Gamification in Pharma Marketing: Is It Even Possible?

It’s better than possible – gamification in pharma can be awesome. Just don’t call it that.


There’s huge potential for gamification across every business sector and plenty of evidence that games can improve business outcomes. But can it be a worthwhile strategy in the world of life sciences – and would it ever be effective for pharma brand marketing?


In a word: Yes. Just don’t call it that.


Why Gamify?


Studies have demonstrated that gamification has a positive impact on:


  1. Participant engagement; and,
  2. Message recall.


Guess where pharma marketers face some challenges? Those two things. Brands that need to communicate complex medical messaging have a tough time connecting with their target audience, especially with the Millennial generation. Competitions make it easier for players to digest information in an interactive way that all but ensures they retain what they learn.


Avoid the G-Word


The problem with saying you’re going to gamify the participant’s interaction with your content is that the term lends itself to trivializing the experience. It’s not an easy sell to your pharma firm’s stakeholders, who still cling to the idea that games shouldn’t be part of the conversation in such a serious realm as the health sciences. Games are presumed to be fun, with little constructive result. How can they work when your goal should be educating?


To answer that question, you must first understand what gamification really is – and is NOT.


What’s in a Game?


Gamification uses the mechanics of gaming to engage users and solve problems, but in a non-game context. There are four key elements that must be involved in a proper gamification strategy:


  1. Reward or recognition for the player’s achievements;
  2. A goal and a sense of purpose;
  3. Rules that require participants to work within a framework, motivating them to tackle challenges strategically; and,
  4. Feedback that tracks the player’s status, informing them how close they are to reaching the end goal.


Companies can achieve great things with a properly developed gamification strategy. But again: Just don’t call it that.


In pharma marketing, it’s crucial to steer the discussion away from any form of the word game – and toward terms like engagement, retention, and recall. After all, the approach isn’t about the game so much as engaging the participant to deliberate about the brand challenge and solve a problem. Like a health-related problem. You’re not seeking to entertain your audience; you’re trying to get them to think critically.


Real Life Examples of Gamification in Pharma Marketing


Probably the most interesting quirk about gamification in the life sciences sector is that there are still many doubters – despite numerous examples of success. To name a few…


  • Pfizer created a “Back in Play” game to boost knowledge of a little known disease, ankylosing spondylitis. Through the challenge, patients in Europe learned more about this condition that causes inflammation in the spine and pelvis joints. The campaign even won several awards.
  • Boehringer Ingelheim developed “HealthSeeker,” a game that helps those with diabetes make better lifestyle choices about their condition and overall wellness.
  • Bayer created the diabetes “Didget” game for use with the Nintendo DS handheld game system, to encourage children with diabetes to regularly test their blood glucose levels. Players receive rewards for testing consistently.


So gamification is just another tool you can use to drive – and extend – engagement.


Call it engagification.


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