Pokemon Go: Opportunities for Marketers

Pokemon Go is an augmented reality (AR) game for the iPhone and Android platforms. Augmented Reality describes games or apps that layer digital content on top of the real world. It is not VR – landscape features, places, and backgrounds are all real.

The game uses them as a backdrop.

Niantic’s latest AR triumph has struggled with an uneven roll-out and serious server issues. Since the loss of its partnership with Google, it ended up undercapitalized too. Niantic has not so far implemented any great marketing actions. Nonetheless, its user base has exploded. Now it is the time to look at how marketers will get on board with this.

Pokemon Go uses the characters from previous generations of the Pokemon franchise. They include animations and a card swapping game as well as digital incarnations. You can find here a beginners guide, and I strongly recommend playing the game yourself if you want to use it as a marketing channel. If you do not want to get in that drill, you can always, check out some gameplay videos on Youtube.

Remember those old-timey ad execs who could not handle the transition to Facebook and Twitter?  Most of you would recognize them by their tone-deaf approaches and sales-heavy, me-me-me attitudes. Don’t be like them. First, things first, you have to learn your way around the new landscape from a player’s point of view. Then you can start trying to run your marketing game there.

Here’s a brief guide:

As a Pokemon Go player, you will move around the real landscape. You will be waiting around any corner for the next Pokemon to appear and you will be trying to catch it. When your phone buzzes, you know you have found one. You stand in front of it, using your phone to ‘see’ it and throw PokeBalls at it to capture it.

Pokemon roams wild and concentrates at preset places called PokeSpots. You can train them in PokeGyms. There is a player-vs-player battle element to the game, centered around their control.

What Does Pokemon Go Mean for Brands?

The average mobile app shows 25% churn over 90 days from initial download, and 25% of new users use the app only once.  First-month user retention for games is around 27%.

Now look at Pokemon Go’s figures: 60% of those who installed it use it daily. It has the same amount of daily active users Twitter has, and the number is still rising. The 5% of the whole US population is playing Pokemon Go on a regular basis. (Some apps would feel pleased if 5% of their users fired the app up on a daily basis.)  They use Pokemon Go longer than any of the social apps too: about 33 minutes a day, on average.

So what can brands do to get in on the Pokemon action?

First, you should be aware of the fact that you cannot sell or advertise anything on Pokemon Go app. Well, at least not yet.

What you can do is to leverage aspects of the way the game is constructed to personalize emails. You can encourage foot traffic near a local business and even pay Nintendo to attract physical traffic. In many ways, Pokemon Go has taken the trackable web visitor and put them in the real world. In that way, it gives physical stores opportunities that were before confined to online.


 Lures are one of the most effective ways to generate more foot traffic in or around a physical store. Pokemon only generate in specific locations, called Pokestops.  They are scarcer than you think. People find themselves hanging around waiting for one to appear. Lures, an in-game purchase item, are made to increase the number of Pokemon that generate at specific Pokestops for one hour. The Pokemon will be visible and usable to anyone in the vicinity.

What kind of effect can that have? Well, it has already proved its efficacy. In New York, where L’Inizio Pizza Bar bought a Pokemon Lure. As the owner Tom Lattanzio told the New York Post ‘The amount of people has been astonishing.’ Tom’s $10 investment in Pokemon netted him $75, a pretty solid return on investment.

The range of options here is wide. You can capitalize on being near a PokeStop by posting to social media images of gameplay. You can have a similar effect by referencing the game in your advertising board.

PokeGyms belong to teams which your must fight to win them and then to keep them. (There are three teams: Instinct, Valor, and Mystic.) So selling team merch like team badges or team-colored items could be a winner. You could also consider offering a discount to ‘your team’ – just be ready to switch allegiances when events overtake your gym!


Sponsored Locations

 Why not copy Tom Lattanzio? Well, maybe because you are not necessarily sitting on top of a PokeStop. (Here’s how to find out if you are.) Niantic, the company behind the franchise, predetermines all the PokeStops. You can ask Niantic to remove a PokeStop – pressure from local people has denuded some rural locations of nearly all their PokeStops while others were placed in inappropriate locations including cemeteries. However, in the end, you do not have a say over where they are located, at all. That is due to change soon, though.

PokeStops and PokeGyms will soon become available to sponsor. While pure in-game advertising does not look like it is a part of Niantic’s business plan for the foreseeable future. Sponsored locations work great for the company as an extra revenue stream. The same counts for businesses hoping to generate extra footfall.

Sponsored locations will include both PokeStops and PokeGyms. The details are still coming out. This happens partly because it looks like Niantic is not too confident about how to play things. But, it is possible that businesses will be able to get bulk discounts on Lure modules as well. Right now, you can submit a request to have your location considered as a PokeStop or PokeGym here.

This approach has a form: Niantic’s last venture into AR gaming, Ingress, had a similar arrangement. Many Ingress Portals have been repurposed as Pokemon Gyms and Stops. (There’s even been a rumor that players can use Ingress to find PokeGyms and Stops because so many of the sites are the same!) The payment system is likely to be ‘cost per visit.’ That can be an equivalent payment method to ‘cost per click.’ This fact shows the extent to which Pokemon Go is putting online marketing techniques into the hands of physical retailers. Expect to see many how-tos on conducting effective PPV campaigns within the year…

Branded Content

 Branded content is a work in progress for Pokemon Go. The exact form it will take has yet to be hammered out. There is already a strong interest from big brands including MacDonalds and Vodafone.

Niantic’s VP of strategic partnerships, Mathieu de Fayet, said he sees possible AR to ‘re-enchant’ the shopping experience. He evens claims there is a potential to rejuvenate the malls. He supports that the same counts for high streets that have suffered from the ‘Amazon effect.’ Whereby e-commerce undercuts physical stores on price and convenience.

So, how is that going to look like in practice?

Advertiser David Jones, whose firm ‘You & Mr. Jones’ became Niantic’s shareholders in February, says: ‘I cannot wait to see the potential with Pokémon Go where going to a pharmacy will heal your Pokémon. Or even going to a fast-food chain will get you berries to feed them.’

Other forms of branded content might even include branded PokeBalls – and maybe, even branded Pokemon.

pokemon-3 Email and Non-Local Marketing

So far, we talked about what Pokemon Go can do for brands with physical locations. Let’s consider the opposite scenario. What is going to happen if you are online only and don’t have any bricks and mortar locations? Can you still gain something from Pokemon Go?

Pokemon Go holds out the possibility of a sudden leap in the accuracy of personalization. The more personalized marketing is, the more efficient the results are going to be. That is one reason why email blows every other channel out of the water. Because it is possible to collect data from many sources. You can then use that data to personalize email content. This is how you can create delivery schedules, appearances and offers to match the recipient’s interests exactly.

Can email and Pokemon get together?

Almost certainly. The email possibilities of local marketing with Pokemon Go, focus on geo-targeted emails with a twist. Think it like that: rather than showing people nearby stores you can direct them toward Pokemon areas of interest that are near your store. Internal email notifications are already being rolled out in Pokemon Go as well.

What about the non-local email possibilities? The big prize on offer here is data.



Pokemon Go is a data collection powerhouse. It is grabbing data on its users on such an unprecedented scale that questions are being asked about it by Senators. Many brands have asked (and “begged” perhaps) for user data. Pokemon Go, on the other hand, has acquired it without any hassle at all. How? By offering value up front in the form of the gameplay experience itself. This is the biggest proof that under the right circumstances, your users would give you anything if you delight them.

What it has not done is tell anyone what it plans to do with all that user data. If it makes it available to partner brands, it could form the basis of some of the most accurate email campaigns ever. (It is even possible that it might sell it.) There is a possibility that the company might hang onto the data it has on its users and leverage it for its own purposes. Google, for instance, gathers unprecedented user data but doesn’t give most of us access to it.

Without access to its data set, Pokemon Go will remain a highly local channel for the foreseeable future.

B2B vs B2C

 What about B2B? Almost all the content you will read on Pokemon Go will assume that your target is consumers. So, if you are in B2B, is there anything for you here?

It is obvious that businesses are not playing Pokemon Go. So in regards to how the app functions right now, the B2B possibilities are nothing but limited. In the future, we could see many competing AR ‘treasure hunt’ games. Just wait until cloneable templates for games become available. Then it is possible interactive guides to places and events to become as ubiquitous as websites are now.

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