Pokemon Go Mania Is Here — This Is What It Means For Location-Based Marketers

Niantic's augmented reality game is the ultimate online-to-offline experience. And malls appear to be a big beneficiary.

The Pokemon Go app has achieved the status of “instant hit” since it’s release in the U.S., filling up social media feeds and sending players with smartphones racing all over their cities to catch and train virtual characters in the physical world.

Even more surprisingly than the fact that an app inspired by a 21-year-old Japanese video game character has become so popular so quickly is the fact that augmented reality is the central factor connecting players and places.

For years, augmented reality — such as through the use of QR codes — was viewed as a step toward the more advanced and immersive technology associated with virtual reality. But Pokemon Go may have reopened the door to augmented reality as the “the next big thing” after all.

For those who aren’t familiar with Pokemon Go is, here’s a quick primer:

Once a user downloads Pokemon Go to their Google Android smartphone or iPhone, a prompt to turn on location services appears. From there, a GPS-powered map points players to real-world locations where they can go out and find Pokemon characters Venusaur, Charizard, Blastoise, and Pikachu. After reaching the specified place, players point their smartphone cameras to “reveal” Pokemon in the real world. At that point, a player shoots a ball toward the creature to “capture it” and collect medals.

As users make their way to designated spots to make their captures and do their battles, there are “Poke Stops” pinned to actual physical locations where players can grab items. “Native environments” like lakes or parks, as well as grocery stores, museums, churches, malls, and even street signs can serve as a Poke Stop.

How Marketers Can Play Too

And that’s where marketers may be able to join the play as well.

But before delving more into the “how,” there are several reasons “why” physical brands and places should look closely at Pokemon Go and its business implications.

The app became the number one most downloaded app since its release in the U.S. last Thursday, according to analytics provider App Annie. The game was developed by Niantic, an augmented reality game maker spun off from Google last fall, in conjunction with The Pokemon Company (Nintendo, the originator of Pokemon, backs both Niantic and The Pokemon Company).

One example Paul Shapiro, director of Search Innovation at WPP/GroupM’s CatalystSEM, shared on Twitter this weekend points the way for merchants who want to test a connection to Pokemon Go. it involved a bar, CitySen Lounge offering a 10 percent discount to those who identified as a group of players.

Cityzen Pokemon — credit to CatalystSEM's Paul Shapiro, SearchWilderness.
Cityzen Pokemon — credit to CatalystSEM’s Paul Shapiro, SearchWilderness, who found the original image on Reddit.

As Shapiro tweeted, “Marketing idea for local bar/cafe: Drop Lure Modules at your establishment. You can buy 21 for $100.”

“So is #PokemonGo just a giant Trojan Horse for collecting location, movement, and POI data as quickly as possible?” asks Deep Fork Capital VC Adam Besvinick in a tweet, while adding “GoChat for #PokemonGo is now #11 in Social Networking—good location-based chat has long been a Holy Grail for many.”

As Fred Wilson put it in a post on his A VC blog, Pokemon Go’s use of augmented reality “nails it” like nobody has before.

“I recall seeing John Geraci‘s ITP senior thesis project in 2005 which was a web version of this idea powered by Google Maps, and understanding that we all want to interact with interactive media in the real world,” Wilson writes. “I’ve always loved the idea that we could do a massively public treasure hunt together using the web and mobile. But it took over ten years since I first saw this idea to have it really happen.”

Cautionary Tales

Aside from using rewards and discounts to entice players into a business,  marketers can use Pokemon Go to become part of the fun. Of course, there are some potential pitfalls to watch out for, as Gizmodo and other outlets have highlighted, involving locations that a brand would not want to be associated with.

The problems stem from places that were were initially used in Niantic’s previous location-based augmented reality game, Ingress (the tagline: “the world around you is not what it seems.”)

Like any platform that allows anyone to tag a place without review, there’s a danger of consumers being tricked into thinking they’re heading to one location and actually winding up someplace completely different. While users have been doing a fair job of cataloging erroneous or offensive locations that have been tagged within Pokemon Go, some major brands may want to wait until there’s proper vetting.

But beyond that, the enormous popularity and grip on app users’ imaginations shows conclusively that people want to mix real world and virtual experiences with their digital devices showing them the way. The brands that can seamlessly insert themselves, by adding to the fun and not being overtly distracting from it, can win consumers’ desire for greater online-to-offline activity.

“OK so its weird, its social, it takes place in a nether world between the screen and reality and it might be hard to get the attention of someone whose eyes are glued to their screen but it is worth thinking about, perhaps jumping on the bandwagon and at least being Pokemon friendly if not Pokemon alluring,” writes local search marketing consultant Mike Blumenthal. “And thinking about how and how soon Google will figure out a way to insert local AdWords units into the game play.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.