How Pokémon Go Is Disrupting Marketing as We Know It

Zach Brooke
Marketing News Weekly
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Key Takeaways

​​What? Pokémon Go, the most successful mobile game of all time, is rewriting the rules of marketing.

So what? Using augmented reality, the game directs players to visit real-world locations, creating potentially powerful marketing magnets. 

Now what? Take advantage of augmented reality, either through Pokémon Go or a similar app.

July 14, 2016

The mobile game is as exciting for marketing as it is for players, offering new opportunities for bricks-and-mortar businesses and augmented reality

By now, you’re almost certainly aware of the ‘break-the-internet’ level of sensation that is Pokémon Go. Since the app was dropped on an unsuspecting world a week ago, the virtual reality game has assumed the mantle of the most downloaded mobile game in U.S. history and saturated the media landscape, receiving coverage in outlets as diverse as ESPN, Politico, Insider Higher Ed and Christian Today.

The runaway dominance of Pokémon Go has inspired several business leaders to ponder aloud if we’re seeing the materialization of long-predicted trends that could reshape industries, even as many marketers scramble to fulfill short-term goals co-opt to phenomenon toward their own ends. As the New York Times put it:

“Pokémon Go represents one of those moments when a new technology—in this case, augmented reality or A.R., which fuses digital technology with the physical world—breaks through from a niche toy for early adopters to something much bigger.”

Here’s a look at how, in its brief existence, Pokémon Go has disrupted marketing as we know it:

First, the basics:

Pokémon Go is a free, location-based augmented-reality game created by San Francisco-based software company Niantic in partnership with The Pokémon Company. Pokémon has been a marketing behemoth since its debut in the 1990s for now-defunct gaming systems like Nintendo’s Game Boy, but sales of Pokémon games had subsequently declined in the ensuing years. What makes Pokémon Go a game changer is that it takes place in the real, physical world and requires players to explore their surroundings in order to advance in the game.

Real-world locations such as buildings, parks and art installations exist in-game as Pokestops, places players must visit to replenish supplies they need to play the game. Other places exist as gyms, places players fight over for control.

Pokémon Go was first released in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand on July 6. It topped the U.S. Apple Store’s free and top-grossing download charts within 24 hours of its release, making it the fastest-growing mobile game in history. 

According to information technology company SimilarWeb, Pokémon Go has already been installed on more U.S. Android devices than dating app Tinder in its four years of being on market. SimilarWeb says the app in poised to surpass Twitter in daily active users any day now.

As of July 8, users interacted with the app for an average of 43 minutes and 23 seconds a day, which is a larger chunk of time than Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, Snapchat and Messenger.

The popularity is so overwhelming that’s it’s caused release delays in other countries. It finally was released in Germany on July 13 and the U.K. on July 14. It’s still not available in Japan, which is a source of mounting frustration​

How the Marketers are Responding: 

  • Through Partnerships: While it’s not yet possible to sponsor a Pokestop yet, Niantic is working on it. This Gizmodo article suggests a decision by McDonald’s to turn all its locations in a specific-but-unnamed country into Pokestops is imminent. 

  • By Making Themselves Attractive to Players: While sponsored Pokestops are not yet a thing, Inc. reports that store owners can buy a Pokémon Go feature called Lures to drive traffic. “Lures increase the rate of Pokémon generation in the area around the Pokestop where they're placed for one half hour. That may not sound that powerful, but Pokémon are scarcer than you think. Luring is an insanely powerful tool that you really have to see to believe. … For a little more than a dollar an hour, you can bring virtually guaranteed crowds to your business. The ROI here is ridiculous, so if your business is anywhere near a Pokestop, this is something you absolutely have to try.”

  • Making Their Own Virtual and Augmented Reality Apps: This MIT Technology Review article , published before the Pokémon Go craze took off, lays out the possibilities augmented reality presents to marketers. “Is this lamp too big for that side table? Will this couch fit under that window? How far will this chandelier extend from the ceiling when installed? These are the types of questions online furniture retailer Wayfair aims to answer with its new augmented-reality app, WayfairView, which lets users place full-scale 3-D virtual models of Wayfair products in real settings. Users select images of furniture or décor from Wayfair’s online catalogue and use the touch screen on their phone or tablet to position the objects on their room’s floor, walls, or ceiling. The app will be available on a new Lenovo phone this year and on more devices later.”

Author Bio:
Zach Brooke
Zach Brooke is a staff writer for the American Marketing Association. He can be reached at
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