Why Pokémon Go Matters to Your Brand

By Jay Saenz / Aug 02, 2016



A few months ago I wrote a blog on virtual and augmented reality and how advertisers could use these tools to engage consumers. At the time there weren’t many great examples of advertisers using augmented reality and I was a bit harsh on the technology and its failure to reach mass adoption. Fast forward to July 6, 2016 and the release of Nintendo and Niantic’s Pokémon Go which has me rethinking my previous position—this, as they say, changes everything.

For those not familiar, Pokémon is a wildly successful video game, turned anime, turned multi-media franchise owned by Nintendo. It’s one of the highest-grossing multi-media franchisees of all time with around $57.65 billion in earnings (2015) and those numbers are climbing fast with the release of their first multi-platform app.

So why does this change everything for augmented reality and advertisers?

  • Pokémon has already surpassed Twitter and Tinder in total install base. (Similarweb)
  • Mobile users are spending more time in Pokémon Go than Facebook. (Sensor Tower)
  • On the launch of the game Nintendo’s stock price hit its highest closing point since June 22, 2010. (Forbes)
  • While exact numbers are not known, it’s estimated that the game has over 21 million players in the United States alone. (Survey Monkey)
Pokemon Go 3

What is Pokémon Go?

Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game for Android and IOS. The game puts players in the role of a young Pokémon trainer whose objective is to catch 136 Pokémon by traveling to real world locations. This feature uses Google maps to determine points of interest.

Here is how it works. A player launches the app and sees:

PokéStops – Real world locations the player must travel to in order to gain items that assist them in the game.

Gyms – Real world locations that can be captured by teams (Players can be part of one of three teams in the game). Gyms earn prestige and can be leveled up to make it harder for rival teams to capture. Gyms are also used as locations to train and revive Pokémon.

Pokémon – The game allows users to track wild Pokémon with their cellphone. Uncaptured Pokémon appear as silhouette with feet beneath them indicating the distance the player is from the Pokémon. The player then walks around until they encounter and hopefully capture the wild Pokémon.

The above is an oversimplification of the game (my apologies, Pokémon masters) but it highlights the key takeaway, in order for players to reach their goal of capturing, training, and battling their Pokémon they have to get out of their homes and offices and start walking.

Why Food and Beverage Companies Love Pokémon Go

At this point you’ve probably surmised why advertisers are so interested in the game. Not only does it have one of the largest install bases of any mobile app, it also relies heavily on users visiting real world locations. An online ad could now come in the form of a PokéStop or Gym, giving advertisers an opportunity to capture a player’s business.

Nintendo and Niantic are already rumored to be in talks with companies like McDonald’s to turn their locations into PokéStops or Gyms which could do wonders for their image with millennial consumers. (Seeking Alpha)

This especially makes sense for restaurants, bars, and other service-based locations. PokéStops regenerate after five minutes, so players have an incentive to hang around and order another latté. If your location is lucky enough to be a Gym, players could stay much longer since there are fewer Gym locations in the game and training requires a much higher time commitment than a quick visit to a PokéStop.

Pokémon Go Lures in Consumers

Some entrepreneurial small businesses are also taking advantage of the fact that they are already points of interest in the game, offering discounts to players and a place for paying customers to charge their smartphones. In fact, Oliver Russell’s building is adorned by two iconic murals and both of these murals are marked as PokéStops.

Pokemon Mural Pokestops

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  • Some businesses have taken this to the next level by using in-game lures. Lure Modules modify a PokéStop to increase the amount of Pokémon that appear at any given location. These affects are open to all players, not just the player who added the module to the stop. By purchasing Lure Modules enterprising business can easily create special events around the game. I can see the tweet now – “ACME Café, Pokémon Go special – Lure modules from 1 – 5 pm and 10% off for players!”

    Of course, there is always a risk that a business could get overrun by players looking for a rare Pokémon just take a look at what happened recently in central park when a rare Vaporeon Pokémon appared.

    What’s Next?

    As a digital marketer I’ve been watching the augmented reality space for quite some time. I am especially interested in the concept of Convergent Culture – the space in which old media, online media and the real world intersect. Pokémon Go may just represent the most important shift in how millions of people see online information and how it relates to their real world actions.

    Now that this shift has occurred, we are exploring how consumers will use mixed reality applications to engage with brands, learning which clients will benefit the most from mixed reality advertising, and we’re discovering how to develop engaging content for these new tools.

    For now there is one thing we are sure of: Pokémon Go’s players and businesses are hoping to achieve the same goal. They’ve “Gotta Catch ‘em all!”

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    Jay Saenz

    Jay believes it's all about creating mutually beneficial relationships. With more than five years' experience in nonprofit development/underwriting and 13 years in direct sales, Jay specializes in finding the right match between an organization's purpose, audience and prospective partners. You won't mind taking his calls because his sales process is noticeably absent of slime—it's built on strategic collaboration, communication and teamwork.

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