April 10, 2014
Case Study

App Gamification: 4 million barcodes scanned in 85 days for LuckyLabs' Scantopia

SUMMARY: In launching its new app, Scantopia, LuckyLabs needed to not only catch the attention of users in a crowded sphere, but keep it. By building social media and gamification into its utility app, LuckyLabs' Scantopia was able to grow to more than 6,000 social media shares a day.

In this MarketingSherpa Inbound Marketing case study, learn how to put a viral "app mentality" into your marketing strategy.
by Courtney Eckerle, Manager of Editorial Content


About six months ago, LuckyLabs, a venture-backed game publishing startup based in Boston, began looking at "that huge space of social mobile games and said, 'Holy cow, it's pretty undifferentiated at this point,'" according to Will Gardenswartz, Vice President of Business Development and Strategy, LuckyLabs.

From there, he said attention turned to discovering what could be done to "pivot this company into a space that we think has more differentiation, [and] would be more broadly marketable to the world while still having significant social and mobile elements to it."

LuckyLabs has published a number of games, including some social mobile games in which users buy virtual currency within the game. However, in a new app, Scantopia, people scan the barcodes on products in their homes for cash and point rewards. Scantopia needed to answer the company's desire to differentiate itself.

Apps are falling into two buckets, according to Gardenswartz. One group is utility apps that people use regularly, such as a navigation app, and is a staple of someone's mobile use.

The second bucket is filled with "apps that have proven some ability to sort of quickly grab attention and mind share. But in many, arguably [in] most cases, quickly, they are forgotten," he said.

The challenge facing LuckyLabs was retaining users for Scantopia. It needed to be engaging and quickly grab attention, but it also needed to become a staple of users' mobile activity.

Scantopia falls into what Gardenswartz terms as a "middle ground" between the two buckets — utility mixed with gamification.

The app world is crowded, and it is difficult to capture attention and especially challenging to keep it.

"Games have proven to have this ability to keep people," he said, citing apps like Angry Birds, Candy Crush and Words with Friends. "These things are not only grabbing people's attention, but are keeping people's attention."

The LuckyLabs team needed to take the infectious nature of these games, and mix it with the utility they were building with Scantopia in order to mine as much data as possible from users.


Scantopia is a mind share, meaning users are rewarded monetarily by scanning products. The objective for LuckyLabs is to get data on products consumers are buying.

"[Users] can really scan anything into our game and have a chance at getting rewarded. And then, every day, we also have specific products that are guaranteed to pay them money if they scan those products," Gardenswartz said.

In order to create success for the app, LuckyLabs had to not only promote it on the front end with social media ad buys and blogger endorsements, but make it self-sustaining. By utilizing gamification within the app, the team kept users scanning data and rewarded that behavior.

Alongside that, they developed as many social sharing aspects into the app as possible to make it fun for users to share the app with their friends, and encouraging the app to grow on the strength of its own players.

"I think a lot of marketers now are trying to think of ways that they kind of adopt an app mentality into their marketing," he said.

Step #1. App adoption — make it fun

"We're committed to the idea that the way that [users] will volunteer that data is by making it fun and by making it entertaining," Gardenswartz said.

That is where LuckyLabs ascribes to the notion of "shoppertainment," in which a product can satisfy utility and also be entertaining and fun to use. In the crowded app sphere, value has to be conveyed quickly and clearly.

"You're not making a bet, you're not risking anything. And that's very important in kind of this next phase of gamification, where there can actually be a monetary reward," he said.

By bringing advanced game mechanics into the app, "we are able to first attract, and very quickly convey our message," Gardenswartz said.

"That kind of mechanic is proving to have vastly better retention rates than the very large majority of apps that come to market. That's just going to be necessary. People are going to need to be entertained and rewarded in the very short attention span world of mobile," he added.

Scantopia's main page has six functions — "Scan & Win," "Daily Super Scan," "Progressive Jackpot," "Weird Sweeps," "Deals and Coupons" and "Cash Out." Along the bottom, users' names appear after they have won money using the app. These, along with playful graphics, clearly convey the value of scanning products and building up rewards.

In order to maximize the amount of time a user spends on the product, gamification is an easy way to make the utility of the product fun and keep continuing interactions simple.

"Our [app] definitely has not only a game element, but it does feel like a utility in that we're, as I like to say, a mashup of a savings app with a game … that's an easy adoption," he said.

Step #2. Utilize social media ad buys

The bulk of the paid acquisition for Scantopia has been through Facebook, according to Gardenswartz.

"It's kind of a pleasure spending money in the mobile acquisition part of Facebook. It's just a very good system," he said, adding the targeting ability was instrumental in promoting the app.

What is most appealing, he said, is drilling in on areas that are very specific to the LuckyLabs sphere, which are "different rewards programs and points programs. I can talk to an audience that's engaged in that stuff. That makes for good efficiency," he said.

The Facebook ads, like the app, depict the value and ease of Scantopia. They show a user scanning a barcode with their phone, and earning cash in a fun cartoon motif.

In the Scantopia ads, he experimented with different targets, and creative that “made for fast learning.”

Even with all of the attributes of Facebook, Gardenswartz said "it's not good enough. I can't acquire people efficiently enough in just Facebook."

"The deal blog community is certainly important to us,” he said, adding in addition to Facebook ad buys, the team put out pitches to different deal bloggers to write about Scantopia and promote that post via their Twitter feeds.

However, even with both of those efforts on the front end, was necessary for the team to develop a way for the app to generate users without having to rely on outside forces pushing people in, but rather users pulling friends in.

Step #3. Give incentives to share socially

The solution to filling the user gap from the social ad buys was in designing an energy system into the game mechanics in Scantopia, which would essentially recharge the app based on user social activity.

How the energy system works, he explained, is that "you're happily scanning some groceries in your house, but you run out of scans. That's kind of a bummer, and it seems counterintuitive to stop somebody from doing the very activity that we want them to do in the game, which is to scan products."

Once a user runs out of scans, they can get more by inviting friends into the game via social media or email. They can also earn more scans by sending gifts to other users or sending scans to other friends in the game.

"For our users, plenty of them are saying, 'I'll recharge some energy by sending my friends emails about this game,'" he said.

Building social media into the game is making Scantopia addictive, Gardenswartz said. By sharing and rewarding positive behavior from users, it keeps them engaged.

By asking players to reach out to their communities in order to perpetuate themselves in the game, a viral aspect is added into the game mechanics. Currently, more than one-third of users acquired into Scantopia have come in through this method.

A progressive jackpot

One of the most collaborative aspects of the game is a progressive jackpot that creates a big social dynamic within the app, according to Gardenswartz. The more people playing, the bigger the collective jackpot is, so the incentive to share is inherent.

Users can enter a scan into the progressive jackpot, and the more people who play, the bigger the prize is. At the end of the week, a winner is chosen and they win a mixture of cash and game tokens from the jackpot. According to Gardenswartz, LuckyLabs gives away around $4,000 a month in progressive jackpots.

The progressive, cooperative element is "an inherently social thing," he said, and it keeps people involved with using the app — and it keeps them sharing with others.

"That social message, people working together to get the pot maximized is an interesting social dynamic," he said. "You have to create [a] mechanism in [the] app that makes it valuable and fun for me to share with my friends."

Friends don't spam friends

He cautions, however, that it cannot feel like users are "spamming" their friends. Many marketers walk that line, he said, and some "just very poorly engineer that part of their games and services."

People should not feel as though to earn rewards in the game, they have to bother or spam their friends — games should be designed to make it exciting and fun.

Gardenswartz said people can share via email or social media and say, "'Hey, I just won something and I want you to, also,' Or, 'I know you love this brand of potato chips, and did you know you can scan it today and get 25 cents, 50 cents right into your Scantopia account.'"

Marketers need to be cognizant about how they package a social sharing element to achieve the desired result without annoying or alienating users.

"I think everybody would tell you 'friends don't spam friends.' But friends do share news with friends. And friends do celebrate with friends," he said, adding that if it feels like content and it feels relevant, users are more than happy to share it.

"It's what social media is made to do," he explained.

Retain your audience

Gardenswartz added that Scantopia is able to persuade users to come back "week after week, day after day … we're seeing off-the-charts retention numbers for the mobile world."

"I would be the first to tell you that compared to other things I've done on the Web, mobile is a leakier bucket. You've got to work harder at putting people into the bucket and keeping people in the bucket. It's just the nature of the mobile medium," he said.

With the right application of game mechanics, he added, people will keep returning to use the app.

"With the game mechanics and the 'win money' aspect and the fact that it's a utility; this thing actually earns me money and helps me save on groceries I buy all the time. That combination of things is proving to have a very appealing retention," he said.


"Most of the tactics and things that we're employing in this game, I have employed in past services. But it's kind of the combination of tactics that is unique," Gardenswartz said.

LuckyLabs has been pleasantly surprised by the results, he added.

He said, "Think if we're going to create a game around scanning barcodes, there was this question of: 'Will people really do that? Will they really take the time to use their phone and kick off an app that scans barcodes?'"

Results of this effort include:

  • 4 million barcodes scanned in 85 days

  • Growth to 2,500 referral emails sent out by users a day

  • 4,500 Facebook shares a day

  • 1,000 Twitter shares a day

  • More than 40% of users signing up in a given month return the following month

The user sharing system has been growing by up to 20% a week because LuckyLabs "made these social levers part of the game, and so, people are actively using the social levers. I think people all like it to be rewarding. There has to be a little reward," he said.

Throughout the app building and promoting process, Gardenswartz concluded, "We're just committed to, as we like to say, big fun elicits big data."

Creative Samples

  1. Scantopia main page

  2. Scanning

  3. Facebook ad

  4. Progressive jackpot



Related Resources

Social Media Marketing: How a sporting goods company increased Facebook reach 366%

B2B Gamification: How Autodesk used game mechanics for in-trial marketing

Gamification: 3 tips for gamification apps as part of your content marketing

Social Media Marketing: How a pharmaceutical company gained 107,000 Facebook likes in one month

B2B Social Media: Gamification effort increases Web traffic 100%, employee collaboration 57%

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