PlayCaptcha: Gamifying Captchas

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We’ve all come across a CAPTCHA. It stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”, but we know them better as the annoying security feature on websites that need to know that you aren’t a robot. 300,000,000 CAPTCHAs are completed online on a daily basis, whether that’s on areas of the web like ticket sites, forums, or Facebook.

The CAPTCHA is the Devil

There’s no skirting around the issue – internet users despise CAPTCHAs. The very nature of them is immediately unappealing as they’re making the assumption that you – the user – may be an automated process and not who you pertain to be. If this isn’t bad enough, it then asks you to type in a mangled and disfigured mess of a word (that would deceive the eyes of a robot) and you have to hope that you’ve read it correctly. Some of them could even get quite meta. However, this a media blog, so what do CAPTCHAs have to do with anything apart from frustrate our experiences with websites?

PlayCaptchas and Future Ad Labs

Well, a start-up called Future Ad Labs has seen a media and advertising opportunity in the mundane. What they’ve developed is an interactive CAPTCHA experience that doubles as an ad unit and it’s called a PlayCaptcha. Instead of typing in words, the user has to complete a small task within the ad unit in order to prove they aren’t a robot. It’s another example of gamification within the media industry. Advergames have recently been in the spotlight and can almost be viewed as a long-form version of a PlayCaptcha. Both are successful because we humans like to solve problems.


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PlayCaptcha in action for Nestlé’s KitKit and Heinz’s Salad Cream.


What PlayCaptcha does well is make it seem as if the user isn’t really being advertised to. It first and foremost feels like a fun game that you need to play in order to progress to the next screen. Future Ad Labs has already ran campaigns for Reckitt Benckiser, Heinz and Nestlé (amongst others) and each PlayCaptcha is unique in the way it asks the user to engage with the brand. For example, you’ve got to clean a dirty penny using Cillit Bang, or add Heinz Salad Cream to a sandwich. It’s also appeared on the BBC Good Food website.

Why Should an Advertiser or Site Owner Bother?

For advertisers, the age-old problem with display adverts online is banner blindness, low engagement and incredibly small click-through rates. According to Future Ad Labs, the PlayCaptcha is a way of achieving:

  • 100% guaranteed brand engagement
  • 90% brand recall
  • 73% product recall

On top of this, it claims that 75% of users will feel positively towards a brand after interacting with it within a PlayCaptcha ad unit. If these figures are to be believed, then this is one of the most efficient and effective ways to advertise online. This is obviously dependent on cost and CPM, but a premium can be expected when such high levels of engagement and recall are involved.

For site owners, why would they want to display adverts instead of standard CAPTCHAs? Again, Future Ad Labs has conducted research and found that:

  • 87% of users find them easier to read
  • 85% of users find them easier and quicker to complete
  • 92% of users succeed at them, meaning more conversions

Additionally, site owners get paid for every PlayCaptcha that’s completed on their site. These statistics mean that users not only prefer PlayCaptcha when compared to normal CAPTCHAs, but actually enjoy the experience of interacting with the brand.


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PlayCaptcha in action for Reckitt Benckiser’s Cillit Bang and Finish brands.


What Does the Future Hold?

The ad unit does seem like a win-win scenario for both advertiser and site owner. It allows for an advertiser to powerfully and concisely convey a message whilst making it easier for site owners to prove that their users are genuine. What’s also great is that different brands can be served to different websites, meaning that the content of the PlayCaptcha will remain relevant to the audience that’s interacting with it. The ad units are also cross-platform enabled, meaning that they even work on touch-screen devices.

My favourite PlayCaptchas so far are the ones which directly mimic the users’ experiences they have with the brand in real life. For example, opening a KitKit on a touch-screen device is extremely close to the real thing and completing such an action does stimulate the brain into remembering what it’s like to enjoy the chocolatey treat.


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PlayCaptcha in action for the Vanish and Renault brands.


What problems will PlayCaptcha face? As seen with advergames, there may be a backlash if junk food advertisers are allowed to buy space on PlayCaptchas and these ad units are then placed in locations online that are popular with children. There is also competition in the market, such as Are You Human. Competitors do offer slightly different products, but it’s likely to be a race to see which technology can become the internet standard the quickest to achieve the dominant market position.

Brands also have a duty to use the ad unit in an innovative way. If users come across the same PlayCaptchas time and time again and are instructed to complete the same motions over and over, then the idea will quickly lose its appeal and novelty. I’d like to see brands really use the unit to convey a product’s back story or display the product in use, such as crushing fresh fruit to make an Innocent drink, or feeding a hungry dog a treat for Pedigree. I’m excited to come across PlayCaptchas in the future and hope that Future Ad Labs do eventually play a part in ridding the world of CAPTCHAs once and for all.

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One comment

  1. […] We also heard from a host of exciting start-ups themselves including Twizoo, an app that helps people find great places to eat and drink in London based on the buzz on Twitter, Future Adlabs who gamify the monotonous captcha experience with brand games, including a campaign we worked with them on for the aptly named Renault Captur. […]

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