All it took was a few days for Nintendo to catch the ficklest of all creatures: consumers. And after just a couple of weeks, there were already over 21 million daily users, surpassing Candy Crush's peak audience of 20 million users -- and with more time spent per day on the app than Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram. It has surpassed Pandora and Netflix's percentage of daily active users, exceeded Tinder's install count, and has eclipsed its own stock price. It is even rivaling Google Maps' use as a navigation tool.
We are, of course, talking about Pokemon Go, this year's biggest viral phenomenon. The free game, which encourages users to explore the physical world in order to capture elusive virtual monsters, has already resulted in 10 to 50 million installs on Android alone according to news sites and is being used on an average of 43 minutes and 23 seconds a day -- higher than WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, and Messenger. It has even inspired Pokemon hunts, which bring users together in the real-world in order to share a virtual experience at real locations.
No one really knows exactly why it's working. Is it the Pokemon license? Is it the augmented reality technology? Is it the company's infrastructure? (Niantic built Pokemon Go as an evolution of a prior game, which provided a valuable database of user-generated landmarks and locations.) Is it the mobile and social nature of the experience? Is it the newsworthiness? The headlines certainly keep coming. Everything from guys falling off a cliff while playing and the president of Israel posting a screenshot of a "Meowth" in his office, to tweets from celebrity players Justin Bieber, John Mayer, Demi Lovato, and Jimmy Fallon.
As everyone races to understand why it's working, data is rolling in showing that online conversation began to build in June when Nintendo announced the July release. Initially, that conversation was primarily males (80 percent) and teenagers (40 percent). But since launch, user demographics show a shift to 50/50 across gender lines and 25-34 year-olds have emerged as the predominant age group.
According to various news reports, Pokemon Go players have driven booms at local stores, restaurants, movie theaters and cafes lucky enough to be registered as either PokeStops or Gyms -- virtual destinations in the real world, which reward players for their presence. In fact, some enterprising businesses have leveraged simple in-app purchases to drive creative marking campaigns that result in increased traffic. This revolutionary use of real-world locations for a virtual experience brings with it a lot of implications for the future of AR and marketing.
For example, local businesses that are PokeStops can purchase lures, which increase the likelihood that players will find and capture Pokemon. This can, and has, driven foot traffic and sales. Businesses and public institutions marked as Gyms, while unable to leverage lures, have capitalized on the Pokemon craze by offering Pokemon-related giveaways and discounts to in-game teams as well as garnering free marketing by incentivizing players to post pictures of their location on various social media platforms.
Pokemon Go has easily captured the imagination of consumers everywhere and has also proven AR to be a successful, if unconventional, marketing technique. It's not hard to imagine marketers taking advantage of future AR-based games, or leveraging AR as a marketing tool on its own. And, as a matter of fact, they already are.
News of the first official corporate retail sponsor broke when the Japanese affiliate of McDonald's signed on to sponsor PokeStop locations at most of their 2,900 restaurants in Japan. McDonald's Japan shares rose to a 15-year high just upon the leaked news of the sponsorship last month.
Other marketers weren't about to wait to cut deals: T-Mobile began running a promotion to provide free data for the game for a year plus discounts on chargers and battery packs, Sprint purchased lures to attract customers and provide on-site game experts and free charging stations, and Yelp added PokeStops to their search function.
Possibilities are limitless for marketers. For instance, Ikea, could create applications allowing users to visualize how new furniture would look in their room. Overlaying the image of a Billy bookcase on the camera view of the user's living room provides a new interaction and engagement opportunity. Manufacturers could create maintenance apps, allowing workers to easily visualize how to break down and repair complex equipment, such as airplane landing gears. Shops could show users the way to the nearest outlet or show updated prices on billboards when users view them through their phones. If Pokemon Go is any indication, AR as a product and as a marketing tool has a rich future ahead of it.