What Pokémon Go has nailed is what we all strive to achieve.
The Blogfather scythes through the hoo-hah in an attempt to see why the human race is rejecting the real world and disappearing down a Pokémon-style rabbit hole. Or getting stuck in a cave. Or trespassing onto someone’s private residence.
We are only half way through it, but it’s safe to say already that 2016 will go down as one of the more darkly memorable years in our history. Yet in recent weeks, amongst all the awfulness, there has sprung up some quite wonderfully bizarre headlines and stories, centred on the Pokémon Go phenomenon; the augmented reality gaming app from Nintendo and Niantic Labs. A Pokémonenon, if you will. Here’s a medley of headlines:
Pokémon Go players rescued after getting lost in Wiltshire caves
Man quits job to become full time Pokémon hunter
Turkish coup fuelled by Pokémon gym spat at military HQ
Armed robbers 'lure' victims via Pokémon Go geolocation tool*
Of course, this also means that anything, no matter how vaguely or tenuously Pokémon related, is being crow-barred into the news, often with a negative slant, like an article in the Guardian that had the dramatic headline: “Pokémon Go players mugged at gunpoint in park south of Sydney”. Yet it's somewhat disappointing to read the body of the text state that: “Police say there is no suggestion the men used the game to lure people to the area.”
So…it’s not really relevant, nor any reflection on the app, that they were playing Pokémon Go then? I imagine your average mugger is not too fussed as to what brings their victim to this opportunistic denouement in their life: “Excuse me, are you playing Pokémon Go?” “No, I was just out for a walk actually.” “Ah, apologies. Here’s your wallet back.”
The key to Pokémon Go’s success is, for all that it is very new and peculiar, it has drawn on some very old human traits.
There are actually a lot of positives and reasons to be excited about Pokémon Go's stellar success. It could end up redefining what we truly mean by 'disruptive'. I’ve seen augmented reality across the last few years, activated on a magazine cover for example, and OK, it looks really cool, but I always thought; where am I going with this? The key to Pokémon Go’s success is, for all that it is very new and peculiar, it has drawn on some very old human traits. Nintendo has used pioneering technology to tap back into some fundamental loves of the human imagination; discovery, adventure and escape. Up until now, we thought we’d seen the decline of kids going outside to play. Parents had given up trying to get children out in the fresh air and off their consoles/phones. But now they are all out, wandering free. Maybe a bit too freely. And it’s not just kids; full-grown adults are in on it. So the app is making the most of nostalgia also, as Pokémon has been around for 20 years.
And we will get our creative little hands on it. By ‘we’, I mean marketing/advertising. Some of us already have. To a degree, you could say advertising and marketing in its entirety is about augmenting the reality surrounding a product or service: giving a deodorant greater appeal by instilling it with properties that make you irresistible to women, or an energy drink that gives you wings, or writing copy that makes Risk Management sound even remotely interesting.
It’s bloody tough work what we have to do, and therein lies the Holy Grail; compelling the consumer to immerse themselves in your offering and make a purchase. Finding clever ways to drive footfall has had mobile marketing's finest scratching their heads for years. Yet in one fell swoop Nintendo have mobilised millions of people and can send them wherever they so wish; into North Korea, across minefields, even into church (just a taste of some more of the crazy press stories).
Only a few gems emerge out of the app industry’s swiftly disposable character to become established long term. Whether Pokémon Go achieves this rests partly on the Tsunami of brand involvement that’s to come and how it disrupts the player’s experience.
There’s already been some clever and quick-thinking reactive stuff, though mostly from smaller entities and retailers, like this from the Vancouver Whitecaps MLS team and various businesses are using 'lures' from the game to attract Pokémon to their establishment, and thus players and potential customers follow. They've engaged with them via a whole range of ideas, from Pokémon-style products to simple discounts.
And now it's 'come home' and launched in Japan, and with this are the first signs of the big boys getting involved. McDonald's Holdings Co (Japan) has confirmed that it will sponsor in-game locations, with 2500 stores as 'PokeStops' and 400 as 'PokeGyms'. Large brands will have to ‘go native’, as it were, and really hook up to the discovery motif of the game; merely luring players on-site via sponsored locations is unlikely to be enough.
The app has already added $20 billion to the market value of Nintendo. It will be exciting to see what the next few months have in store, and if the app has enough longevity to make it worthwhile for larger brands to ride on Pokémon Go's shirt tails. But if the initial 20% rise in stock price of McDonald's Holdings Co is anything to go by, then it certainly seems to.
*One of these headlines is utterly fabricated, as the Blogfather auditions for a tabloid rag.