Pokemon Go is the viral sensation of the summer. Created by Niantic Labs and distributed by Nintendo, the app has kids and adults alike wandering around catching and training creatures through their phones. But even for people who aren’t playing Pokemon Go, the game has become a major cultural phenomenon in a short time.
The "rudimentary" game "may herald an important technological shift," writes the Editorial Board of Bloomberg. The mobile app is the first augmented reality game to achieve mainstream success, and may well represent a turning point in bringing augmented reality into everyday life.
In only a couple weeks, Pokemon Go has become a great case study of how augmented reality and mobile devices can bridge the gaps between the online and offline worlds. For marketers, augmented reality holds significant promise, from gamifying the user experience to more straightforward B2B applications that allow prospective customers to virtually test large purchases.
But there are also tangible benefits for brands and marketers right now. After quickly becoming the most-downloaded app in the Apple App Store since its release last week, retailers have started finding ways to jump on the Pokemon Go craze.
How retail brands can leverage the Pokemon Go phenomenon
While reports suggest more robust advertising opportunities may be coming to the app shortly (more on that below), retailers can already leverage the phenomenon and bring foot traffic to stores.
While some retailers are sending people away from their stores if they’re just there to play the game, others are welcoming the Pokemon Go-induced foot traffic, in some cases advertising on Facebook that the monsters have taken up residence in their businesses, according to Retail Dive.
Besides special deals for Pokemon Go players, retailers have the option to attract players into shops by purchasing a Lure Module through the app that brings monsters to a Pokestop for 30 minutes—and presumably customers after those monsters. According to the New York Post, a New York pizzeria saw business rise 75% after it dropped a lure in the game for $10. Other restaurants are advertising that their locations happen to be Pokestops and Pokemon Gyms.
“Trust me when I say this game is exploding, and it stands to have a daily impact on your business,” game reviewer Jason Evangelho wrote in a post on Forbes. “The best approach you can take is to make that impact positive by embracing the game and making the Pokemon Go experience a memorable one for both you and your potential customers.”
Coming soon: Sponsored locations
The biggest opportunity for brands on Pokemon Go may not exist yet.
Pokemon Go developer Niantic Labs is planning allow businesses to sponsor locations for certain in-game activities. Along with in-app purchases by players in Pokemon Go, “there is a second component to our business model at Niantic, which is this concept of sponsored locations,” Niantic’s CEO John Hanke told the Financial Times.
Niantic previously monetized portals on Pokemon Go’s precursor game, a sci-fi app dubbed Ingress. If Niantic follows this strategy, retailers and other businesses would be able to buy Pokestops (locations where players go to stock up on pokeballs and find Pokemon) or Pokegyms (locations where players battle other Pokemon) to lure players to their locations. So far these portals are now largely geo-located at sites like parks and museums.
According to Adweek, sponsored locations are coming to Pokémon Go via Google AdWords. The ads reportedly will only charge businesses when someone playing the game actually visits the physical location.
"If we have a client where the demographic makes sense, then yes, we will advise that client to test sponsored locations," Gareth Price, technical director at Ready Set Rocket, told Adweek. "Cost per visit is enticing for businesses with physical locations as it can lead to a more direct and quantifiable correlation between ad spending and in-store purchases."
Some likely businesses for sponsored location ads include supermarkets, big box retailers and stores preparing for back-to-school shopping, with the idea that the game’s cachet will still be strong in the coming months.
Will Pokemon Go have staying power? It's unclear to anyone exactly how long the craze will last. But for now, a lot of people are using it, and retailers can jump on the trend to bring people to their stores.
As far as summertime viral phenomena go, the Pokemon Go app appears to still be growing. But while it is providing tangible benefits to some businesses, the greater value may lie in the lessons marketers can learn from the app.
“It certainly is a case study in how to create an incredible viral wave. But the core reason it has exploded is because it solves a huge consumer need—getting your kids off their butts and outdoors," Jason Falls, senior VP for digital strategy at Elasticity, told Marketing Dive. “It has great sharing functionality, a fun user-experience from a gaming standpoint, but it is a big hit because it solves a consumer need. That's what marketers need to focus on.”
Other are more bullish on the potential of the underlying technology.
“Pokémon Go for augmented reality and for Nintendo is very much what ‘Serial’ was for podcasting and ‘This American Life,’” Topher Burns, group director of product innovation at Deep Focus, told Digiday. “It is a breakthrough experience that shows the true endemic value of AR technology. It has always had tremendous potential, but Nintendo was able to bring this to life in a way like no one has as yet.”
In the long run, the game's true staying power may have less to do with the game itself, and more to do with augmented reality. If the technology takes off as analysts expect—Gartner research projects 25 million VR or limited augmented reality headsets will be in consumers' hands by 2018—Pokemon Go could be remembered as the moment where augmented and virtual reality first realized their potential.
And as Pokemon Go shows, a world with augmented reality is ripe with opportunities for brands.