How Pokemon Go is Causing Digital Marketers to Experiment with Augmented Reality

By July 29, 2016 No Comments

Headline news this summer has been anything but stagnant. From political conventions to ISIS activity and a governmental coup, there are currently many powerful stories being told in the world. However, one trivial and unexpected memory from millennials’ childhood is commanding media attention in a way that would even catch M. Night Shyamalan off guard. Pokémon Go is taking the world by storm, and I’ve started to realize that mobile gaming isn’t the only industry being affected. If you haven’t heard about Pokémon Go recently, then there is a very good chance that you could be living under a rock, or more appropriately, hiding in the tall grass. Though if you’ve ventured out of your earthly abode and onto the internet any time in the past two weeks, you may know that the app has become the largest mobile game in U.S. history. However, its developer – Niantic, a former Google affiliate – is beginning to show the world that there is much more under the hood than a simple gaming platform, and it’s blazing a trail for digital marketers to begin experimenting with augmented reality as part of their overall strategy.

The Pokémon Phenomenon

Within only two weeks since its launch on July 6th, daily active user (DAU) numbers of Pokémon Go have effortlessly surpassed those of twitter. The app has been downloaded on twice as many devices as Tinder, a mega-popular millennial dating app, and one day, ironically, Pokémon Go could legitimately be considered a competitor with Tinder. On top of this, the Pokémon Go phenomenon is maintaining an upward trajectory of DAU’s despite consistent unacceptable server issues, multiple trespassing claims, and a diverse array of lacking features.
Google search queries compared to “Pokemon Go”
In a recent sensetower study, Pokémon go is outperforming all social networks based on the time spent in the app.
Now, if you think “phenomenon” is a strong word, then it’s safe to assume that you haven’t witnessed Pokémon Go in the real world. Since the game forces users to go outside to play, typical gamers are getting something commonly unfamiliar: exercise, and lots of it. There have been numerous accounts of people in New York City, the archetypal mecca of “PoGo” players, swarming streets and blocking traffic in search of rare pocket monsters to add to their collection.
Despite having to look at your phone [most of the time] to play the game, it still kindles a vivid social atmosphere and encourages users to talk to complete strangers about subjects ranging from childhood video game involvement to recent Pokémon catches and what team they’re on. Sure, the problem of stumbling into new areas can have several downsides, but there are many overlooked benefits of the game’s interface as well.
Because of it’s social advocacy, psychology professionals are claiming that the game genuinely helps people with mental health issues,  such as depression and social anxiety. Philanthropic causes are also booming due to Pokémon Go. The app Walk for a Dog tracks walking distance through your smartphone and sends cash donations to your favorite animal shelter based on how far you walk. Many Pokémon Go users are using both apps together. So much so that Wooftrax, the Walk for a Dog developer even mentions Pokémon Go early on on their homepage. Essentially, Pokémon Go is bridging the gap between online and offline experiences. It has evolved into a modern social network without integrating any social media features within the app, and companies are beginning to notice. Digital marketers should take note on how Pokemon Go is influencing the way people interact in the world, encouraging community on and off line, and begin to think about how their own strategies can tap into augmented reality in a similar way.

Understanding the “PoGo” Marketing Platform

Anything that can rapidly draw a user base as large as Pokémon Go deserves attention from digital marketers. However, in order to recognize how companies can take advantage of this cultural phenomenon, you need to understand a few basic aspects of the game, so bare with me for a second.
Firstly, the entire game of Pokémon Go is a map, which draws it’s architecture from Google Maps and superimposes an actual street map on users’ phones screens. This requires players to venture outside not only to find and capture digital creatures through the lens of their smartphones via augmented reality (AR) but also to collect items. These items’ applications range from giving users better chances of catching Pokémon to healing their Pokémon to granting Pokéballs to catch more of them.
Unless users are going to pay for these items, they need to physically walk around and tap on virtual blue icons on the app’s map called “Pokéstops,” which have about a 200-foot actionable radius. One of the most beneficial activities players participate in at Pokéstops, however, is the use of something called a “lure.” Lure’s attract masses of the digital creatures (and people) to a Pokéstop’s location for a half-hour period. All players in the immediate area can benefit from it’s effects and lures often spawn rare Pokémon available for all to capture. Lure’s cost $1/piece, and it’s important to note that they can only be used at these Pokéstops.
The lure is represented by falling rose petals
Locations with multiple overlapping Pokéstops can draw consistent crowds of people. Gyms, on the other hand – hard-to-miss digital towers where you can battle other players for control and earn rewards – require nothing to be placed there and offer players the chance to earn Pokécoins to spend on in-game items like lures and upgrades.
Three examples of gyms
Pokéstops, as well as gyms, are placed at unique landmarks all around a user’s city, and up until recently their locations have been pre-decided by developer Niantic.
Most Pokéstops and gyms are currently situated at artistic installations, historical landmarks, and religious buildings. But that may be about to change.

Marketing Implications

When people are playing Pokémon Go, they usually aren’t aimlessly wandering around looking for Pokémon. Experienced players are going to visit and linger at locations with Pokéstops and Gyms in order to benefit from lures and fight with their team members for Gym control.
These two virtual landmarks, Gyms and Pokéstops, form the fundamental basis for how marketers are incorporating Pokémon Go into their efforts.
Several small businesses have recently experienced huge sales increases thanks to Lure activity. A pizza joint in Queens even saw a 75% sales increase on a $10 investment. You don’t have to be a marketing whiz to understand that kind of a return.
Location is everything here, and being situated next to a Pokéstop is the first step in determining if a Pokémon Go marketing investment is right for you. However, if you’re lucky enough to have one within proximity, mimicking the above tactic is sure to draw users into brick and mortar enterprises. Since lures cost only $1 for a half hour, the opportunity-cost here is pretty attractive.
If you want to test this approach, my advice when creating a PoGo account would be to pick a username that advertises your business as you can click on a lured Pokéstop to see the name of the account that set it up. People noticing that “L’inizio Pizza Bar” is paying for lures may be more inclined to pay a visit.
If you’re lucky enough to be in an area with multiple Pokéstops, users are most likely accumulating naturally as the more lures that are set up, the higher the chances are of catching rare in-game creatures. In this case, the pay-to-play users will generally keep lures set up themselves as multi-lure benefits are significant. Meanwhile, non-paying players can still reap all the benefits. Businesses next to these hotspots are taking advantage of this by offering discounts or free items to anyone who sets lures up.


Gyms offer another unique avenue for marketing potential. In the game, there are 3 teams that users can join, and the competition is pretty intense in between them, especially between the top two teams: red and blue (or Valor and Mystic as they are more specifically called). Taking advantage of appealing to the three in-game teams (with yellow, or “Instinct” being the third), businesses can tailor advertising or even products to appeal to Pokémon Go team members.
Since the competing teams are constantly overthrowing each other’s gyms, users will be forced to visit a gym’s location in order to take control of it. Being on or near a gym provides a lot of opportunity for marketers to target a constant flow of Pokémon Go players for free.
team mystic


Right now the locations of Pokéstops and gyms have been carried over from Niantic’s first and previous mass augmented reality (AR) endeavor, Ingress. However, there is clear evidence that they will be adjusting these marketing hotspots based on the recent surfacing of a partnership with McDonalds.
Thanks to the advertising agreement, Japanese Pokémon Go players can now find gyms at over 3,000 McDonalds locations around the land of the rising sun.

On July 26th, McDonalds CEO Steve Easterbrook was quoted saying: ‘We are enjoying what [Pokémon Go] is doing for our business at the moment.’

It’s unclear if Niantic is planning on selling advertising opportunities like this to the masses, but these indicators mean digital marketers should definitely be keeping tabs on the company’s progress.

What Does it all Mean?

Pokémon Go is a popular topic right now. It’s a trend, and we all know that trends never result in foolproof capitalization. There’s no need to go full throttle with an intensive Pokémon Go digital marketing strategy, but my best advice would be to experiment with Pokemon Go and begin to think about how augmented reality can meet your clients’ goals. Create an account, find out if your business is next to a Gym or Pokéstop, and if so, spend that $10 just to see what happens. Pokémon Go has the potential to be an unusual yet thrilling way to attract new customers. However, a lot of businesses either don’t know how to use it to their advantage or are simply scared to risk doing so.
As with any unsaturated market, there will always be apprehension. Digital marketers are comfortable using Facebook or Twitter because everyone already advertises on those channels, but very few businesses are experimenting with AR applications like Pokémon Go. If anything, it’s an exciting time right now to be witnessing the birth of a potential new marketing channel. The last major social application with the same kind of potential has to be Snapchat, which is still yet to reach widespread use for professionals. Though, as the barriers to entry are currently quite affordable, downsides to dipping a toe into the PoGo pool are few and far between. Just like the stars of Pokémon Go, technology evolves often and early adopters are the ones who capitalize first. Accepting new industry changes and discovering their practical applications has always been what drives our industry forward and gives us a reason to keep learning.

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