Digital Transformation Brand

The Pokemon Go phenomenon paves the way for virtual experiences to thrive in the real world – if we're creative enough

By Caitlin Ryan | executive creative director

July 13, 2016 | 5 min read

As I escalated the gentle nudge into a violent kick to get my 14-year-old out of bed this morning on just the second day of a long summer holiday, the appeal of him interacting with the real world through a game rather than from the virtual world of a couch was appealing to this working mother.

Real-world integration in gaming is proving to be absorbing and addictive – and in the case of Pokemon Go, dangerously so. There is some evidence that people have endangered their lives chasing Pokemon monsters. So much so in Australia where Pokemon Go has been released that the Northern Territory Police services have issued a warning on its Facebook feed to 'all those budding Pokemon Trainers out there using Pokemon Go – it is a good idea to look up, away from your phone and both ways before crossing the street. That Sandshrew isn’t going anywhere fast. Stay safe and catch em all.' Not bad evidence that Pokemon Go is already entering the zeitgeist.

For Nintendo, the success of the smartphone game has become almost instantly apparent – although it was only released in the US last week, where it tops the gaming charts, it is still to be released in Japan or the UK. Nonetheless this week shares in Nintendo soared by a quarter on the back of the success it has already enjoyed.

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I have long argued that brands need to do more than broadcast tightly controlled ‘advertising’ messages. It is the brands that interact with real consumers in their real lives that will win in the battle for their attention. What Pokemon Go proves is this can be done in a way that enhances real life – giving it a third dimension and connecting us to others who love to do what we do.

Augmented and virtual reality technology offers consumers, advertisers and agencies an opportunity to look at the world in a different way. The former places a layer over the real world that enhances and improves it, while the latter wants to entice us to go somewhere new exciting. But while both show a variation on our reality, they cannot be treated as the same creative palette.

AR’s strength lies in its functionality and not its visuals, and the lessons learned from the success of Pokemon are encouraging. It seems that consumers are more likely to be willing to suspend their disbelief and enjoy a genuine brand experience that does not feel like they are being sold to.

This is likely to become even more profound when more accessible and cheaper forms of experiencing VR come to the market – surely it’s only a matter of time before it becomes integrated into the next generation of mobile phones that will supplant the abject failure of Google Glass and the current chunky glasses designed by ODG and Epson.

For brands and agencies the lessons are clear – when technology drives creativity the experience is not only addictive, for the companies who invest in it it can be lucrative too. The challenge that both face is to ensure that they are using their creativity in such a way that goes beyond the static AR billboards of old into immersive experiences that are entertaining and engaging – like Pokemon. But I can’t help feeling that that’s nothing compared to getting a teenager out of his fleapit any time before midday.

Caitlin Ryan is executive creative director of Cheil London

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