After a relatively quiet few years, Pokémon has made a comeback in a big way. Pokémon Go, the latest installment to the franchise and arguably the biggest mobile game to incorporate augmented reality, was released mere days ago, and has already incited mass involvement and excitement. Fans are flocking to Pokéstops, rushing to virtual lures, and hiking the streets to hatch their eggs. Chances are high that either you have Pokémon Go on your phone right now, or you know someone who won’t shut up about it. The game has superimposed itself onto daily life in a massive way…
And all of this has happened with very little marketing effort.
The companies behind Pokémon Go — Niantic Labs and Nintendo — did not engage in large advertising campaigns or cross-media strategies. In September 2015, Pokémon Co. released an announcement trailer. And on July 6th 2016, Niantic tweeted that the game was available in Australia, New Zealand, and the US.
Other smaller marketing efforts may be identified, but ostensibly the success of Pokémon Go seems to have come from the combined forces of familiarity, technological readiness, and word-of-mouth.
Pokémon popularity can in part be traced back to a familiar brand name and a sense of nostalgia. Many Australians are familiar with the franchise, from the original Game Boy games, card games, toys, or TV show. As such, the game is not burdened by a need to emerge from anonymity, and rather could grow from the hype of a well-known, and typically adored, brand.
We could go further to say that Pokémon Go is a type of fantasy-fulfillment. Finally, that childhood dream has been answered: What if Pokémon existed in the real world? By using your phone’s GPS ability, the game captures your locations and emulates what it would be like if Pokémon roamed around us. This hit a nostalgia sweet spot, and helped to boost its popularity.
Another strong aspect of the game’s popularity is platform accessibility. Pokémon Go is free to download on most smartphones and devices. In fact, there are already APK downloads and similar alternatives for devices that aren’t compatible with the official release. That means that, for the 80% of Australians who own a smartphone, Pokémon Go is just a tap away.
So people know Pokémon; that much is clear. But contributing to the game’s immediate and out-of-nowhere success is the gratuitous and viral word-of-mouth evident on social media. Friends and fans have been tweeting, sharing, and liking their game activities, taking photos of amusing Pokémon locations, organising team gatherings and Gym takeovers, and providing insider information for those elusive catches.
In fact, Pokémon Go has incited a profound sense of togetherness, with people recognising fellow trainers on the street, meeting up at lures on common ground, and even overcoming symptoms of depression and social anxiety.
With this much viral marketing being carried out by participants, there lies great potential for businesses to cash in on the online activity. And indeed, they have.
A great way for companies to connect with their customers is to survey the digital landscape, remain aware of trends, and reap the rewards of a responsive marketing strategy. Accordingly, the user-generated promotion of Pokémon Go offers fantastic advertising and branding opportunities for businesses.
Conveniently-located businesses — those situated near Gyms, PokéStops, or Pokémon hotspots — were quick to notice the growing crowds, and jumped on the bandwagon. A restaurant in Sydney has begun advertising their weekly Lure Model, encouraging customers to come in, dine, and find the Pokémon they’re searching for. Meanwhile, a bar in Texas has boasted its status as a Gym, and even offered Team Valor, Mystic, and Instinct inspired shots (complete with the hashtag: #GottaDrinkEmAll).
This is viral marketing at its finest; businesses are engaging in popular trends, exploring their sales options, and communicating with customers on their level. Even the Darwin Police Station has gotten involved, creating a personable brand with their friendly (but stern) message to trainers, asking them to ‘look up, away from your phone and both ways before crossing the street. That Sandshrew isn’t going anywhere fast.’
As a budding Pokémon trainer myself, I can confirm that the Pokémon Go hype comes from an authentic source; the game is certainly fine and addictive, and encourages physical activity like no Pokémon game has done before. (Want to guess how the núcleo team spent their lunch break today?)
But beyond the simple pleasures of the game lies genuine opportunities for business owners, to either engage with customers by sharing their Pokémon experiences, or to drum up business by catering to the current epidemic of PokéFans.
(I probably need to shut my big Meowth and quit with the Pokémon puns…)
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