Catching Customers: Pokémon Go and the Future of Local Advertising / Starting a Business / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Pokemon Go, while an old idea, has opened up opportunities for advertising that were not previously realized. What you need to know.

We've covered techniques and strategies to make your marketing efforts go viral, but this is something new and worth paying attention to.

Let's pretend you are a CEO at a tech company in San Francisco and have to choose which product team to promote to senior level roles.

Which would you choose?

Product Team A

  • $20k in daily revenue
  • $1.1M total net revenue

Product Team B

  • $10M in daily revenue
  • $160M in net revenue

If you chose Team B, you might have a future as CEO of a major tech company (if only it were that easy). Now what if I told you that Team B’s product is less than 30 days old compared to three years for its competition? Want to know something else even more startling?

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They are essentially the same exact product. Pokémon Go: Showing Up In Your Neighborhood  Product B is a game called Pokémon Go, a location-­based mobile game that turns real world landmarks into in­-game objectives. The game uses your phone’s GPS to display Pokémon “monsters” superimposed on your normal camera view. You “catch” Pokémon by shooting a Pokeball at them while they are inside of a colored ring. If you’re successful, these monsters enter your collection, where you can customize  their appearance and vital metrics.

The idea, as Pokémon's catch phrase insists, is to “catch’em all”. It’s easy to play, addicting (I caught a few just this morning), and is likely affecting your life in some way or another. Image of Poke ball and a pokemon

Pokémon Go Is Going, Going, Gone

Pokémon Go has made global headlines in the last 30 days. It’s raking in an insane 10M dollars a day, but in all honesty, its total worth could be in the billions. Apple, whose iTunes store stands to make $3B from the downloads alone, recently announced that Pokémon Go had broken the record for most downloads in a week; not just among gaming apps, but of every category. Pokémon Go easily surpassed Tinder in a few short weeks and now has more users than the social media mega giant, Twitter. From a financial point of view, these numbers aren’t impressive; they are groundbreaking.Sensor Tower App Growth based on Data

Waiting on the Sidelines

Companies are avidly looking to cash in on the game’s popularity and the waterfall of profits that are sure to come with it. Local businesses using various “luring” methods to attract Pokémon players to their storefronts are already reporting huge jumps in revenue. Yelp even created a filter to help players identify gamer­friendly businesses. 

The biggest moneymaker could potentially stem from business relationships between the creators of Pokémon Go and larger corporations, who will pay good money to have dedicated users spend time in their establishments. McDonald’s is first up to bat, but it likely will not be the last. The Pokémon craze is so intense that travel companies like Marriott Rewards have offered to sponsor the international travel of advanced players. These sponsorships are attempts to piggyback on the media’s fixation on the game. Pokemon Go played at a local McDonalds

Putting Its Stamp on the World

Aside from providing entertainment, Pokémon Go is pushing gamers, usually confined indoors, to get out and explore their cities. If you’ve seen a large mass of people weaving through oncoming traffic, heads down with their eyes glued to their phone screens in the past few weeks, you have an idea of what I’m talking about. 

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Although this could be slightly annoying to the common person, this game is creating an opportunity for introverted and extroverted players alike to make new friends. Some people are even losing weight as a result of their daily gameplay. Heck, Pokémon Go might even be the answer for world peace. Who knows? It’s only been 30 days.People playing Pokemon outside

This Game Has Been Out for Three Years

Remember the Product A, Product B example from earlier? Though the numbers are lopsided, Product B, a game called Ingress, isn’t exactly a failure. Ingress was released more than three years ago, and is essentially the same, exact game as Pokémon Go. Instead of monsters, Ingress uses aliens. Although Ingress is more team­focused, both games guide users to built­in hotspots where they can generate items to help further a mission.

These hotspots exist physically and virtually, displayed together in one camera view. These two games are close to being on and the same. In fact, Ingress’ user base helped create the data that determines the locations of Pokestops in Pokémon Go. Ingress’ world map was essentially repurposed for Pokémon. So if Ingress and Pokémon are the same game, why has one been so much popular with consumers than the other? Was it luck? Timing?

Pokémon Go’s Creator Is No Overnight Success

This wild success is due to an evolution of technology that John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, has been working on for more than 30 years. Niantic began in 2010 as a startup within Google before spinning off and becoming its own entity in September 2015. Hanke was a founder of Keyhole, the company that helped create Google Earth and Google Maps. It was Hanke’s experience with mapping that gave Ingress a way to create its virtual landmark concept. 

Hanke is no fool, but his decision to partner with Pokémon on a new version of his existing game was based on a joke. On April 1st 2014, Google integrated Pokémon into Google Maps as a way to play a fun trick on the public. Placing Pokémon characters throughout the globe, they released a video asking anyone adventurous enough to find and “catch’em all.” The winner would be offered a job at Google. Within a few hours, the joke (and likely publicity stunt) went viral. Hanke knew he had something big on his hands. Furthermore, it was then he was able to witness Pokémon's fan­power in full force. 


Good Feels: Keeping Pokémon Popular

Pokémon turned 20 this past February. Created in 1996, it has sold more than 200M copies and made $39B in its lifetime. This has made Pokémon the second­most popular video game franchise of all time.   You don’t have to look very far to see that the Pokémon brand has kept much of its early popularity.

It made more than $2B in revenue just last year. People love Pokémon, but what does that really mean? It’s simple; they love the way the game makes them feel. Pokémon are basically digital pets. They have unique sizes and shapes, temperaments and personalities. Sure, owning a digital pet isn’t the same thing as owning a real dog or cat, but its probably the next best thing. These Pokémon do the same things our real pets do. They make us laugh, we watch them grow: We take ownership of them.

The origin of Pokémon doesn’t lie so much in pets or monsters as it does bugs. The game’s creator, Satoshi Tajiri, came up with the idea after trying to catch small beetles and worms as a child in his native country Japan. Tajiri, who was famously mentored by Donkey Kong and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, gives credit to bugs as his inspiration. "As a child, I wanted to be an entomologist; insects fascinated me”, says Tajiri.

The game is therefore rooted in a child­like excitement which would explain its popularity with the youth. They aren’t the only ones getting involved in the game, however.People that grew up with the original Pokémon game in the 90’s are experiencing major nostalgia. We’ve all felt the way music incites emotion within us. It makes sense then, that Pokémon related songs have tripled in popularity since the release of Pokémon Go.

In this case, the original theme song incited emotion with an older generation that grew up on the series. People have also followed the different Pokémon through comic books and television shows. By continuing to provide quality content, Pokémon's creators kept their audience engaged throughout the years. The Pokémon brand has triggered emotions within us that’s made its appeal undeniable. Boy sitting with pokemon stuffed animals

You Don’t Need a Pokeball to Capture Your Brand's Identity 

Average usage is a key performance indicator (KPI) in the mobile app industry. In other words, the longer users are on the app, the greater value for that app. "Truly successful apps offer a clear solution to a problem their users face, with success affirmed by users visiting the app repeatedly," according to Brant DeBow, EVP of technology at BiTE Interactive. 

A Pokémon Go­er is on the app for an average of 26 minutes, Conversely, Facebook’ users spend an average of 23 minutes in the Facebook app. Numbers like these indicate a dedicated fanbase, and one that didn’t just haphazardly stumbled upon game in the app store. These users are showing Pokémon a rare kind of brand loyalty, like nothing we’ve ever seen before.But what is a brand made of? On the surface, a logo is important. But that is only the start. Similar to Pokémon, your brand should encompass the following characteristics:

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  • Impassioned. Whether through color or design, when you make people feel something, it will resonate with them forever. There is a saying, “People will never remember the things you said. They will remember how you made them feel.” This holds true with branding as well.
  • Easy to access: Pokémon Go is free, meaning anyone can download and play it. Your brand should be specific enough to make sense in your industry, yet universal enough to reach any demographic.
  • Distinct in communication. Ingress’ storyline is fairly complicated, whereas Pokémon's storyline is overtly simple. “Gotta catch’em all” is a catch phrase that’s been used for more than 20 years, and one gets to the essence of Pokémon. Getting to the point and maintaining one voice throughout your messaging is vital to branding.
  • Easy to engage. Pokémon Go is a easy to learn how to play, and it is addictive. The moves are very basic and so are the goals. Your brand should make it easy for someone new to interact with it and intriguing enough for them to want to immerse themselves in it.
  • Consistent. The image of a red and white Pokeball (seen below) has been at the forefront of the Pokémon brand since its inception. The Pokeball can historically be found on almost every product, including the most recent Pokémon Go release. Continuing to drive the same consistent message is key to brand identification. 


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