Was Pokémon GO the Biggest Marketing Opportunity of 2016?

Updated on August 11, 2017

Pokémon GO 2016

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or a Geodude for that matter, you’ll have been witness to the biggest mobile gaming craze ever. Nintendo and Niantic’s Pokémon GO has swept the market on an unprecedented level. The combination of a fun, and intuitive augmented reality interface, along with childhood nostalgia has contributed to mobile gaming craze that has taken the world by storm.

Tens of thousands of adults, and children alike have been walking the streets of their hometowns and beyond trying to fulfil the sentiment echoed by the original animated TV show’s theme – “Gotta catch ‘em all.” It’s safe to say that we’re currently in the midst of a phenomenon, and not the first one generated by the Pokémon franchise. The numbers that have been generated in the wake of the games success are truly astonishing. Here are the latest, at the time of writing;

  • The revenue made by Apple currently stands at $3 billion as 21 million players are scouring their hometowns in search of Pokémon. Many are opening their wallets to buy ‘Pokécoins’ in order to advance in the game.
  • The game hit the top spot on the German iTunes revenue chart three hours after launching.
  • The market value of Nintendo has surged to $39.8 billion, pushing their value above gaming rivals Sony.

This kind of popularity is truly unprecedented, as dozens of think pieces are being published trying to make sense of why Japan’s arguably biggest cultural export has taken the world by storm again. The general feeling has been that the runaway success can be attributed to a combination of the clever augmented reality design of the app, which makes the game easy to play, and the nostalgia factor for the majority of the game’s players. Majority being the operative word, as this video shows hundreds of adults swarming New York’s Central Park in search of a Vaporeon.

Many current players will have been children around the time of the franchise’s initial spike in popularity in the late 90’s, and will remember the excitement that came with trying collect all 151 of the original Pokémon cards that accompanied the animated TV series.

When a trend of this size comes along, businesses sit up and take notice. If there’s an extra buck to be made off the back off people exploring a city in search of Pokémon, you can bet your last piece of rare candy that someone will be looking at to use it to their advantage.

Staff of a branch of Costa Coffee in Worcester, England were left bemused after their shop was flooded by Pokémon GO players, after their location had become listed as a ‘Pokéstop’. Hundreds of gamers have been flooding into the coffee shop in search of in-game goodies and elusive Pokémon. Elsewhere it has been reported that small business have been taking advantage in the seemingly random public interest, with a variety of money driving promotions, including everything form Pokémon themed pizza to money off drinks.

Elsewhere, bigger businesses with greater ambitions are looking to see how full advantage can be taken of a game that has had the biggest success of any augmented reality app. The first sponsored location has been announced to coincide with the launch of the game in its native Japan. Being able to use sponsored locations on an augmented reality app of this scale has been seen as something of a golden goose (or Moltres) for the marketers, and this might be exactly what they’re looking for; a mass market augmented reality app that can be used to encourage footfall.

This isn’t the first time that large businesses have sought to exploit the growing potential of AR as a marketing tool. A few years ago, AXA Business Insurance took up such an opportunity with a similar game called Ingress, developed by Niantic, the company which was instrumental in developing Pokémon GO along with Nintendo.

Much like Pokemon GO, and Pokestops, Ingress featured real locations that players were encouraged to travel to in order to obtain in-game prizes, and the AXA offices were set as one such location. At the height of the game’s popularity, AXA reported that 600,000 individual users came to their offices, and 4 million people were exposed to the AXA brand. Given the scale of Pokémon GO compared with Ingress, there is potentially a lot of money to be made.

With the arrival of sponsored in-game Pokéstops, we can expect to see a shift in the nature of Pokémon GO as advertisers attempt to exploit this interactive resource to their advantage. Whether or not this has the potential will hinder the players enjoyment of the game remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, the advertisers are going to be tripping up over themselves to try and come up with something that is as far reaching and has the same impact. At this stage however, it’s hard to think of another franchise that is so globally recognised and loved that would equally lend itself so well to such a platform. As for the players? They’ll most likely continue to try and catch ‘em all.


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