What Brands Can Learn From The Success Of Pokémon Go

Viral phenomenons don’t come much bigger than the defining pop culture release of 2016, Niantic’s Pokémon Go. 

In case you’ve been living under a Geodude for the last few weeks, Pokémon Go is the latest iteration of Nintendo’s gaming franchise that won over heart, minds and wallets in the late nineties and early noughties.

Now transferred to smartphones, the game uses augmented reality (AR) to map the fantasy of Pokéstops, Gyms and random encounters with mystical creatures onto our own humdrum world.

If you’ve played it (and if you’re reading this, let’s be honest, you’ve at least caught a Pidgey), Pokémon Go is an incredibly novel experience.

As the first wide-scale peek at the possibilities of AR technology, the game’s seamless integration of the world within your phone and the world outside is enough to warrant the hysteria around it. The creators have certainly been handsomely rewarded for being first to market, with Nintendo’s share price briefly doubling after the game’s release and users spending more time playing Pokémon Go than they do on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other platforms. For some players, breathing has become secondary to playing. In fact, Olympic gymnast Kohei Uchimura racked up a £3,700 mobile phone bill playing Pokemon Go in Rio.

So what can advertisers learn from the monumental success of Pokémon Go? Before every brand runs off to fashion its own bespoke AR game, it’s important to look at the subtle factors which drove the app’s success and how others may replicate them.

The first possible option for ambitious brands is to simply buddy up to Pokémon Go. It’s no great secret that behind the game’s tech wizardry is the might of Google, and it seems that high-profile brand sponsorships are not far away.

The company has already confirmed this is the case and, following the launch of the game in Japan, unveiled a partnership that has seen the country’s 3,000 McDonald’s restaurants turned into Pokemon Gyms. Given the accidental foot traffic which Pokémon Go has pushed towards certain businesses, it seems a no-brainer for brands to put themselves on the game’s map.

So you may soon be throwing Pokéballs while waiting for your McFlurry, but the AR horizon is wider than Niantic’s little fiefdom. Already, creative brands are taking tentative steps towards this kind of in-phone engagement. Before Pokémon Go appeared in July, cosmetics brand Max Factor had already partnered with AR app Blippar to create a tailored shopping experience for customers, activated by scanning the barcodes of their products.

Even more ingeniously, fashion brand House of Holland recently employed AR to allow eager customers to purchase items straight from the runway. Simply by pointing their smartphone camera towards the desired piece of clothing, customers were offered a choice of size and the option to purchase with a pre-registered debit or credit card. While a tad impulsive, both these options demonstrate that the branding possibilities of AR extend far beyond the reach of chasing imaginary animals through the park.

With so much investment and attention invested in virtual reality (VR) in the past few years, the sudden rise of augmented reality through Pokémon Go was a relative surprise. While VR offers a more immersive experience for the likes of gaming and entertainment, AR systems offer potential greater flexibility for branding. This is what companies like Magic Leap are banking on. 

A recent demonstration from Magic Leap shows the tech being used to select a new lamp for a child’s bedroom, the app cycling through options which automatically rescale to fit the proposed space. It’s proper science-fiction stuff, as is Magic Leap’s rather bizarre proposal to introduce large-scale public art which changes depending on who is looking at it. But what’s important to note is that this technology is already moving incredibly quickly, with plenty of options for brands to participate in the AR future.

So if you’re looking to boost your brand through augmented reality, you’ll be pleased to hear you don’t need to invent your own Pokémon Go competitor. Simply keep an eye on the trends and look out for opportunities to work with exciting AR innovators.

Now, you can get back to playing Pokémon Go.

Interest in connecting with Pokémon GO players? Unruly just launched the Pokémon GO PMP, find out more here.