How Pokémon Go could change local marketing

Over the last few weeks, you will almost certainly have heard of something called ‘Pokémon Go’. It’s hit the headlines all over the world, but what impact will Pokémon Go have on local marketing?

The coming of age for augmented reality

If you’re not up to speed on what Pokémon Go is, it’s a game you play on your mobile phone that allows you to ‘hunt’ for characters from the Pokémon card game and TV series. Despite the characters being digital, they are seen as inhabiting the world in which we live via the smartphone, using your device’s GPS functionality to locate the Pokémon. This mix of virtual reality and real life has a name – augmented reality.

Augmented reality itself is not a new thing. In fact, it became fairly common in apps around four or five years ago.  You’d see star-gazing apps done with augmented reality, or even plane-spotting apps which allowed the user to hold the phone up to the sky and see that, somewhere behind the clouds, there was a plane.

The problem was, the apps were a bit boring and pointless. They were not engaging and many industry pundits suspected augmented reality was a fad that would disappear. The apps were made so that the technology could be used, rather than the technology being used to facilitate or improve an app or game.

This is where Pokémon Go has really changed things; augmented reality had suddenly become mainstream, and moreover, it’s seen as being useful.  This game has been the perfect showcase of what augmented reality can achieve, and so now the questions are being asked, what opportunities may exist to use augmented reality in marketing?

Why Pokémon Go has grabbed the world’s attention

Within days of its release over in the US, Pokémon Go was dominating headlines across the States, and further afield. It was the fastest smartphone app to be downloaded 10million times and within a month of its launch, the game boasted more active users than Twitter and some 30million downloads in total.

It had a similar impact when it was released several weeks later in the UK, and it is now a bonafide worldwide phenomenon.  But why?

Players of all ages are loving getting off their couches and out of the house to hunt for Pokémon.  Crucially, this includes adults.  We will come back to why this is so important shortly.  The game is getting people outside, socialising and seeing parts of their neighbourhoods that in some cases they would just never have seen.

There is also the physical aspect, especially for young players who are usually so dependent on their computer games inside the house.

Local businesses are seeing a real benefit if they’re in the right location.  Within the game exists PokéStops and Poké Gyms, where you can go to stock up on accessories and tools needed to catch their Pokémon, or to train them.

These are random locations in many cases, but they are actual physical places that people are going to.  For businesses that have inadvertently found themselves located as a PokéStop, this is great for business.

Some of these businesses around the world have been quick to capitalise, advertising themselves as PokéStops and offering visiting players certain perks or discounts. Even for businesses not fortunate enough to be one on these locations, they have used the success of the campaign to boost local marketing, offering discounts for players that show their progress in the game.

The craze has also seen some entrepreneurial types from around the world make Pokémon their business, or at least part of it.  Taxi firms have offered Pokémon Go tours of their cities, allowing riders to visit spots to collect rare Pokémon.  There are even reports of people quitting full-time jobs to become full-time Pokémon players so that their gaming profiles can then be sold for big money.

But it’s the marketers who are finding the success of Pokémon Go so fascinating.  A Forbes Report in America found some fascinating results in terms of the demographics of those playing the game. Interestingly, 46% of all players were between the ages of 18 and 29.  This is a key target market for many brands, and so one reason why some companies are really taking notice.

The statistics don’t end there either. Some 45% of all Pokémon Go players in the USA are earning a salary of $50,000 per year or more, which is £38,000.  That kind of salary range represented highly qualified professionals, at least to degree level. These represent very valuable demographics to many marketing departments, and so businesses have very quickly become switched-on to the idea of Pokémon Go.

Will augmented reality continue to influence marketing?

So what of the future then?  The company behind Pokémon Go are unsurprisingly already getting the wheels in motion to commercialise Pokémon Go.  Businesses will be offered the chance to become sponsored PokéStops in the near future, opening up a world of commercial opportunities for the game.

It remains to be seen whether for this particular game they may have missed the boat. While the success of the game will continue for some months yet, eventually you’d expect the furore to calm down so moving quickly is going to be vital.

However, what about the rest of us?  There is no doubt that the success of Pokémon Go has opened the eyes of marketing professionals around the world. The sponsored ‘PokéStop’ idea is mind-blowing, effectively paying to have businesses visited by players from a very clear demographic, and we know exactly what they will be doing, and what their interests are.

And then there is the data the game collects.  Players login with the Google accounts, sharing that data with the game manufacturers.  IP address, location and recent browsing history can all be bundled with that, presenting in-depth profiles of millions of users.

The term ‘big data’ may be a few years old, but data forms every sensible decision a business makes, and especially when it comes to targeted marketing. If augmented reality can bring in large amounts of very specific information, this becomes incredibly valuable.

Will we see a new wave of augmented reality games?

The answer to this question, in the short-term at least, is ‘yes’.  There is no way that a game this popular that also has so many potential gains from a commercial point of view will not be repeated.  Not only by the current manufacturers but by businesses and developers around the world.

There are though many considerations within this.  For countries inside the EU, for which the UK remains one, for the time being, data collection needs to be consented to implicitly. But more significantly is the potential problems created by inaccurate geolocation data, not to mention social issues.

Getting accurate location data for businesses or the equivalent of PokéStops to include in games can be incredibly expensive. Location coordinates that are slightly incorrect can potentially create huge problems.

It also remains to be seen what legal ramifications there may be if players end up in areas that are private or prohibited, or what issues could present themselves to players on a local level.  There have been cases around the world where players have walked off cliffs while hunting Pokémon, as well as witnessing crimes and being subject to them.

Augmented reality can offer marketeers incredible possibilities in the future, but not without expenses and hurdles to overcome.

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