Much is made of ‘gamification’ particularly regarding digital communication. We are virtually overloaded with apps and it’s still proving a powerful route to market for brands looking to create connections, build loyalty and attract increasingly younger and digitally savvy consumers.

Today, gamification is increasingly being used up by organisations to help raise awareness of social, environmental and health and safety issues. Increasingly, corporates understand and are prepared to embrace this kind of digital interaction with their consumers and communities as a key part of their company’s
CSR agenda. One recent example shows such widening interest and commitment.

Research conducted by the north of England’s gas distributer, Northern Gas Networks (NGN), which keeps homes and businesses in the North East, Northern Cumbria and much of Yorkshire cooking on gas, identified the need to raise awareness of Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning amongst young people (18-24 year olds). The research recognised the dangers are particularly acute in this age range and in particular student groups who typically live in rented property with poorly maintained gas appliances.

Northern Gas Networks, which has an ambitious social agenda, realised that
a hard-hitting campaign was required with a novel and youth savvy way of getting
the message out there and ensuring cut through. The solution was iCOP, essentially a social issue app masquerading as a film noir crime game.

Words&Pictures were a good fit for Northern Gas Networks having both commercial and education expertise. It’s specialist team, Educom offers commercial clients educational understanding for specific issue-based campaigns targeting young people.

The partnership with Northern Gas Network’s team worked well allowing the creativity to flow and iCop to be produced. Both realised the app, creatively, needed to be compelling, entertaining and memorable and could not be corporately branded. It’s unlikely students would have been attracted to a branded gas company app, but iCOP was cheekily produced by the fictitious NGN Games giving it a secret identity until the final reveal at the end of the game.

To ensure the app concept and supporting campaign was appropriate and appealing to the target audience we hooked into our Trust in Youth advisory board and recruited a steering group of 16-24 year olds to guide and inform the initiative. In partnership with Northern Gas Networks Words&Pictures then delivered focus groups with young people from sixth form colleges as well as workshops at Leeds, Huddersfield and Newcastle Universities (identified CO hotspots).

Working with the focus groups together we identified the most relevant, engaging and memorable creative approach for the target audience who then worked with W&P and Northern Gas Networks to test the app at various stages of development.

The iCOP concept is a provocative and hard-hitting gameplay scenario with a serious message. The dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning is a challenging message to communicate to a notoriously difficult to reach student population. Our solution needed to provoke, not patronise. It had to be an immersive, emotional experience that intrigues and through gameplay forces the player to confront the reality of CO poisoning. The iCOP app starts with a deathly discovery. You are our detective iCOP and your role is to uncover the student bedsit’s deadly secret. Within that typical student room are a range of potential killers, from the discarded gun, close to our victim’s hand. Or is it that blood stained knife? Perhaps the pile of suspicious pills scattered close to the empty vodka bottle? As you explore the room, selecting items as you go, you quickly discover, ‘CSI style’, it is actually none of those items. Did you beat the clock? We forgot to mention that.

By gamifying the risks, symptoms and ways to offset CO poisoning, incorporating a film noir style & murder mystery reveal we generated upwards of 30,000 downloads – that’s 30,000 University students now aware of the danger CO can present in the home and equipped with the National Gas Emergency helpline stored straight to their phone courtesy of the app should they spot anything suspicious.

iCOP is supported by an imaginative integrated campaign online and offline utilising social media, campus advertising, fresher fair promotions and even targeted flash mob events.

In the words of Sian Fletcher, Communications Manager from Northern Gas Networks, “Our iCOP campaign is an important part of our strategy to tackle carbon monoxide poisoning and help raise awareness amongst a group who know worryingly little about the harmful gas.

“The stats show that the initiative is really working. Of those that have played the game and completed the end of the game quiz 85% said they knew more about CO, 83% said they would call the National Gas Emergency service if they suspected CO and 65% said they would talk to friends and family about the gas and its potential dangers, so the message is getting out there.

“We’re now, in conjunction with the other UK gas distribution networks, embarking on a second phase of activity to extend iCOP to cover the risks of CO outdoors.”

The game, and supporting campaign, has won awards and wide praise from industry regulators, CO awareness groups, universities and students themselves. Although not huge, 30,000 downloads is seen by industry commentators as statistically significant particularly for a social issue app with a difficult to communicate and hard to reach audience with such a challenging subject.

Andy Holt Andy Holt
Creative Director
Andy is a multi-award winning creative director with over 20 years’ experience. His creativity and design vision has taken him from heading up daily newspaper editorial design departments to creative director for full service design agencies. He has been involved with Words&Pictures for the last 16 years, during which time he has helped the company build a world-class portfolio of clients, using his commitment to co-develop with clients to deliver imaginative and effective multi-channel creative solutions.

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