"In the history of the internet and consumer tech, nothing has had an adoption of more than 100 million global users in six days. The last record was Candy Crush – that took one year and three months to reach the same level." Ambarish Mitra, CEO of augmented reality developer Blippar*
We here at Initials we have, like many, been pulled into the world of Pokémon Go. For me personally, it isn't because I played it in the nineties, or even because I particularly want to play it now, but mainly because I am fascinated with how this game has infiltrated people's daily lives (me included) with a previously awkward platform of augmented reality and what this could mean for the retail landscape.
So what exactly is Pokémon Go?
Since the nineties, Pokémon games have always been released on handheld Nintendo consoles like the Game Boy and DS. Pokémon GO, however, is a smartphone app and augmented reality game which challenges players to find and catch the Pokémon characters in their real world surroundings. Basically a global scavenger hunt!
The ultimate goal and tagline is to "catch 'em all" and with 151 Pokémon characters to collect and then "train" to become more powerful at virtual gyms (Pokémon Gyms) the interactivity has still got a long way to run.
What does this mean for retailers, brands and consumers now and in the future?
Since its launch, small businesses have seen an increase in foot traffic if they happen to be around a Pokémon Gym or Pokestops. One example is a business in Melbourne, Pancake Parlour, which decided to take advantage of their location near a Gym by running an 'event' which included purchasing 'Lure Modules' (game elements that are deployed to attract Pokémon) to pull players in. This led to a 40% increase in customers so they are now planning to run three more such events. Other businesses are now following suit, for example offering free WIFI or discounted food when players go in and buy a coffee.
And it isn't just small businesses that have seen an impact either. Recently Asda offered some tongue-in-cheek advice about playing the game in their stores after noticing a change in behaviour by their customers.
This change of behaviour also extends further. As this game motivates players to get up, find the creatures and hatch eggs, there is already evidence that this game is changing short term behaviour. For example, in the past week, Google Trends show that searches for "convert km to miles" have increased exponentially in the U.S.** which some believe may be attributed to walking the 5k you need to, to 'hatch an egg'. What will be interesting to see is if this has long term effects to behaviour, prompting a fitter generation through its efforts to get people to 'Get up and Go'.
So where to next?
It is believed that in the not too distant future, Pokémon Go will be launching sponsored locations in the UK to help drive footfall to stores. This effectively means that businesses can pay to set up a location for gamers to visit for the chance to 'do battle' or collect the creatures. But it is important to remember that footfall does not necessarily mean conversion. It is imperative that brands and/or retailers implement integrated strategies to drive purchase or engagement with this target audience.
Again, Ambarish Mitra (CEO of augmented reality developer Blippar) believes that there is more development within the app that could change things further "There is also room for the in-game points to be exchanged for real-world rewards. Push notifications and couponing have been hugely hyped but both have generally failed with AR. But if you integrate these into the game behaviour of Pokémon Go, the possibilities for marketers are endless."*
And this for us, is where it gets exciting!
Imagine an event like Back to School in Asda integrating the game to drive traffic to stores for rewards delivered to you there and then, making the shopping trip a little less stressful. Or even, brands like Coca-Cola running an event in parks across the country by luring gamers to the location to engage or sample product and share their content online (which they are already doing anyway).
A few words of warning
It is important to remember that brands and retailers must remain authentic and relevant to appeal to this predominantly 18-24 year old 'millennial' audience* in this increasingly transparent world. Gamers do not want branded content forced on them at every turn and will start to turn off if it becomes clear that brands are overtaking the game for their own purpose.
There could also be a backlash against the game with players getting into trouble for trespassing or causing injury when looking for the creatures.
We'll be keeping a very close eye on this, how its mass audience handles AR in their lives and what it creates in its wake (there are already Pokémon map apps, websites, etc springing up). We will also definitely be looking to how we can help the retailers and brands we work with integrate this phenomenon where it is strategically appropriate.
For now though, we're going to enjoy the game. I did hear there was a Picchu round the corner somewhere…