Juice Your Marketing with Dopamine

Dopamine-aided marketingDopamine-driven marketing sounds scary, but it’s more common than one might expect. Dopamine is a key element in the brain’s reward system, and when marketers trigger that system they can reinforce behavior and create positive associations. Ads that make consumers solve a simple puzzle can have this effect (see Puzzling Billboards, Schick Commercial’s Aha! Moment, and Puzzles Boost Brand Recognition, for example.) The dopamine kicker can also be generated using one of the hotter trends in marketing (and other forms of behavior modification): gamification.

One company focused on this opportunity is Digitaria, a San Diego-based marketing firm. Business News Daily reports:

The… company has increased its video gaming capabilities in the belief that elements of gamification, such as reward systems, motivational frameworks, positive reinforcement, feedback loops and emotional and biochemical responses, are all potentially as resonant as any other element the marketing process.

The article quotes Digitaria VP Jim McArthur: “It is more of a subliminal connection, as opposed to an overt one… There is a level of achievement that makes people feel good about themselves.” This is what we’ve been saying for years, but the rise of mobile devices has created a new set of opportunities for marketers. In the past, interactive games required the use of a computer, limiting their reach in terms of venues and audience size. Now, with pervasive smart phones and acceptance of mobile gaming, consumers can be reached anywhere. The emergence of casual gaming also makes the idea of downloading a free entertainment app acceptable and familiar.

Not Just for Marketers

The principles of gamification can be used to reinforce all kinds of behaviors. McArthur, speaking to MediaPost, describes how the feedback system in his hybrid Lexus encourages driving behaviors that save gas. He’s become so tuned into his success in saving fuel that he “cringes” when someone else drives his car and lowers his numbers.

The possibilities are endless. FastCoDesign describes a “smart inhaler” that teaches users how to properly employ the device with a video-game like approach. The gamification approach results in faster learning and better compliance with proper procedure.

Simple Gamification

While big brands can invest in sophisticated game designs, smaller scale marketers and even non-profits can still employ dopamine-generating strategies. Badges or similar virtual awards can activate the brain’s reward center, as can solving a simple puzzle or discovering new information. If your marketing involves any kind of process involving several steps, try to reward customers as they make progress. This doesn’t have to be electronic – for years, loyalty programs have used gamification principles to encourage use and increase engagement.

There’s a lot of info available on gamification strategies – for starters, check out the blogs MyGamification and The Gamification Blog.

Have you seen any great examples of gamification marketing, particularly those that could be employed with a limited budget? Share them with Neuromarketing readers in a comment!


This post was written by:

— who has written 985 posts on Neuromarketing.

Roger Dooley writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research to make advertising, marketing, and products better. He is the primary author at Neuromarketing, and founder of Dooley Direct LLC, a marketing consultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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6 responses to "Juice Your Marketing with Dopamine" — Your Turn


Rob Start 10. April 2012 at 9:05 am

He ever knew my sudoku break was more productive than I thought :)


Roger Dooley
Twitter: rogerdooley
10. April 2012 at 10:33 am

There’s no doubt that working a sudoku puzzle gives you some dopamine rewards as the numbers fall into place, Rob. It’s difficult for a brand to leverage that kind of disconnected “aha!” moment, though.



Jacob Lepiarz
Twitter: jakelepiarz
10. April 2012 at 9:39 am

I see so much potential here in the public health space. There’s a huge need to reinforce positive behaviors for controlling and preventing a host of chronic diseases. Bayer recently released a glucose meter for children that rewards them for checking their blood glucose with points they can redeem in Nintendo Games. I was blown away by this when I heard about it last year.


Roger Dooley
Twitter: rogerdooley
10. April 2012 at 11:39 am

Great example, Jacob. That one reinforces the psychic rewards with real-world rewards, too – no doubt effective in furthering the desired behavior.



Elena Anne
Twitter: Elena__Anne
15. April 2012 at 3:26 am

At first, this kind of scared me, it made me think that something really bad was happening to people every time they upload a game or get on Facebook on their phone. But then it sounded much more positive when saving gas or learning to use your inhaler better was brought up. I might have to go look this up more for more information, thanks for the interesting info!


victoria alex
Twitter: premiumjetset
17. April 2012 at 9:52 am

This made no sense until you used the analogy of driving the Lexus, having just bought a hybrid Lexus I can relate to the buzz you get when you save more fuel . How to build this into marketing and sales is the difficult bit , is it as simple as using simple games to involve the reader then reward them ?


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2 responses to "Juice Your Marketing with Dopamine" — Your Turn