Pokémon GO. A Unique Case Study in Marketing

Sep 5th 2016

Besides investors shaking their heads, regretting not buying those Nintendo stock bonds before Pokémon GO was announced, what other results do we see from Pokémon GO, an augmented-reality app that marries wide-spread nostalgia with the fun of a novel virtual reality game? This app has conquered users of currently 26 different countries as well as [a slew of] media outlets. Its sudden rise to fame has proven to serve as a social experiment in ways concerning psychological behavior, video-game development and for us here, most importantly, marketing strategies.

Initially the advertised release-date excited millennials with a past [or current] Pokemon obsession. However, the novelty of the gaming platform drew in an impressive crowd with little to no prior Pokemon experience. The game is connected in real-time to actual geographic locations that contain either a Poke-stop or a gym that users can interact with to advance in the game. These precise locations have been decided by the users of a Niantic beta-game “Ingress” that was released in 2013 using Google Map's structure. They were prompted by the developers to send them names of public art pieces and historical landmarks that would be then set up as “portals” in the game. The amount of write-in's totaled to over 15 million; the developers then narrowed the scope to about 5 million different sites, the very same sites you can see today as you walk the streets with your phone.

Much to the dismay of small business owners who would like a shot at being near a Poke-stop, this means the points of interest had been decided long before the release of Pokémon GO, but there is still hope. Niantic has expressed interest in adding new poke-stops in the future for cities where there is scarce Poke-development [rural areas]. Many have begun contacting the developers of Niantic with Poke-stop requests at their business. In the future, Niantic is said to start adding more stops based on these entries.

In the meantime, there are still steps businesses can take to market themselves to this very diverse audience. From market giants such as Tesco to your average mom-and-pop restaurant, in every country that a Poke-map is developed, there are businesses that have appealed to players as potential customers. They do this by offering discounts to them if they have reached a certain level in the game, offering in-game tips and tricks in literature as a way to boost their publicity as well as hosting matches [if the store in question is a rare and lucky gym location]. One other interesting business strategy used by notably restaurants is the participation of local entrepreneurs in Pokemon for their direct benefit by dropping something called a “lure” near their location. At the crossroads between “online” and “real life,” businesses are now able to control the very flow of traffic into their stores through this method. The “lures” are items that once dropped by a player, are seen by all users in the area who immediately flock to that area to reap the prizes and rare Pokemon that wait before them. You can imagine once a person has arrived and gained from a visit to the front entrance of your store, the probability of them stopping by to grab a bite significantly increases. It's an impressive act of consumer manipulation that before Pokémon GO was not as widely possible.

There is still more to learn from the Pokémon GO effect. There is a very delicate balance between in-game marketing and user satisfaction that the creators of the app are still tinkering with; obnoxious pop-up ads do not seem to be in the app's future as the advertising layout and context of the game is far different from most other apps. Sponsored Poke-stops seem to be the popular choice of marketing strategy. Another potential method may be to create brand-sponsored Pokemon characters or setting up point-collecting loyalty programs with specific businesses. The potential for marketing innovation is huge because of Pokémon GO's pioneering role in not only revitalizing the love of Pokemon for thousands but for changing the face, shape and style of interacting gaming in a curiously brilliant way.

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