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Consumable CSR: The Confluence of Cause Marketing & Gaming

Cause marketing could have a powerful ally in mobile and online games.

Submitted by: Sarah Coles

Posted: Sep 27, 2012 – 08:47 AM EST

Tags: mobile gaming, zynga, intel, games for change, csr, cause marketing, uken games, disaster relief, philanthropy


By Sarah Coles

I recently had a conversation with a friend about how gaming is essentially entering into every aspect of our lives.

I am by no means a big gamer, but even I have a Words With Friends addiction. The concept of gamification – essentially using gaming elements to enable a behavior in the non-game environment, is creeping up all over the place in areas such as marketing and sales campaigns, internal employee engagement and health and fitness motivators.

An Open Field For Gaming For Causes

This got me thinking – if gaming can motivate people to buy a product, better connect with colleagues and lose weight, why isn’t gaming used more often to motivate people around a cause?

Gaming is a billion dollar industry, and according to Newzoo’s Trend Report on Mobile Games, “the total number of Americans that play games on their smartphone, tablet or iPod Touch has now surpassed the 100 million mark, a year-on-year increase of 35 percent.” With so many people spending so much time playing games – why haven’t we seen an uptake in using gaming for CSR?

I am certainly not a gaming expert, but I do know a lot about creating a movement around CSR.

And platforms for using and growing CSR tend to follow technology trends. CSR and philanthropic Farmvilleplatforms have evolved over text messages, Facebook pages and online voting. So it’s only natural that those of us looking for new ways to get a CSR message out will turn to social gaming.

Supporting Causes Through Games: Zynga & Uken Take The Lead

However, the number of companies that have actually done this are few and far between. Not surprisingly, big gamer Zynga seems to be “ahead of the game” – from raising $1.5 million after the Haiti earthquake by allowing players in FarmVille to buy Haiti white corn to teaming up with Direct Relief after the Japan Earthquake to create a “virtual” fan in Mafia Wars that players could buy.

According to AdWeek, Zynga reaches around 230 million players a month on Facebook through games like FarmVille, CityVille and Mafia Wars, and others, so tacking on opportunities for players to purchase items or add-ons that contribute to philanthropic efforts within the game seems like a natural extension. Another gaming company, Uken Games, recently announced an integrated CSR approach that includes fundraising for natural disasters and diseases such as cancer through in-game premium purchases.

Since 2009, the company has contributed over $50,000 to various charities.

Changing Perceptions With Games – Right and Wrong Ways

The challenge with CSR and gaming is, as with many CSR programs that fail, that companies cannot just attach a game to a cause and expect to change perceptions and actions.

Case in point: when Popchips turned to cause marketing to rebuild its reputation after Ashton Kutcher donned a brown face during an advertising campaign. Popchips used gaming to let people choose an mobile gamesathlete and vote for a local charity. Unfortunately, this was neither core to their business nor a long-term, integrated approach and the campaign did nothing to improve their reputation. In fact, it likely could have turned customers off even further, given the quick-and-dirty approach.

While quickly putting together a CSR campaign to rebuild a company’s reputation is unfortunately nothing new, in the gaming environment fierce competition and scattered attention spans make this tactic even less likely to be successful. Like any CSR campaign, one that involves gaming should be strategic to the brand’s core values, and long-term in approach.

However, coupled with the added complexity that gaming is a forum for having fun, the gamification of CSR needs the perfect balance of doing good and creating a community of influencers.

Half The Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who made his mark covering human rights crises around the world, and his wife are creating a Facebook game based on their bestselling book Half the Sky. The game, being built by social good games advocate Games for Change and set to debut in November, will be part of the Half the Sky Movement focused on turning oppression into opportunity Half the Sky Movement: The Game on Facebookfor women worldwide. Similar to FarmVille, players will take ownership of a village and will care for the women and girls in that village.

However, actions in the game will also have real-world effects.

In fact, Intel Corporation recently announced a new partnership – along with nonprofit organizations such as the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, United Nations Foundation and National Endowment for the Arts – to provide support to schools and refugee camps when players do well in the game. This concept of bringing together multiple corporations to invest in a long-term, strategic game with a common goal may just be the way forward in gaming for CSR.

While gaming and cause marketing are still at the infancy stage of their co-existence, there is still a great opportunity to shape the partnership. Not surprisingly, gaming is also one of the fastest growing areas at Ruder Finn, and one we are really excited about. I will be watching closely over the next year to see how CSR and gaming evolve together.

It’s a great opportunity for us as CSR professionals to tap into such an attentive, responsive user base.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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