Why Games Can Measure Brand Awareness

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Why Games Can Measure Brand Awareness

Board Games and Consumer Behavior Part 1: Guessing

Lots of people that hear about our company are curious where the idea came from (to use games to understand brand attitudes and behaviors), as well as figuring out who are the people playing games. If you play as many board and party games as we do, you start to see the connections between the cognitive tasks that are relevant in market research and certain categories of games. In a multi-part series, we’ll identify a number of themes that run through both research and games and take you on a tour of some of the most fun and interesting games in that theme. To kick off, let’s start with the game mechanic: “Guessing” and how it can inform an understanding of “brand awareness”.

Brand awareness is a core component of consumer behavior, often described as the first necessary component on which all other marketing and promotions activities build. Moreover, awareness can be thought of as a memory node on which attitudes and associations are hung.

But awareness is not merely a binary choice. Since there will be different levels of awareness for each brand in a category, it is often important to compare brands’ relative accessibility to the mind. When a consumer puts brands in order by how fast they spring to mind (an unaided recall task), research has found that the ones that are reported by the consumer first rank higher for both purchase intention and relative purchase of the brand (Wilson, 1981). Consumers use the fast heuristics of what comes to mind first to avoid cognitive overload and simplify their purchase decisions.

So how do games connect to awareness? Many guessing games are structured so that one player or team is trying to induce another player into guessing a target concept. Usually the concept is a movie, celebrity, or everyday word, but instead, imagine this target concept is a product, say “Axe Body Spray”. Guessing games would typically have a player giving hints in some restricted game mechanic to get another player to guess “Axe.”

Can the player mentally retrieve the name of the brand? This corresponds to the awareness metric of recall. When told that the product is deodorant, does the player guess “Axe” first or “Old Spice”? This corresponds to the awareness metric of top-of-mind. And after multiple guesses over time, can the player ever come up with “Axe”? If no, maybe for them, “Axe” is not a household name.

Some classic games that many people have heard of with the guessing mechanic are: “Charades“ (guessing in response to someone silent miming the concept); “Pictionary“ (guessing in response to a drawn picture); and “Taboo“ (guessing in response to a fast description that cannot contain a set of banned, “taboo”, everyday words).


But there are many newer games that are just as much fun. “Catch Phrase!“ is similar to “Taboo” where you need to talk and guess fast, but replaces the banned word list mechanic with a “hot potato” mechanic. A timed buzzer is set to go off at a random moment, the teams guess concepts as quickly as possible and hand the “loaded” buzzer back-and-forth. If the buzzer goes off while your team is holding it, you lose the point.

Our personal favorite guessing game at the office is “Time’s Up!“. In a series of progressively sillier and sillier rounds, “Time’s Up!” combines the fast-talking mechanic of “Taboo” with the gesture-only mechanic of “Charades”. And a fun middle round where your teammate can only give one clue word before you must guess. The reason this game works so well is that throughout the entire game with multiple types of rounds, both teams use the same deck of concept cards, gradually learning what they are as you try to get through as many concepts as possible before the timer runs out. When you vaguely know what the cards in the deck are, you are prematurely tempted to shout out wrong answers, losing your team a point but introducing a lot of humor.


“Anomia“ is a top-of-mind guessing game that cranks up the pressure even more than the other games. Players flip over cards with categories such as “department store” and “famous addresses” and race to see who can spit out an appropriate word or phrase in the category first. The cards have symbols that indicate which players face off, so it keeps everyone on their toes.


“Name Dropper” is our guessing game, a two-player game where one player, the guesser, is responding to a series of clues (from the clue-giver) about all sorts of topics (about 20% market research topics on brands and products and 80% just-for-fun topics). We extract top-of-mind, recall and household name metrics from the guesser by recording and analyzing his guesses, in order, and the amount of time it took to guess them.



The biggest benefit to using games rather than surveys to measure awareness is tapping into “System 1” (fast, instinctual) responses. Since guessing games require fast responses to play them optimally, our players don’t edit or censor themselves, they guess precisely what comes to mind first regardless of what they think the most socially acceptable response might be. In addition, they have a lot of fun doing so.

We hope you get a chance to play some of these games for yourself and maybe next time you are guessing, take a second to think about what your guesses are revealing about your awareness. But don’t take more than a second- we don’t want your timer to run out!

If you enjoyed reading about consumer behavior and would like to learn how you can utilize it for your company, we encourage you to take advantage of our brand new free custom market research report. Simply enter your company’s data as well as that of two competitors, and we will return the report with 2-3 days. Upfront Analytics is an NYC-based market research company – get in touch with us today: (917) 639-5358

Sources: Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan. Wilson, C. E. (1981). A procedure for the analysis of consumer decision-making. Journal of Advertising Research, 21(2), 31-36.