With the 2013-14 season closing in, the NFL continues to evolve media and content formats in a bid to increase the already mammoth broadcasting revenues.  Live sports, with the Super Bowl at the very pinnacle, is truly the last bastion of captive audience paid media. At least until Facebook unveils full-screen video ads.

Thinking back to this past February’s Super Bowl, as a long-time San Francisco 49ers fan, I’ll remember that game as one of the worst (1st half), best (2nd half), and most heartbreaking (last play) sports viewing experiences. Regardless of the final score, it was a good day, as I got to watch it at home with my two year old.

The 2013 Super Bowl also remains top of mind for its advertising and, as we get ready for the upcoming relaunch of Invoke’s Memelabs contesting platform next month, I often think back to one specific campaign. You might recall this ad for Coca-Cola. Yeah, believe it or not, Coke ran a Super Bowl spot. This one is set in the desert with the premise of several iconic and ironic teams racing to get to a giant bottle of Coke. It’s a beautiful piece of cinematography. The ad ends by asking you to go to the Coke Chase website and vote on which team you want to win the race.

But you don’t. You don’t care. And you’re not alone in thinking that.

Clearly, enormous effort went into what appears to be an exciting campaign. But there’s no heart. There’s no connection to these teams of people. They are based on pop-culture archetypes about the desert and nothing else. I love Lawrence of Arabia and Mad Max at least as much (see what I did there?) as anyone else, but in this grand cola extravaganza I don’t know why these people exist, I don’t know why they’re racing, and I certainly don’t know why it’s up to me to make a decision.

So how do you inspire people to actually interact with an interactive campaign? First, make sure you know exactly what type of campaign you’re actually running. Gamified interactive campaigns are very different from prize-oriented contests. The two can easily get mixed up, but there are key differences between them.

Contests are designed to bring you in with the promise of a reward. The value is delivered through prizes and destinations. If you do “this”, then we give you “this”. Or – more often the case – if a whole bunch of you do this, then one of you might get the aforementioned this. In true Machiavellian style, the means are generally not important if your end is strong enough. Of course, if the contest experience also strikes an authentic, creative, or emotional chord with participants, all the better.

The quality of the content is critical, and will differ based on the tactic. I cared about Coke Auctions, and I definitely had interest in the infamy around Pepsi Points and the Harrier Jet. Both of those promotions tied participation and reward to consumption of the product and engagement with the brand.

Gamification is inherently more complex. It’s a strategic, organic, ongoing combination of cause and effect. Going even deeper, it’s behavioural. Instead of being oriented around a reward, the value is delivered through the experience. Whether or not you beat the game or win doesn’t necessarily matter. The end result might be an amazing prize, but, as many have said, the journey needs to be every bit as compelling as the destination. The game needs to provoke emotion and opinions, like in the case of Portal 2 and their awesome (to many) and frustrating (to others) campaign of games-in-a-game-before-the-game. These compelling journeys immerse your audience into a story and allow them to participate in something unique, special, or meaningful to them. When viewers, visitors, or users start to truly connect with your story and become actors within the narrative, then a lasting impression has been made. Take a look at this VW, Google, and Facebook mashup from South Africa, for instance.

A truly immersive game ensures that the expectation of the player to participate is inextricably linked to the quality of that experience. Whereas with a successful contest, we really want to think about reducing the friction from awareness to participation to submission. To reiterate, with gamification, the “friction” becomes a desired, must-have part of a sustainable interactive experience. It’s no longer friction, it becomes “stickiness”. Huge difference there.

Just to be clear, I love a frosty cold can of Coke on a hot day (why are the cold cans so good?). At the same time that I use Coke Chase as an example to learn from, I applaud the creativity and spirit of the idea. But until I start caring as much about these characters as I do Kaepernick, Gore, Willis, or Santa Claus, I’m abstaining my vote. As it seems, so did millions of others.