What marketers can learn from playing Pokémon GO

Pokémon GO. Photo: Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images)

Last Wednesday, augmented reality game Pokémon GO was launched into Australia and the United States.

By the weekend, people were meeting in large groups to play Pokémon GO, most notably in Sydney with over 4000 people expressing interest in an organised Pokémon GO walk. Surprised by the idea of such a large group meeting together at short notice, this generated great concern for the police and local park authorities. On the day, hundreds of Pokémon GO “trainers” banded together for a peaceful day of Pokémon catching, while bonding over all things Pokémon.

I must admit I was at first very ambivalent to the launch of the game. I’m a tad older than the generation for whom Pokémon cartoons and trading “tazos” were a thing (my generation played with sticks and potatoes) so there’s no nostalgia in it for me. But like any good strategist I’m a curious person and egged on by my Twitter cohorts (pun intended), I downloaded the game on Saturday to see what the fuss was all about.

Well now, a mere 48 hours later, I’m hooked. From the first Pokémon I caught (Bulbasaur) to the first Pokémon I was able to evolve (Zubat to Golbat), to chasing lures and dropping incense… I’m now immersed in the Pokémon GO world. I was up until midnight last night catching Weedles and this morning I caught three Polliwags!

As I’m typing this, a Pidgey came by and now I have him in my Pokodex. I’m hoping by tonight’s commute I will be ready for battle training at the blue gym (Go Team Mystic!) and I am excited to hatch my first egg sometime today.

Now if none of that last paragraph made any sense to you that’s okay. Here’s what you need to know:

Firstly, no mum, I am not on drugs. And for the other mums and dads out there who may be worried about their kids, there’s no need to panic. In fact, I strongly suggest you embrace augmented reality and have a go at Pokémon GO.

Pokémon GO is basically geocaching or treasure hunting, adapted for the technology driven world we live in today, and with a fantasy element thrown in. You can actually turn off the augmented reality feature and play it more like a traditional video game but that’s not nearly as much fun as seeing Pokemon strolling around your neighbourhood.

Rachael Lonergan. Source: supplied

The media-driven stereotype of gamers is that they’re sitting alone in their rooms, curtains drawn and avoiding the world. Pokémon GO turns this idea on its head, forcing players to get out and hunt Pokémon “in real life”. It’s creating teams of Pokemon “trainers” who band together for a common purpose, often stumbling across each other at “pokestops” or “gyms”.

Twitter is awash with stories of unlikely friendships being made by people meeting over Pokémon GO and public institutions and landmarks, often identified as Pokestops, are having fun with the new audiences that are arriving on their literal doorstep. Over the weekend, police in Australia’s Northern Territory released a friendly warning to people running into the police station to catch a Sandshrew, while bars are already seeing the benefit of dropping a Pokémon lure to bring gamers to their door. Given a lure has a 30-minute lifespan, it seems reasonable you’d buy a beer or a soda to pass the time while catching Pokémon.

So how is this relevant to marketing I hear you cry?

If you’ve not yet been convinced over the potential of AR or VR technology in capturing the imagination of a mass and diverse audience, Pokémon GO will change your mind. The opportunity for brands to interact within these parallel worlds is immense and largely untapped, and Pokémon GO, and games like it, are helping to normalise this type of engagement.

AR and VR natives

They are building a new media channel that focuses on fun, engagement and social proof. In the same way that Gen Y are considered digital natives because they grew up with internet access, the emerging generation will be known as AR and VR natives. What feels new to us now, will be part of life to kids growing up today.

Now I’m not suggesting that every brand should run out and stick their logos inside virtual worlds or start developing their own AR games. We’ve evolved past an age of disruptive ad placement and we’re in the era of behavioural targeting. Thought has to be put into not just what, but why this game is taking over the world, and what insights can be adapted to generate positive brand engagement.

Pokémon GO harnesses a spirit of competition and community within a recognisable context. It delivers nostalgia for a more innocent time (amongst those who were Pokemon fans in childhood) and it’s fun and silly… things the world could use a lot more of right now. It’s really no surprise people are flocking to the game, causing the game’s servers to melt down in the process, which far from driving gamers away, is only helping to build valuable social proof.

So while you’re thinking that Pokémon GO may not get you, augmented reality, virtual reality and how these technologies will engage with audiences is worth getting, and soon. Don’t wait for your six-year-old to explain it to you. Get involved and see it for yourself.

Go catch a Krabby or a Caterpie and I promise you will be as excited for the future of communication as I am.

* Rachael Lonergan has over 20 years of media and creative agency experience, and is currently Head of Strategy at Foundation, a boutique media agency within the Omnicom Media Group, as well as training a growing Pokodex. This post originally appeared on her LinkedIn page

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