Gotta catch em all… and those consumers too

So right now the world, judging by the media frenzy and many friends’ Facebook newsfeeds, is obsessed with Pokemon Go.

It’s added billions of dollars to Nintendo’s share price, got everyone excited again about a game that I last remember from about 25 years ago and we now see people even more obsessed with staring intently at their phones, but at least this time they’re outside and walking – exercise win.

What we’re also seeing, unsurprisingly, is the flood of advertisers now looking to take advantage of the immense popularity of the game. Brands are rushing to get into the game itself through branded gyms, Pokestops and other methodology. Savvy smaller business owners are suddenly seeing opportunities literally outside their doors to take advantage of. The cafe wedged between a Pokestop and a Battle Arena that has started offering phone charging to players, the bakery now selling Pokemon-themed cookies to those searching in their vicinity and the pizzeria offering free pizza if players catch certain types of Pokemon in their store are just three among many.

Businesses are buying digital lures to attract Pokemon to their locations to in turn lure players and potential consumers to their products or services. How long before Uber starts offering Pokemon catching tours? Before Domino’s starts offering in-game pizza delivery to wherever you are? Before Vodafone offers a Pokemon contract that doesn’t use any data within the app? How long until Dietcokemander or something similar shows up?

So, is this the next great marketing opportunity? Have we forever seen a seismic shift in the advertising landscape akin to the last great changes, such as Facebook, programmatic buying and search?

I say yes, and not quite.

Yes, that this has shown that if you get the product right and the user interface right that augmented reality has a place in consumer behaviour and therefore opportunities for us as marketers and advertisers to take advantage of. Some of our clients will have the ability and budgets to get into the game itself and create branded experiences, others may benefit in other ways.

Not quite in that we’ve seen many of these things come around like great fireworks, burning brightly for five seconds then disappearing to a core audience. Farmville anyone? QR codes? Zumba?

But, Pokemon Go could well survive with reasonable numbers to not be a flash in the pan – there are many smarter than me who have made themselves look stupid predicting the death of things before; so I’m not going to swing one way or the other just yet.

What excites me most about this trend isn’t the actual application itself but what it could then become at a much larger level and what that then offers us as media buyers, marketers and advertisers.

Just as one battle won does not win a war, one game blowing up does not necessarily mean a revolution – but if more battles are won then maybe it could? If Pokemon Go can do for AR smartphone gaming what Serial did for podcasts or Netflix did for online TV platforms then maybe we do have something on our hands here.

Here in New Zealand we’ve seen AR come and kind of fizzle out before. Monteith’s Meat Pack was a nice application and fun idea but probably a few years before its time. Blippar is big in Asia but hard to do in areas that aren’t conditioned for it.

But if Pokemon allows AR applications to spawn networks of games or services that are targetable to the players playing them rather than the individual platform itself, then it could get very interesting indeed. Integrating this opportunity into the wider programmatic world raises the bar again. For the gaming network to become part of the buys that we’re executing each day gives them a use and functionality over and above when it’s relevant to use them for a particular audience or campaign. With the apparent player of these games being wide and varied in type (it’s not just geeks and 40-year-old dudes who used to play when they were 15 out there) then we’re seeing a necessity for the ability to reach by target rather than platform for these to stay efficient and relevant. 

Could this also be the shot in the arm that VR needs as the next step up for those looking for the fully immersive digital experience?

How will more ‘traditional’ media take advantage of the new technology to better their own services or advertising platforms? 

With the continued fragmentation of media, explosion in available media minutes per person, per day, it continues to become harder to reach a mass of people with efficiency. Anything that provides a network of people playing a variety of games but accessible to marketers in efficient pathways has serious benefit and potential. 

So, for now, I’ll happily watch the Pokechasers going about their Pokehunts with a slightly bemused shake of my head. But if they’re having fun and if it makes my eight-year-old want to go for a 6km walk on the weekend (as he professed this morning), then I’m not getting in the way of that.

What I’ll be watching with much more interest is what this leads to and the opportunities for reaching audiences at scale, be that on Pokemon Go or the networks that are created from it. 

Alex Lawson is group business director at ZenithOptimedia ([email protected]).

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