After starting out as an April Fools’ joke from Google in 2014, Pokémon Go has now become one of the most downloaded apps and talked-about crazes the world has ever seen. Just one week on from its official release, active user figures had already overtaken those of Twitter, with millions of people searching far and wide in their quest to catch ‘em all.
For anyone unfamiliar with the phenomenon (have you been living in a Zubat-infested cave?), Pokémon Go is a smartphone gaming app which allows players to track, hunt and catch virtual pocket monsters –more commonly known as Pokémon –using a combination of location tracking and augmented reality technologies.
While this has proved a massive hit among nostalgic millennials, who finally get to live out their childhood dreams of chasing their favourite cartoon critters through Hyde Park, it hasn’t all been fun and games for Pokémon Go. Niantic Labs’ app has made plenty of headlines for the wrong reasons, including grown men pursuing Pokémon through minefields in Bosnia, players complaining of sore legs after accidentally exercising, and many a story of opportunistic muggers using the app to bait victims to ‘Gyms’ or ‘Pokéstops’.
It’s thankfully not only criminals that have taken advantage of these Pokéstops–real-life geographical landmarks acting as beacons and virtual item pickup stops within the game –as some small businesses have also cashed in. Several UK pubs and restaurants lucky enough to have become Pokéstops are spending up to £100 a day on virtual ‘lures’, and have even hired workers whose sole job is to place these lures around the establishment. In such eateries, both players and virtual Pokémon come flocking, with one Covent Garden restaurant seeing a reported 26% increase in revenue.
For bigger advertisers, eyes must be lighting up at the prospect of targeting customers through the app; whether it’s as simple as retailers driving footfall through location tracking, or online propositions leveraging branding into the AR feature, it is certainly an exciting prospect.
One company has already got the Poké-Ball rolling, as McDonald’s this week saw 3,000 outlets in Japan become Pokéstops. While Niantic has remained fairly tight-lipped on their business plans so far, this does show signs of promise for any other advertisers in other countries keen to exploit Pokémon Go’s success.
One aspect advertisers should be wary of when considering commercial activity with any craze is the ‘fad-factor’. Like obsessions that have already been and gone –Yo-yos, Tamagotchi’s, and indeed Pokémon cards themselves -it is often the case that after the initial interest, the trend slowly starts to die down. Pokémon Go, however, appears to be a different breed. While it might never have been acceptable to flip Pogs in a packed train station, or swing a Yo-yo around while picking up your morning coffee, the very nature and conspicuousness of mobile games such as Pokémon Go make it that much easier for users to stay engaged, no matter when or where.
What’s more, having only released the so-called ‘1st Generation’ of Pokémon on the game, Niantic will still have a few tricks up their sleeve to keep users hooked, and tap into new audiences along the way. However the app evolves, it will be fascinating to see which brands will truly understand the power that’s inside mobile gaming, as well as even the most basic of location tracking and AR technologies.