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Pokemon Go: 15 vital marketing insights

Pokemon Go: 15 vital marketing insights Tom Edwards

Over the past week one app has captured main stream media and consumer attention. That app is Pokemon Go. As you go throughout your day, you will see people of all ages wandering aimlessly through parks, malls, and parking lots in order to catch 'em all.

Pokemon Go is a simple alternate reality game (ARG) that merges digital and physical through the act of physically locating Pokemon in the world around you. You then capture and collect Pokemon through an augmented reality overlay through your phone's front camera and capture through a short mini-game. Some will call Pokemon Go an exergame, which is essentially combing exercise with the gaming experience as it is getting people outdoors and on the move.

The app is so popular that it topped Twitter's daily users and is on track to have more engagement than Tinder. The engagement numbers are even more impressive with an average play time of 43 minutes, besting even social messaging apps such as Messenger and WhatsApp.

Why has this ARG captured so much attention and retention, and what can marketers learn from the Pokemon Go experience? Let's look at 15 attributes that marketers should consider when thinking about leveraging aspects of the games success for brand campaigns.

Physical to digital

In 2011, I attended a SXSW session about going beyond check-ins with location-based game design and was introduced to Dokobots. Dokobots game mechanics were an early predecessor to Pokemon Go. I remember vividly collecting new bots and batteries as I traveled daily to downtown Dallas and saw the potential of this type of game.

Alternate reality games are not new, especially for Nintendo's development partner Niantic (originally part of Google) whose last ARG, called Ingress, was released in 2012 and featured connecting physical locations and team-based competitions to control real world locations.

We have seen a number of platforms rise over the past few years from Foursquare to Waze, and the key aspect of these experiences is to enhance the daily world of the users and create incentives to take action. As marketers today, we tend to look digital first, but great experiences can and should connect both physical and digital.

Common cause

Niantic's first ARG Ingress featured two dueling factions that allowed people to choose a side and pledge their allegiance. Once users have progressed a bit through the game, Pokemon Go has users select between one of three teams -- yellow, red, or blue. Once a user selects a team, they are aligned by a common mission to support their team and gain control gym by gym.

From a marketing perspective this simple notion of self-selection is one of the key elements for retention as users begin to feel invested in the experience and rally towards a common cause.


Once you have selected a team and are aligned to a common cause, players then compete with rival teams to contest territory, such as the battle zones, known as Pokemon gyms.

Competition becomes a natural extension of the common cause and a campaign mechanic that greatly increases engagement and participation.


Word-of-mouth is one of the primary reasons that Pokemon Go installs grew so rapidly. From a personal perspective, I had numerous texts, voice, and Facebook messages about getting Pokemon Go, being recruited to teams and overall excitement for the game. This coming from 40-year-olds and my teenage son alike.

From a marketing perspective, even though a number of social platforms have shifted to reach and frequency models, consumers can still create viral sensations through word-of-mouth, and Pokemon Go is the latest example of an experience that is captivating users across the world.


One of the other key reasons for the successful rise of Pokemon Go is the passionate community that already exists for Pokemon. Children and adults alike come together for competitions for both the physical cards and digital games. By providing a new vehicle to funnel user passion, Nintendo is revitalizing the community base and introducing new users to the community.

Here is a picture of a PokeStop in my neighborhood.

As marketers, we should capitalize on the passions of existing communities and leverage the community to drive buzz, awareness, and influence when possible.

Game mechanics

Pokemon is at its core a traditional game with leveling mechanics based on experience point accumulation as well as in game currency to further enhance the experience.

Game mechanics and gamification of experiences has its place when creating consumer centric experiences, but they should be a natural extension of user experience and not bolted on for the sake of checking a box or replicating success of experiences like Pokemon Go.


Beyond the game mechanics and competition, Pokemon Go has also incorporated scarcity or perceived scarcity of resources in the form of rare Pokemon to keep users striving for the next level of differentiation or bragging rights within the game experience.

In certain instances, incorporating various levels of exclusivity into consumer experiences can be a key point of differentiation from the rest of the competitive set, especially if there is perceived value in the resource or experience.


Pokemon dates back to 1995 and holds a special place for many adults that grew up in that time frame. Pokemon Go represents the next evolution for the franchise while keeping to the core roots of Pokemon by having many of the original Pokemon as a part of the Go roster.

Here's my now 14-year-old son at his first Pokemon tournament seven years ago.


Of the many campaigns that I have worked on over the years, nostalgia-driven campaigns, especially for those that have a strong IP or brand history can prove to be highly engaging, especially with targeted content combined with user created content.


Collecting and quest-based objectives are at the core of Pokemon Go experience. You are driven to collect Pokemon, track your current roster, and explore more about them via the Pokedex.


Many campaigns that require users to collect items, complete scavenger hunts, and solve puzzles through collecting clues can drive engagement and word-of-mouth conversation, especially those that combine physical and digital experiences.

Sense of adventure

Pokemon Go gives the user the illusion that they are on a virtual adventure to support their gym factions and catch 'em all. The reality is this example of an exergame is simply leveraging location, game mechanics, and an augmented reality mini-game to create a unique experience that people are compelled to share.


Highly engaging experiences provide a sense of control, competition, or adventure or a combination of all three. As we move toward virtual reality experiences, it is important to consider how to create experiences that provide a sense of adventure.

Mixing reality

Pokemon Go provides the opportunity for users to interact with a digital overlay on top of their front camera view to actually catch the Pokemon.

By creating the illusion of a Pokemon in the real world, this augmented reality experience is a simple demonstration of the power that mixing reality through AR experiences can bring. Expect to see more experiences, such as those tied to the Microsoft HoloLens and HTC Vive that mix reality across reality, augmented, and virtual reality.


One of the key engagement drivers for individual users is the fact that Pokemon dynamically appear in their homes, neighborhoods, and shops. This location-specific experience creates a deeper connection with the user based on proximity.

Pokemon hunting has become a family activity.


How can marketers, retailers and small businesses capitalize on Pokemon Go? For now one of the key drivers is to use in-game lure modules that last for 30 minutes at a time to attract Pokemon to a PokeStop.


Moving forward it has been announced that Pokemon Go will support sponsored locations to drive foot traffic and revenue. This means that a brand or retailer can pay to be a part of the virtual world through a cost-per-visit-based pricing model.


Pokemon Go is a fun and entertaining experience that can easily be shared with friends and family. The experience is easy to share and creates endless opportunities to discuss the game and media stories that come out of the experience.


Needless to say, it is important to create consumer-centric campaigns that are entertaining, authentic, and have the power to tell a compelling story or compel the user to make a story.

Intuitive experience

There is not much in the way of instructions with the game outside of a brief introduction, but the experience is simple and intuitive so it's easy for those who have never played Pokemon to figure out what to do.


Crafting intuitive user experiences is critical to connecting with, engaging, and retaining consumers.

Trusted IP

Pokemon Go is a 20-year-old brand that has had years to develop its community and acquire new users. The success of Pokemon Go will lead to many organizations viewing this disruption as a scalable business model.


The key point to consider is to understand the existing equity and community that exists tied to products and services and ideally leverage areas of strength or existing passions to create new connections with consumers.

One additional point to consider is user privacy and data collection. With Pokemon Go being tied to a Google Single Sign-On with full account access, there were initial concerns about the level of data access that Pokemon Go could collect about the user. The key takeaway here is to be as transparent as possible when it comes to data collection and how a user's data is intended to be used.

Pokemon Go is the rare experience that combines so many key attributes to make up an almost perfect storm of timing, relevance, and word-of-mouth that has momentarily captured the media spotlight, as well. There are many lessons to be learned by marketers. By aligning existing strengths of the brand with the passion of community and a compelling experience, it is possible to create a highly engaging consumer experience with similar attributes that make Pokemon Go a success.

Epsilon is a global leader in data, marketing and technology enablement. As the Chief Digital Officer for Epsilon’s agency business, Tom is guiding Epsilon agency clients as a trusted advisor to meet the business needs of today while...

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