Pokémon Go explained for marketers

Pokémon Go has just been released in the UK, after generating huge hype in its launch markets of the US, New Zealand and Australia. Watch Campaign's technology editor Shona Ghosh find out why the game is so compelling.

The mobile game involves chasing Pokémon characters around the real world, which is mapped using Google Maps data.

It encourages players to go outside and explore real environments – although users staring at their phones while driving has already resulted in at least one car accident in the US.

On first opening the app, players are given few instructions and are left to go exploring on their own.

What are the takeaways for brands?

You can't control virality

The success of Pokémon Go lies in the fact that the original Pokémon game was hugely popular with a demographic which has now reached adulthood, and is mobile-first. That's a set of factors which won't be applicable to most brands.

The game launched with little to no marketing spend and, despite generating hysteria, its popularity may not last long. After Campaign spent ten minutes fruitlessly hunting for Pokémon, the signal frequently cut out and eventually we couldn't find any. That, and the relative simplicity of the game, might mean some users eventually get bored and it will a challenge for Niantic to keep them coming back over months rather than days.

Slick doesn't always work for apps

The app is not particularly well-produced or slick, counter to most advice given to brands on their digital activity. 

Snapchat remains hugely popular and is widely agreed to be almost incomprehensible to new users, particularly older demographics. Like Pokémon Go, there are few instructions and the user is left to navigate the app largely by themelves.

As Nik Roope, founder and creative director of Poke, notes: "Everybody has to get over this idea that everyone wants polished stuff.

"It was nice to be in Cannes celebrating slick, but most people are much more driven by quality of experience, of which slickness is a small portion."

Many users, says Roope, are "actively put off by slickness", because it's usually a sign of money to spare and, by extension, advertisers.

Location and AR are still untapped

Pokémon Go's charm lies in its use of augmented reality and Google's mapping data. Real-world points of interest are marked on the game's maps, and can yield points and Pokémon. 

Some enterprising American retailers have capitalised on their status as points of interest and signposted nearby Pokémon, resulting in greater footfall. 

McDonald's in the US might be the first brand to sponsor the game, possibly meaning that all outlets would feature as Pokémon stops. A UK spokeswoman confirmed to Campaign there was no partnership in the UK.

Theo Theodorou, managing director for location marketing firm xAd, says consumers will get more used to location-based experiences.

"Location aware apps such as Uber and Tinder have become so ubiquitous in people’s daily lives that we understand how fundamental location is to enable the delivery of an experience that’s valuable," he says. "Snapchat has engaged users with location-specific filters that encourage people to share experiences."

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