Why Gamified Media is the Key to Winning in the Age of Amazon

The following is a guest contributed post by Mark Cullinane, SVP & GM Digital at Publishers Clearing House.

At first blush, it wouldn’t seem that Amazon’s business model represents much of a threat against Aetna. One is an online retailer. The other’s an insurer. Why Aetna would see Amazon as a threat at first seems like a reach.

Looking closer though, CVS’ $66 billion deal to acquire Aetna is all about commandeering consumer touchpoints. If Aetna can’t insinuate itself further into the lives of its 44.7 million customers, then it’s a sitting duck to be disintermediated by Amazon. The same could be said of CVS.

What’s true for insurers and drug store chains also applies to media and marketing. In our current climate, media properties must also elicit engagement if they want to stay vibrant. This new focus on engagement is leading to a total rethinking of how media is measured. New models eschew traditional metrics that quantified reach alone (clicks, impressions) in favor of metrics like time with content or minutes spent per unique user, which quantify the depth and quality of user engagement. To gin up engagement, especially in mobile, smart publishers will continue to dabble in interactive mediums that give consumers a reason to keep returning to their properties for quality lengths of time. Finding ways to reward and nurture existing relationships through is ultimately more efficient than focusing solely on acquiring new audiences.

A shift to engagement

In the print days, magazines and newspapers focused on circulation as a driver of its advertising and subscription revenue. In part, that was because it was impossible to measure whether people were actually reading stories or looking at ads, let alone which ones or for how long.

The same isn’t true for digital media. It’s feasible to gauge how much time a reader spent with a story and on the site and even how interested they were with the content. While this has been measured from the get-go, it wasn’t as impressive as impressions. In the past few years, the FT, The Guardian and The Economist began to shift their focus to “time spent.” That was a recognition that merely getting in front of readers wasn’t enough. Instead, you want to be sure that they’re paying attention.

In some quarters in fact, time-spent isn’t enough either. Rather, “attention metrics” like scroll initiation, scroll depth and scroll velocity are better indicators that there’s an engaged human being on the other end.

Games offer engagement

Where is it possible to see engagement reflected in time spent and those attention metrics? TV producers have known from the early days that games are a surefire way to keep consumers riveted, in part because the mind abhors an opened loop. In short, we fixate on unfinished business, whether it’s a cliffhanger or a half-completed Wheel of Fortune round. Games also offer a dose of real-life drama and the opportunity to test oneself in a nonconsequential arena. Things haven’t changed since then. At this writing, the hottest app out there is HQ Trivia, an online interactive game show that has been drawing 100,000 people per game. (It runs games twice a day during the week.)

Currently, about two thirds of U.S population regularly plays video games on their mobile device, according to Nielsen. Research shows that gamified ads boast engagement rates more than 7X the average for static ads and click-through rates. If those are the stats for ads, you can imagine the engagement rates for gamified content.

Established companies don’t have to shell out hundreds of millions to build a strong relationship with their customers. They can achieve the same ends by advertising within engaging media. This isn’t a new idea. Coca-Cola was able to stay current in the 2000s by embedding its brand into American Idol. Before that, “our good friends at AT&T” also became integral to Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Brands have the same opportunity today, but it’s not happening on TV. Smart brands are realizing that when it comes to Amazon’s powers of intermediation, they must advertise with the publishers that maintain the strongest and most engaged relationships with their customers.