The most important things about Pokémon Go have nothing to do with Pokémon Go

Pokémon Go

Throughout the past month, it might have been difficult to escape daily coverage of the election, but it was downright impossible to avoid the breathless news reporting, water cooler discussions, and friends’ Facebook posts about Pokémon Go. Who’d have ever guessed that an augmented reality version of a 1990s video game would be the white-hot pop culture trend of the summer?

The game’s introduction had immediate business impact: Stock prices soared for Nintendo (which saw them quickly return to earth when it was revealed the company didn’t stand to make much off of the craze), and the Japanese division of McDonald’s (on the leaked news that it was poised to sponsor the game). And Apple was positioned to make a few billion more dollars. Because, well, it’s Apple.

Not surprisingly, marketers tried to jump on the trend as quickly as possible. Some of them simply offered discounts to customers whose Go exploits brought them into stores; others started pushing products players would be likely to need (refreshing beverages, mobile phone chargers). Also not surprisingly, the Twitterverse began poking fun at the corporate types who were scrambling to take advantage. Several versions of this imagined scenario popped up:

Colleges even jumped on board: The University of Alabama Birmingham, for one, held a Pokémon Go event, while other campuses were already worried about the game disrupting students’ sleep schedules, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

As we looked for useful insights, we did take special notice of three tidbits buried in the millions of words written about Pokémon Go this month:

  • Using AR to augment the customer experience. Writing in The New Yorker, Om Malik said his brief experience with Pokemon Go changed his expectations for other cultural interactions. During a recent visit to a museum, he wanted to know more information about the art he was seeing. “I felt as if I should be able to lift my phone and get more details on the process of the creation of the art work, rather than having to type a search term into my browser.” Makes us think: How can brands better adopt the technology to better engage customers at retail or events?
  • Hitting it big without a big ad campaign. A column on Forbes.com pointed out two lessons that should ring true to experiential marketers. One is that Go became a national obsession without the benefit of traditional advertising, showing that  “… you don’t need a huge advertising budget to be an effective marketer. You just have to connect with people.” The other: Making experiences easy to understand can be key to getting consumers to participate. “Well-designed websites, e-commerce platforms, apps, and products are ones that welcome new users with open arms and make it extremely easy for people to get involved.”
  • Millennials are looking back. The notion that millennials might be pining for their youth might sound premature. But the New York Times cites anecdotal (and social media) evidence that a large percentage of players are in that age bracket — and goes on to suggest that this trend is “proof that millennials, for years the young generation, are getting old. Pokémon Go is their first mass-consumption nostalgia product.”

However long the Pokémon Go phenomenon lasts, it’s a good bet that the lessons it’s revealing about technology, user experience and demographic and cultural shifts will stay with us much longer.


bylinephoto_seanSean Brenner has covered event marketing for more than 20 years,
including stints as managing editor of Event Marketer magazine and IEG Sponsorship Report.
He also once edited the bottle labels for Shiner beer.




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