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There’s a short window for brands to “catch ’em all”

Is anyone not talking about Pokémon GO? I started playing the game a few days after it launched under the guise that it’s my job to help brands seize opportunities with emerging media. Today, I upped to level 12 – yes, I’m hooked (as are many members of my Hill Holliday department who are all having a friendly competition with each other). Even if you’re skeptical of the game, it’s impossible not to recognize that Pokémon GO is so much more than a mobile app. It’s become an instant cultural phenomenon representing the perfect storm of nostalgia + technology + gamification.

A few people have asked me how long I think the hype will last. It’s hard to say, except that history shows us that like all mobile games, Pokémon GO also has a finite shelf life. The best analogs of what Pokémon GO is doing for augmented reality is similar to what FarmVille and Angry Birds did for Facebook and mobile gaming, respectively. A quick look at Google Trends shows that interest over time for FarmVille and Angry Birds (and I also added in Candy Crush) had their peaks each last about a year or less before interest started to decline.

Another thing to note is that all three games, generally, have relatively similar heights in their peaks. But take a look below at how Pokemon GO’s interest over time significantly dwarfs the other games when added into the mix.

Knowing that it’s still on the rise, can it be argued, since Pokémon GO’s trajectory is so much higher than the others, that its “interest over time” will endure a lot longer? Not necessarily. With the Republican and Democratic conventions upon us and the Summer Olympics coming up, plus a big election this November, there are other things that will surely grab people’s attention away from Pokémon. But for now, it’s here, it’s big, and brands want in…badly.

Niantic, the game’s developer, has confirmed that advertiser sponsored locations are coming to Pokémon GO “in the near future.” But it’s not yet known exactly how these advertising opportunities will be executed. As brands flock to get in front of Pokémon GO’s 26 million (and growing) daily active users, it’s critical that advertising is executed in a way that respects the game’s experience and provides value to its users versus feeling interruptive or tangential.

At a time when ad dismissal is the norm, Niantic must find ways to partner with brands to creatively integrate with Pokémon GO’s user experience so that it contributes to the quality of the game play. If you’re a bank, perhaps sponsored ATM locations allow withdrawal of Pokécoins. Fitness brands (i.e. gyms) could train Pokémon and make them stronger. Restaurants could feed Pokémon to give them the fuel they need to battle longer. Clothing/lifestyle brands might offer custom gear for avatars. And healthcare brands could sponsor locations to revive depleted Pokémon.

Outside of custom partnerships, brands must push the boundaries of the spaces Niantic has available, en masse, by making their creative purpose-built and delightful in every way. This means doing more than simply sporting a logo and a “message.” Is there something you can offer users who visit? (Remember that their key motivation is to advance in the game). All of this, however, hinges on Niantic’s ability to support these kinds of experiences and how far brands/agencies are able to push the game developer.

The window of opportunity for brands to get the most benefit out of Pokémon GO is just beginning to open – and it won’t stay open for long. But in the haste of brands attempts to “catch ’em all,” if old advertising tactics and sloppy executions are used on this new and innovative canvas, it’s simply “game over.” Instead, brands must prioritize experience over advertising #FTW.

Mike Proulx is EVP, director of digital strategy & tech innovation at Hill Holliday. He tweets @McProulx

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