considered equally by players. Still for the digital marketer game theory provides useful models to make some actions more attractive for users than others.

How to Apply Gamification in Pharma Marketing Campaign?

There are six essential elements of gamification that you can use to improve your key message delivery.

  1. Playful design. Going through your campaign should be attributed to the world of play, not work. Your audience should be attracted to the message because it is enjoyable for them, not because you paid them or they were ordered to participate. It is easier said than done, but you should make an effort to provide user with the environment that is not connected with daily work routine, use positive stimuli or feedback whenever possible etc.
  2. Clear rules. Every game has its rules, and going through your message delivery should have it too. There has to be clear logic in how user goes through it
  3. Defined objectives and intermediate goals to meet. Put within the message some smaller tasks that can be quick-wins for users, as well as a  big hairy goal to be rewarded for at the end of the journey.
  4. Competition. It does not have to be based on other players, it can be competition against time. Still leaderboards, badges and points are one of the easiest tricks that encourage participation and accomplishing tasks. On the other hand, this competition should not be too hard, unless you want players to drop-off frustrated early in the game.
  5.  Rewards. Provide a constant feedback in form of the rewards for accomplishment of the task (to encourage progress) or just staying in the game (to maintain user-retention).
  6. Continuous challenge.  Achieving each next step in the game should be bit harder. Otherwise the game would be boring. You do not want to make the tasks too hard either. Thus the best option is to make sure that level one prepares user for level two. If you properly match achieved skill with the next challenge the game will have a “flow” that will keep your users fully engaged.

Looking at the list above, you probably noticed, that gamification as a concept must be embedded in the campaign even before the content is created or the channels and technologies of content delivery are selected.

Gamification in Pharma Marketing: Can We Do It?

Pharma marketing approach to gamification is somehow ambivalent. On the one side, gamification is a buzz word that flies around industry conference rooms. We see some examples of gamification in pharma marketing that worked or not, we also tend to call gamification activities that were just games, and we are bombed by the agencies who can name every product gamification as long as Big Pharma is going to pay for that.
But when we flip the coin, there is this other side. In general it is not very inline with regulatory compliance to even think about “games” or “playfulness” in the context of life and death. Which is the usual context of pharma marketing. Even if you think about CME – your patient does not have three lives to lose in case his pathologist did not score well a cancer on the tissue sample.
The questions remains: “Can we do gamification in pharma marketing? And shall we?
At K-message we believe, that pharma marketing not only should implement gamification, but it has an obligation to do so. This is especially because of the purpose of the pharma marketing job – we work to deliver the best possible treatment to the suffering patients. And if we have any means that can possibly help us in this task, ignoring it is equal to negligence.
There is only one thing to keep in mind, the gamification, as every other marketing tactic in our toolbox, has to be implemented by in a professional way. It means it has to be done by a specialist, after careful consideration of all the campaign elements that we are going to gamify,  and with a solid smart objective behind it.
While researching for this piece we encountered many examples of pharma marketers being misguided. It is very important to remember
[box type=”warning” align=”aligncenter” ]Gamification is not “making a game”. Yes, even if this game is an application for the iPad.[/box]
Gamification is use of game design elements in non-game contexts. If it is a game only, it is not gamification. It is just a game.
This common mistake makes plenty of examples of apparently successful gamification in pharma marketing just a gimmick.

Good and Bad: Examples of Gamification in Pharma Marketing


It is a pharma marketing game but not a gamification!

A famous SYRUM from Boehringer Ingelheim is not a gamification. It is just a brand image campaign and way to get access to user profiles in Social Media. Game elements are not used in out of game context, it was a game used to attract users. By the way, the imagery and general tone of SYRUM makes us question whether this campaign is targeting appropriate audience.

Syrum Logo © 2012 Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH.
Syrum Logo © 2012 Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH.

Social Gamification in Pharma R&D

In the same time Boehringer Ingelheim has properly used gamification in their Predicting a Biological Response competition made with Kaggle. In the contest with a $20,000 awards poll participants were looking for a model to predict mutability of new, previously unseen compounds.

Kaggle -  Boehringer Ingelheim Study
Kaggle – Boehringer Ingelheim Study

Similarly to Predicting a Biological Response, a good example of gamification that supports pharma R&D is a Cell Slider. This application was Cancer Research UK and Zooniverse. This simple app presents a snap of a tissue, blood cell or irregular sample with cancer. Users are able to classify samples. So far game uses breast cancer samples. The yellow stain indicates levels of a protein found in cancer cells called the oestrogen receptor (ER).
Click to Cure - Cancer Research UK and Zooniverse Cell Slider
Click to Cure – Cancer Research UK and Zooniverse Cell Slider

The job that would take months or years of work of trained pathologists is now crowdsourced. So far almost 2 million images were analysed and classified. Game provides a constant feedback and challenge varies depending on the sample. If user has a profile created, elements of game design are applied, including results saving.

Gamification in Pharma Marketing DTC

Another good example of gamification in pharma marketing is GoMeals, a set of applications developed for sanofi-aventis U.S. by specialized digital pharma marketing agency Intouch Solutions. GoMeals is created for people living with diabetes and promotes Sanofi’s diabetes drug Apdira.

GoMeals® Application for Healthy Living
GoMeals® Application for Healthy Living

The app, available on the web and for smartphones encourages users to make healthy choices with features for eating healthy, staying active and tracking blood glucose levels. GoMeals allows patients to see how their daily habits impact their diabetes. It also provides HCPs with the ability to see how their patient is actually doing. GoMeals uses game design elements providing users clear reports on “burnt calories”, intake from their meals, and glucose readings.
Another example from Sanofi is a gamification of diabetes tracking targeted to younger audience. A Monster Manor is a game for children with diabetes type 1, that encourages users to track their glucose levels. It is integrated with BlueLoop glucose tracker application. The app is created for Sanofi by Ayogo Health agency.
IPhone Monster Manor -
IPhone Monster Manor –

Every time children enter their BG information into the BlueLoop app they are rewarded with a “piñata” to crack open in Monster Manor. Piñatas are items with all sorts of fun inside, from “Beanz” that will help children collect more monsters, to “Gold” that will buy their monster new pets. Note that contrary to BI’s SYRUM this game has an effect outside of the game, as we gain better tracking and insights into the patient, so the whole game design was used in the context of diabetes tracking.

Gamification for CME

In the field of CME (Continuing Medical Education) gamification is seen as one of the ways to retain interest of the HCPs. One of the examples is Septris a web-based mobile application focused on Sepsis education. Created by Stanford University School of Medicine,  Septris may be used on iOS, Android and from desktop web browser. To achieve its learning objectives it introduces a game in which user is diagnosing and treating virtual “patients” while learning about Sepsis.

Gamification in Pharma Marketing: Looking Forward

As listed above there are good examples of gamification in pharma marketing. We can all learn from them, but there is still a big room for improvement. Gamification in pharma marketing goes hand in hand with mHealth, and as mobile healthcare grows there will be more of game design elements in pharma marketing campaigns.
Current focus of pharma marketers is on gamification in direct to consumer (DTC) marketing. Indeed gamification as a tactic can be very efficient in increasing patient compliance to the prescribed treatment.  However this focal point has to change, as regulatory and compliance rules out such application outside of U.S. market for any branded activities.  Disease awareness and prevention campaigns will always be worth the effort, but our prediction is that gamification may be more and more used in self-detailing and CME. So far we could not see any good example of game design application in e-detailing.
We really hope that in 2014 we will start to see first integrated campaigns with e-detailing, self-detailing combined in one “gamified” design. At the end, if we want HCPs to self-detail themselves should not we make it a playful and rewarding experience?

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