“Do you care if we take one more lap around the square before we head back?”

“Because you want the exercise?”

“Yeah, I was just thinking, it’s nice out, and—“

“How many Pokéstops are there?”

“… Like seven…”

It’s a conversation that husband and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, parents and children are having across the globe. And it’s indicative of a phenomenon that really snuck up on us.

Of course I’m talking about Pokémon Go. If you don’t know what Pokémon Go is, stop reading now and watch our “One Question, One Answer” panel video on the topic. It’ll give you an overview and a number of perspectives from some lovely AKHIA and Pritt Entertainment Group folks.

Whether you’ve ever played Pokémon games or not, chances are you’ve heard of them.  Sure, they were a big hit 15–20 years ago, but so were Pogs… why all the fuss about Pokémon Go? No one can say for sure, just as no one could have predicted you’d be reading about Pokémon in Forbes or Fortune this month. But there are a few factors to consider:

  • The nostalgia effect: For the same reason we saw Jurassic World movie ticket sales spike, Pokémon Go makes it publically acceptable for grown adults to spend time re-enjoying memorable media from their youth. Many of us have fond memories of playing Pokémon years ago, and now we can do so without looking like adult dweebs marching around in public with the latest iteration of the Gameboy.
  • The self-fulfilling prophecy: While someone like me (a former, and arguably current major league nerd) would always check out a Pokémon app released for smartphones, many people simply heard that Pokémon Go’s release was a phenomenon. When you hear an app almost immediately has a bigger use base than Twitter, Tinder or Facebook, you look.
  • The accessible form factor: It’s no news to marketers that most people have a smartphone these days (an estimated 64% of Americans) and having a widely covered, nostalgia-inducing title appear for free on mobile app stores makes it easy for the aforementioned Pokémon mania to spread.

Are these factors in the spread of Pokémon Go? Probably. Is this a comprehensive list? Doubtful. But even with the little we know with regard to why Pokémon Go has taken the world from storm, there are a few conclusions we, as marketers, can draw from the game’s meteoric success.

Augmented reality (A.R.) is a valid technology for communication and entertainment. A.R. went overnight from being one of those, “Yeah, that’s cool…” things you might see demoed somewhere to an “Of course I know what that is, and it’s sweet” technology. The upside is that marketers may now have a better chance of pitching tactics that utilize A.R., knowing that the general population understands it. 

In the same way that Apple Pay brought near-field communication (NFC) payments to the mainstream (and to some extent boosted adoption of biometrics with Touch ID), Pokémon Go has made A.R. “a thing”. The less good news? A game like Pokémon Go takes years to develop, so don’t plan on busting one out overnight.

Brick and mortar stores (and potentially certain travel destinations, depending on where the next rare Pokémon is rumored to be discovered) just discovered an unexpected advantage over the Internet retailers, who have been outmaneuvering physical businesses for years. Pokémon Go brings players in and around in-game hot spots … and players, as we have covered, is a category including just about everyone.

This is beneficial for the retailers, but it could also be good news for marketers that have been trying to reach people via traditional, non-digital means. It is easy as a modern marketer to think we live in a “digital or go home” age when it comes to reaching customers, but that may not be as true today as it was last month.

Word of mouth marketing is alive and well. We often talk about using a Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned (PESO) media model when crafting communication campaigns. I find, as I imagine many of you do, as well, that it is easy to focus heavily on the Paid and Owned parts of the equation, as we marketers have the most control over the outcome. What Pokémon Go has reiterated, however, is the enduring value of Earned and Shared coverage.

The global media coverage of Pokémon Go has happened at an incredible scale, and as I postulated above, this likely has much to do with the spread of the phenomenon. Did Niantic (the Pokémon Go developer) pitch media about the release? Hard to say, but most of the coverage was organic… that much is clear. At the same time, Shared coverage has been huge. How many of you have talked to someone about Pokémon Go at some point in the last couple of weeks? A lot, I’d wager. Regardless of the convent of the conversation, its buzz that fuels more investigation of the app, ultimately. I don’t know about you, but I, for one, will be doubling down trying to find ways to accrue Earned and Shared coverage of my next communications campaign.

Pokémon Go is still pretty fresh, and it’s come with its share of technological glitches, stories of stupid users and other issues. At the same time, it’s achieved a level of fame that no other mobile app can claim. Will the mania last? Will the user base drop down to a more normal level of gamer interest? Time will tell. But for now, we should be thinking about how we can take this surprising success and learn from it, adjusting our own marketing endeavors to account for what we might have deemed impossible only weeks ago.


Wait… you’re telling me I’m NOT the first person to write about this?

Of course not. The American Marketing Association had a great article on “How Pokémon Go is Disrupting Marketing as We Know It”, and various other communications thought leaders have already weighed in.

Have thoughts of your own? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Lukas Treu is Lead, Content Strategy at AKHIA.