From memes to marketing: Pokémon Go

From memes to marketing: Pokémon Go

From an article on AdNews by Lindsay Bennett.

In the week since its launch Pokémon Go has managed to secure its place as the top grossing app in Australia and the US, add billions to the value of Nintendo and overtake Twitter in daily Android users.

You can’t scroll through your Facebook without seeing a Charmander ready for capture or a Pokémon Go-related meme.

The free-to-play app, which uses your phone’s camera and GPS to capture, battle, train and trade virtual Pokémon who appear in real-world surroundings, isn’t the first augmented reality (AR) game to hit Australia, but it is the first to see widespread, mainstream interest.

AR has had a series of false starts in here and globally, with brands testing the waters but not following through with long-term adoption.

Earlier this year, L’Oreal Paris launched an app that used facial recognition technology to allow customers to virtually apply its products while also using

McDonalds also launched work in AR that showed the production process of its food. Pacific Magazines was one of the first publishers to get on board, experimenting with AR for its April cover of kids’ title K-Zone.

Pokémon Go’s quick rise to the top of iTunes charts hasn’t gone unnoticed by the likes of Woolworths, KFC and even local businesses, with the brands trying to cash in on the action. Even Uber drivers have jumped on the craze, offering their services to drive users around town to catch ‘em all for an hourly rate.

M&C Saatchi were the agency behind the Woolies Pokémon Go Facebook post. M&C Saatchi social content director Candice Juniper says the post was in reaction to people catching Pokémons in Woolworths stores.

The post has received more than 40,000 likes, showing how powerful, well-timed, social content can be for a brand. Juniper says Nintendo and Pokémon created a “perfect storm” of mobile and social elements for businesses, tapping into the share-economy of screenshots.

Will it affect adland?

While Pokémon Go has been instrumental in exposing people to AR, Soap founder, Ashley Ringrose, remains sceptical on the immediate impact the game will have on the advertising industry, but believes in its power to revolutionise the industry’s perception of gaming.

“The success of Pokémon Go is less an AR victory and more a game victory,” Ringrose says. Pokémon Go is a heritage brand and has a cult-like following globally, which could be the reason behind it spreading like wildfire, Ringrose says.

“What is interesting is about Pokémon Go is the people using the game. It isn’t just kids – it’s an epidemic for all ages,” he says.

Juniper believes there will be huge interest in AR from brands and marketers in the next few months.

“It was about VR and now we are all moving back to AR,” she says. “All it takes is for this technology to embed itself in advertiser psyche and interest will grow.”

Soap launched its dedicated gaming unit, SMG, in 2013. If augmented reality gaming takes off, the agency is in a good place to profit from its success.

“The game is nation wide training of AR and how to use it, which is great for gaming. The whole of Australia is now going to know how to use their phone as an AR portal. Years ago, people wanted a viral video, then they wanted an app. Hopefully this is the thing that makes people want a game,” Ringrose says.

Ringrose says smart brands will be adding ‘lures’ to their stores, with retail business best positioned to leverage benefits from the game.


Lures are modules placed on a PokéStops, which are landmark locations like churches. They are used to attract Pokémon users to a specific location. Ringrose says brands should be tapping into either the nostalgia of the Pokémon brand or the locational functionality of the app.

“Normally you hear this buzz about social channels, like when Facebook changes it algorithm, but to see this interest in Pokémon Go – it will show brands and advertisers that gaming is a viable option for getting people engaged,” Ringrose says.

AdNews understands brands have already started reaching out to Pokémon to request a gym be set up at their place of business to attract foot traffic. In the virtual world of Pokémon Go, a gym is where players gather to battle against each other. So far, none have heard back from the company.

The potential to set up gyms or create branded locations via Pokémon Go could mean big dollars for the brand, however it’s been suggested Nintendo did not expect the huge number of downloads and has not developed an advertising model.

Juniper says expect to see several spin-off companies arise, such as a site called Lure Squad that was set up to figure out a way to reward local businesses for taking a “friendly stance” toward Pokémon players.

AR versus VR

This year has been hailed the year of virtual reality, with it being a big Cannes Lions talking point. Founding partner of Melbourne digital shop 16k Agency, James Towers, says what people don’t realise is they have already been using AR for months – with Snapchat.

16K Agency launched an AR platform in Scandinavia last year that was developed in Australia, so the hype surrounding Pokémon Go plays into Towers’ business model.

Towers tells AdNews people don’t realise Snapchat, one of the most popular social media platforms in the world, uses augmented reality and while the industry is obsessed with VR, AR is actually much easier to adopt.

“The power of augmented reality is in everyone’s smartphones. Literally everyone already has the equipment. They don’t need to go out and buy VR headsets – it’s already in their pockets,” Towers says.

Interestingly, Nintendo has traditionally been a hardware company. If Pokémon Go signals a move of the company into the software for mobile space, we can expect to see more AR and even VR games being developed.

The latest stats:

  • Since Pokémon Go was officially released in the US, Australia and New Zealand, digital content engagement around AR has increased by 742% year-on-year
  • There was six times more digital content engagement around AR in the week of July 4-10, 2016 than around the weekly average of the last 13 months
  • Digital content engagement around Nintendo has increased by 80% comparing July 6-11, 2016 to June 30 – July 5, 2016
  • Between July 6 – 10, 2016 there have been 3,813,111 Tweets around Pokemon; with an additional 1,966,275 Tweets around the hashtag #PokemonGo

*Stats from Amoebae

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