Experimental Ad Product: Sponsored Micro-games At Point-Of-Sale

Here at the Lab, we are always looking for new ways to capture the attention of audiences using emerging technologies. We ask ourselves where there may be opportunities for brands to influence purchase decisions in new ways. We engage in thought experiments such as “Would adding ultra-short games to a purchase flow be an annoyance or an opportunity? Could they be an chance for a brand to engage with a user in a mutually beneficial value exchange?”

In parallel, we evaluate new technologies based not just on what they do, but what they could do with some creativity applied. Sometimes, we see a technology that has little or nothing to do with advertising and ask ourselves whether there is a way for brands to utilize it in a new way. Since we have a perspective on such a wide range of technologies and services, we often find ourselves connecting the proverbial dots between them to create whole new ad product prototypes.

A few months ago during a routine scouting mission we met a company named Vengo. They are a nimble NYC-based start-up out to create high-tech vending machines with small form-factors optimized to go everywhere from offices to the back of taxis. We liked their demo and it was very nice-looking, but it was a pretty straight-forward vending machine purchase user experience. But we took note of their touchscreen interface and flexible platform and began to wonder – is there a unique way a brand could play in this space? Can we do something fun and engaging while this machine has a consumer’s attention? Could this even be a new type of ad product?

We kept in touch with Vengo and bounced ideas around within our own creative team. What resulted was the idea of incorporating sponsored micro-games into the purchase flow of the vending machine. Now when we say micro-game, our requirement was that the game would have to take less than 15 seconds. The reason a consumer might engage is that there’s a payoff: do well enough in the game and you get a discount on your purchase.

By sponsoring the game (i.e. covering the cost of the discount), a brand gets a consumer’s focused attention for a short but intense period of time. Since the vending machines are all networked, the different games can be deployed to different machines and swapped out at will. And thus you effectively have created a new kind of out-of-home ad product, which could easily be bought programmatically across a big enough footprint. The CPM would be relatively high, but so would the engagement – if the content were strong enough.

We came back to Vengo with the idea and they loved it. So after collaborating on the precise design, game mechanics and form factor of the test unit, they developed a prototype. The unit is now up and running in our NYC Lab and has been warmly received, especially by those who have figured out how to make the demo dispense treats without using a real credit card.

A user can come up to the vending machine and buy treats as they normally would using the touchscreen. But our prototype has a call-to-action in the upper left to play the “Snapple Imposter” game. If the user opts to play the game, they are presented with 8 different bottles of Snapple. They then have ten seconds to identify which of the eight is a fake flavor. As time ticks by, the discount you win decreases. Get the correct answer quickly and you get a big discount. If it takes you 9 seconds to figure it out, then you get a smaller discount. If you get it wrong or time expires, you get no discount. Regardless of whether the user wins in this scenario, the brand wins. As the user plays the game, they have to think really hard about the Snapple brand and which flavors they offer or would realistically be flavors they might make. We would possit that 10 seconds of intense focus is worth more than a passing glance at a 30 second TV spot.

Imagine a new type of ad unit that could be deployed to vending machines and other points-of-sale giving users the opportunity to exchange 10 seconds of fun for a discount. And this would be deployed into the middle of a purchase flow, so a brand is getting to the consumer right when they’ve got their wallets out and they’re in a buying mood. It’s a juicy moment for a consumer to hear a brand’s message.

Excited marketers, please note: this is not a real product out in the world yet. There is no programmatically buyable network of micro-games on vending machines to be had at present. But the Lab is happy to have dreamt up an experiment and get it made into a real thing that can get us all thinking about the future.

As for Vengo, they were happy with how our experiment has turned out as well. Per Brian Shimmerlik, CEO of Vengo: “Tapping into the collective creativity of the people at the lab has been a huge asset for Vengo. The lab gets building tech from scratch and they understand the needs of large brands. The lab is a valuable hub where the two commingle and hang out.”

Check out the short video below for a sense of what the user experience is like.