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Pokémon GO and the Future of Mobile Social-Driven Brand Response

By Mark DiMassimo

You are immersed in a game on your mobile device, searching for Pokémon characters as you walk down a street. Suddenly, you see that there is a “Pokémon gym” up ahead, just outside a corner bodega. You collect a few Pokémon and go inside to reward yourself with a cool drink. You end up picking up a bag of chips as well. You have no idea you’ve just been advertised to. And perhaps you weren’t. You were lured!

Pokémon Go debuted on July 6th, stirring up the nostalgia experienced by many millennials who spent hours with their faces glued to Gameboys in the early 2000s. Gotta Catch em All, as the saying goes.


Niantic, the developer behind the virtual reality game, was once a start-up created within Google in 2010. Not unexpectedly, Pokémon Go is not its first foray into the virtual reality field; a game called Ingress and an app named Field Trip came first, employing the same type of augmented reality model.

With the exploding popularity of Pokémon Go, it’s not surprising that Niantic CEO John Hanke told The Financial Times, “Niantic intends to allow retailers and other companies to sponsor locations on Pokémon Go’s virtual maps.” As a result, the potential for direct response marketing, in-game advertising, and “advergaming” with Pokémon Go is immense — especially considering that today we are primarily choosing to interact with brands and people through our mobile devices!

Location-based pit stops, special zones, and hot spots where individuals can come to connect for exclusive content are areas worth investigating. For example, a brand could “sponsor” an already established gathering zone in the game: a Pokémon gym. Imagine a Coca-Cola-branded Gym or Jamba Juice-branded gym with products and services from each company available nearby or at a discount for “Pokémon trainers” – who don’t even need to be aware that they’ve been advertised to.

On the grassroots level, Pokémon Go is being used in ingenious ways by small businesses and companies to attract customers. Let’s take the example that opened this piece. L’inizio Pizza Bar in Long Island City, Queens, saw a 75% spike in revenue when a manager spent $10 to buy lures and virtually placed them outside the restaurant. (Lures are in-game purchases that attract Pokémon to a particular location. The Pokémon then attract people who want to capture them – millennials who have been chasing around pocket monsters the entire day are often interested in pizza and beer so they can revive and recuperate). Similarly, savvy bars and pubs across the country are offering discounts to Pokémon Go players, in some cases actually choosing factions within the game to support and providing even more exclusive deals.

However, in terms of marketing and advertising, the larger area for exploration might be one that Niantic has already experimented with in its previous game, Ingress. AXA, a French insurance brand, partnered with an Ingress in-game company (Visur Technology) to create a branded “shield” that was the most powerful in the game. In exemplifying one of DiMassimo Goldstein’s 10 Promises, the company escaped the false choice between selling and brand building. The Inspiring Idea was to “protect people both in the real world, and the augmented one.” What compounded the success of this venture was that the AXA shield was initially only available at AXA portals, meaning players would have to travel to AXA business locations to access the shield. As a result of the initiative, in a five-month period:

• Over four million Ingress players were exposed to the AXA brand promise
• Over 600,000 Ingress players visited AXA agencies in real life
• AXA agencies generated over three million in-game actions in Ingress
• Over five million AXA Shields were deployed in Ingress
• AXA representatives interacted with over 55,000 Ingress players during “anomalies” (an Ingress game term)

AXA built its brand name by showing that the service it offered “protected” people in the virtual reality world through its ultimate shield, in real life through its insurance policies, AND by selling!

Surely, such potential applications for Pokémon Go are already being crafted behind closed doors, in creative and strategy departments all across the country. Perhaps the solution to capitalizing on this new virtual reality medium lies in the hybridization of in-game advertising and advergaming and applying it to virtual reality games – the same way AXA was able to integrate its shield into actual gameplay.

Imagine: A Pokémon center that heals your Pokémon, sponsored by a hospital or pharmaceutical company; maybe all the Duane Reades in NYC could be Pokémon centers where trainers could go to recharge their Pokémon and recharge themselves with snacks and beverages.

New York Sports Clubs creating an in-game “potion” or “rare candy” that makes your Pokémon level up faster – one you can access only after you’ve spent the allocated amount of time “working out” at one of its facilities.

A Pokéball equivalent of a Masterball only available from a company whose brand promise is certainty (to the uninitiated Poké trainers, Masterballs have a one in 65,536 chance of failing – so, an almost 100% guaranteed catch rate).

One thing is certain: mobile and social-driven brand response is the marketing of today. The media conversation, which used to begin with television and then with Google, now begins with Facebook. Social leads. With most of us opting to do most of our interacting from our mobile devices, Facebook, Pokémon GO, and other media that put social-mobile first will become leading advertising media. Those of us who seek efficiency and effectiveness in driving brand value up while driving cost-per-acquisition down need to be where the action is.

The possibilities are as great as the creative team that rubs up against them.

For more on how to drive up brand value while you drive down cost-per-acquisition, read about The Ten Signs of An Inspiring Action Company. Inspiring action companies like Dollar Shave Club, Air BNB and Warby Parker consistently outperform their categories in building brand value and revenue.

Interested to know what Inspiring Action Marketers are obsessed with today? Find out here.