Any marketer will tell you how difficult it is to reach millennials. Saturated with media and hardened against traditional advertising, this age group needs edgy, unconventional, and different before it starts paying attention.
To that end, the National Parks Foundation is turning to a very un-national park-type medium to persuade millennials to volunteer. It's marketing a computer game that lets people "experience" a park without ever setting foot in one.
Called Save the Park, the game was developed by Games for Change, a New York nonprofit, and funded through a $250,000 grant from American Express. It lets players take on volunteer personas and then complete park-essential tasks like planting trees, securing food from bears, and picking up trash.
"We feel that games are a way to drive interest among people who would not see other messaging because there's so much content out there for people to absorb," says Susanna Pollack, president of Games for Change. "We believe we can engage with audiences about social issues in a way traditional media doesn't. Games are more of a lean-in activity, in this case with role-play. That kind of investment leads to a deeper understanding."
The iPhone game is a recruiting tool in "endless runner" format—something a little like Jetpack Joyride or Temple Run. There are four roles to play: Mei (who lives in California and already volunteers), Ben (an military vet who does animal protection), Luna (a 19-year-old college student who's favorite hobby is salsa dancing) and Andre (a graphic designer who volunteers with his communication skills). There are three environments (forest, desert, and coastline), and the goal is acquire points by completing tasks or gathering up Easter eggs. That lets you get to the next level.
"It's very hard to pull on the emotional heart strings, and say 'Hey, just volunteer,'" says Meredith Hahn, VP of corporate responsibility at American Express. "Instead, what you need to say is, 'You can have a role in helping X.' In this case, we wanted to put people in the role of a volunteer and actually show a need and show how you connect to that need. Then we pepper those connections with suggestions saying, 'Now do this in the real world.'"
The American Express Foundation is offering to donate $1 to the National Parks Foundation for each download before the end of the year, up to a value of $50,000. Get your copy here.