Marketers Embrace Pokémon Go (Before the Inevitable Backlash …)

(Author’s Note: It’s been a brutal two weeks in national and world news. I’m going to try to keep this light …)


I have just returned from a two-week vacation. (For anyone who follows me personally on social media, I’m so sorry for the deluge of photos. It was just THAT GOOD.) In that time, something called Pokémon Go apparently has taken over the world.

I had vague memories of Pokemon from my boys (both of whom tried their best to heed the command of the consortium of brands that owns the franchise to “catch ’em all,” which is a fool’s errand.), both of whom have outgrown the … characters? Cards? Here’s the two memories I have:

  • Pokémon (I believe the plural is also “Pokémon”) littered my house, despite my own efforts to “corral them all.”
  • Pokémon Black and White is NOT an arthouse version of the television program.

But in the past two weeks, Pokémon Go — the mobile application — has absolutely blown up. I’m sure you know what it is … (for those of you unfamiliar, The Verge has a great video, Pokémon Go: Everything You Need to Know in Nine Minutes … I’ll wait until you come back to continue.)

PokeBoardLamar3I learned about the game slowly — catching a few headlines from a lakehouse in rural Broome County, N.Y. (luckily, we had a “no screens” policy for the kids, thus they didn’t pick up on it) and later, saw people playing it in Duck, N.C.  And these weren’t kids, mind you — many were adults, and you could tell by their hunched-over walk, staring at the screen of their mobile device, barely missing other passers-by.

The download-and-retention numbers were astounding, according to this piece from TechCrunch:

What the latest figures indicate is that Pokémon Go users aren’t just testing the waters – they’re addicted.

SurveyMonkey estimates that just under 26 million U.S. users played the app on iOS and Android on Thursday, which is “unprecedented” for a mobile game, it says. Plus, more people are using the maps in Pokémon Go, which are powered by Google Maps, than they use the Google Maps app itself, says SurveyMonkey.

SurveyMonkey Stats
Image from TechCrunch

While in-game advertising is a forthcoming feature, many companies struck early and saw this as an opportunity to market to customers and prospects now.

From a Forbes piece, “Why Pokémon GO Is Good For Data And Great For Business”:

A great case is Fasten (note: Fasten is an EH3PR client), the Boston-based rideshare company who is now offering $5 rides to anyone who is picked up and dropped off at a PokéStop. Many drivers have been teaming up with friends or paid “Pokémon Drivers” to chauffeur them from PokéStop to PokéStop. Given the insatiable demand for Pokémon and the population’s growing dependence on rideshares, Fasten’s pioneering move is nothing short of brilliant.

Finally, since most app users (and, let’s face it, most people) will be constantly checking their smart phones anyway, it provides savvy marketers with countless opportunities to collect valuable data through online and on-site fan engagement. If you can get them to stop searching for Pokémon, that is.

And according to a piece posted this morning in Advertising Age:

Brands aren’t waiting for Pokémon Go to activate its promised in-game advertising, not when the craze is white-hot today — and could burn out tomorrow.

Marketers from T-Mobile to Simon Malls are capitalizing on the smartphone game, which sends players roaming the real world to catch virtual creatures like Jigglypuffs and grab virtual objects.

The Inevitable Backlash

For marketers, this is particularly smart — as we’re already seeing PokémonGo backlash. There are the inevitable privacy concerns (Deadspin brilliantly tagged it a “Government Surveillance Psyop Conspiracy) and controversies over inappropriate “Pokestops” located in, for example, Arlington National Cemetery and the United States Holocaust Museum.

This piece in the UK’s Independent outlines the empty feeling of catching them all,”Pokémon Go: I caught them all and it wasn’t worth it”:

Pokémon Go, then. On the plus side: it is harmless, and better for you than, say, crystal meth. On the minus side: you can get run over, as I nearly did, chasing after a turtle or something, and it would be a shame if you were late for a job interview because you were going after Ditto, a blob of such rarity it is yet to be spotted “in the wild”.

And yesterday, two teens engaged in a hunt were mistaken as burglars and shot at in Florida. (“Pokémon Go has led to muggings, car crashes, cliff rescues — and now a shooting.”)


While there’s ample opportunity for consumers and marketers (and mobile data providers) to “catch ’em all,” let’s hope it doesn’t go any further than that.


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