Sonja Wessel, Senior Manager, International Marketing Communications at Deutsche Telekom, reveals how the telco’s brand positioning evolved into a force for good in developing a deeper understanding of dementia and its causes through its Sea Hero Quest game.

Deutsche Telekom’s fundamental belief is that ‘Life is for sharing’. Great things can happen when people start sharing. Memories and the people we share them with are what really matters in life.

However, dementia is destroying that belief. It is the next global health crisis, currently affecting 47.5 million people worldwide. Dementia has now overtaken heart disease in the UK as the biggest cause of death; in France and Australia it comes a close second. It’s becoming a much bigger killer due to life expectancy increasing.

Deutsche Telekom wanted to play a part in helping people understand dementia. Using its technological power, innovation and scale, it would enable consumers to help scientists discover more about how the brain works.

The link between gaming and dementia

Currently, scientists have no understanding of where dementia comes from, how to stop it, or even how to detect its earliest signs. They needed data from healthy people at scale because this would help them understand more about the condition and develop benchmarks to detect it much earlier.

Gamers produce more data than anybody else. Between them, they spend three billion hours gaming each week. Alongside this insight, we recognised another benefit: there’s a synergy between dementia and gaming because challenges with navigation are one of the first symptoms of dementia and also a popular gaming mechanic. This inspired our solution: a mobile game based on navigation skills.

If it could show how people navigate, scientists would have an effective proxy for non-dementia brain function. The result was Sea Hero Quest: the world’s first mobile game where anyone can help scientists fight dementia. We identified two potential audiences:

  • Casual Gamers: they play all the time and care about quality. To encourage them to engage, this couldn’t be just another app they would cast aside after one play.
  • Emotional Philanthropists: they look to help causes they care about but they want to do so in a way that they can share with others.

Driving downloads

Central to the success of Sea Hero Quest has been the need to drive downloads, one of the toughest tasks in a media world awash with branded apps. We launched the campaign promoting the game via a perfect blend of international and local media partners.

We had two key principles: a heavy skew to mobile to ensure consumers were always one click away from download and an emphasis on social, allowing us to tell the engaging story behind the game. While the international approach was focused on digital and social, ensuring a wide coverage among Deutsche Telekom’s footprint markets, the local approach combined classic media (print, OOH, TV), PR and digital into a powerful strategy, allowing for maximum success.

Internationally, we worked closely with PewDiePie, an iconic gamer with more than 60 million followers on YouTube and 7 million on Facebook, to create content, a strategy replicated in many markets using local influencers.

We created a mini-game of Sea Hero Quest, giving consumers the chance to road-test it. This version linked directly to app stores.

We appealed to our Emotional Philanthropists via an animated film telling the story of an ageing explorer who slowly loses his memories of past sea voyages to dementia. The animation was seeded across the mobile landscape, reaching our targets via in-app and gaming platforms.

In multiple markets, we accessed forgotten password pages and delivered ‘page not found’ messages, highlighting the impact of a lost memory.

Top new game

Sea Hero Quest was the most popular free game in several markets. It was featured as ‘Top New Game’ globally on Google Play and on launch day it was the top trending search on the App Store. To date, the app has been downloaded more than 3.7 million times, and scientists are now analysing the data from more than 100 years of gameplay generated. Initial results have already revealed much more about how dementia affects the brain than was previously known, and the benchmark research from the data could potentially result in dementia being detected earlier.

Lessons from Sea Hero Quest

Our overall learnings were that traditional media channels – TV and digital – are effective drivers of downloads for a longer period of time (after launch), whereas influencer and PR activities see a drop-off almost immediately after activity. More specifically:

  1. TV as a mass medium can push significant app downloads but online ads geared to the target group are more efficient, particularly for long-term activity. Mobile placements (particularly when compared to desktop) are extremely effective at driving downloads, due to the ‘just one click away’ aspect.
  2. PR can be a hugely powerful weapon for driving earned media coverage, if the issue and purpose of the campaign are relevant or can be made relevant to journalists.
  3. It is advantageous to use all touchpoints from the very beginning of the campaign, particularly given the high news value of Sea Hero Quest at launch.
  4. Recurring ads from the same influencer, print title, etc. have an extremely fast wear-out effect. Keeping in mind that a mobile game can only be downloaded once.
  5. Generally, after four weeks there is a heavy drop-off in downloads. In addition to lack of media activities, a drop in download can be attributed to high level of saturation (i.e. most people who want to play the game have already downloaded it).

Brands doing good isn’t new, but brands doing good on this scale and with this level of commitment is. We’ve turned Deutsche Telekom’s belief that ‘Life is for sharing’ into a force for good.