Web Exclusive | December 2013 | By Christine Blank

Game Time

Brands’ mobile games build customer sales, loyalty.

Mobile games like Chipotle's Scarecrow app give fast food restaurants promo tool
Chipotle's "The Scarecrow" game was downloaded more than 530,000 times. Chipotle
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A handful of quick-service brands released games for mobile platforms in 2013, and the apps proved to be more than just for fun. In fact, some brands are reporting increased sales and customer loyalty by integrating games within their apps.

Among the restaurant companies that found success this year with app games were Blimpie, McDonald’s, and Chipotle.

Chipotle’s “The Scarecrow” app, the company’s first mobile game, made a major splash when it rolled out in September. Since the launch, more than 530,000 consumers have downloaded the game through iTunes. Some 66 percent of the game’s users have viewed Chipotle’s popular “The Scarecrow” film on YouTube, which has reached nearly 10 million views.

“We want people to understand as much as possible about how food is raised, and we believe that a mobile game makes these issues more accessible,” says Danielle Winslow, a spokeswoman for Chipotle. “A mobile game is also a way to engage and entertain people, making them curious about Chipotle while also teaching them where their food comes from and why that’s important.”

In addition to boosting the brand’s image as a provider of quality food and building relationships with its consumers, Chipotle’s mobile game has driven visits to its stores. Nearly 57,000 people have earned a buy-one, get-one-free (BOGO) card for a burrito bowl, salad, or tacos, offered as part of the game to players who earn one star on every level, according to the company.

Chipotle has also garnered more than 22,000 e-mail opt-ins and around 4,200 mobile database opt-ins from the game. Users must enter their mobile number to collect the BOGO offer, which is delivered via text message. “Overall, we’ve seen a positive increase in traffic on Chipotle.com since the launch of the game,” Winslow says.

“Many of today’s customers were raised on technology, so it’s important for us to implement creative mobile marketing programs that fit their plugged-in, on-the-go lifestyle.”

Another successful mobile game designed to boost sales and customer loyalty, Blimpie’s Blimpie Run, rolled out in mid-September. After nine weeks, nearly 4,400 people had downloaded the Blimpie Run game, and it had generated an opt-in rate of almost 38 percent to Blimpie’s e-mail club, dwarfing the average opt-in rate of 2–10 percent for most of the chain’s e-mail club promotions.

“We definitely wanted to convert our mobile users into our mobile loyalty club. We wanted to have something fun, engaging, and rewarding to our fans,” says Matthew Gallagher, digital and social media manager for Kahala Corporation, Blimpie’s parent company.

Blimpie added the Blimpie Run game as part of its brand overhaul, which also included a robust mobile marketing strategy, new store design (including booth seating and brighter colors), and a revamped menu, all done in an effort to appeal more to Millennials.

“Many of today’s customers were raised on technology, so it’s important for us to implement creative mobile marketing programs that fit their plugged-in, on-the-go lifestyle,” Gallagher says.

As a way to encourage e-mail club opt-ins, one of Blimpie Run’s features gives app users a chance to win free subs for a year via monthly drawings. “We are seeing a lot of engagement with that: Around 7,000 people have entered the contest,” Gallagher says.

Blimpie Run users can also redeem coupons exclusive to the app in Blimpie restaurants. Further, a social media component lets Blimpie Run players share their high scores with friends on Facebook and Twitter.

Overall, there are two or three different opportunities throughout the game for users to enter their e-mail address to join Blimpie’s loyalty club. “We did a good job of getting that e-mail opt-in rate high by implementing those [e-mail] input opportunities at the right point in the process,” says Steve Evans, vice president of marketing for Kahala.

Kahala plans to further integrate coupons within the Blimpie Run game next year, particularly focused on its Washington, D.C., and New York City markets, and also hopes to add push notifications to the app. Kahala executives also want to integrate online ordering into Blimpie’s app in 2014.

“We launched online ordering for two brands in 2013, and we are in a development plan to test online ordering in the next few months in corporate stores for Blimpie,” Evans says. “Our goal is to roll it out system-wide in 2014.”

Domino’s set a precedent for mobile games within the industry with its Pizza Hero app, which launched in 2011 and is perhaps one of the most well known in the quick-service industry because of its integration with online ordering. CEO J. Patrick Doyle has said that increasing the chain’s global online ordering business—which already handles $1 billion in orders—is one of the company’s primary goals, and the app should continue to facilitate sales. Pizza Hero tests users’ pizza-making skills and allows them to order pizzas within the app.

Bojangles’ also launched a game app in 2011. The “It’s BO Time” app features a cornhole game, while tying in a store locator and allowing users to send invitations to friends via Facebook.

McDonald’s app game, McPlay, launched earlier this year. The game is geared toward kids and promotes the brand’s Happy Meals, but McDonald’s is not yet all in on additional functionalities. The game does not integrate online ordering, coupons, or contests.