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Pokemon Go Marketing

12 marketing insights from a Pokemon Go addict

By Omaid Hiwaizi, President Global Marketing

April 9, 2018 | 8 min read

My name is Omaid and I’m a Pokaholic

Pokemon Go NSPCC warning

Pokemon Go screengrab / Pokemon

Pokemon Go, with well over 750 million downloads, $1.2Bbn revenue and 65 million active users, is still very much alive and kicking – even though it’s fashionable to say it’s last summer’s game. One of those players is me.

If you don’t know the app, it’s a map based game where you walk around the world catching strange creatures called Pokemon (pocket monster) which appear randomly and then disappear after a while. You’re their Trainer – you teach them skills and set them in duels with each other in Gyms. You can also collect various goodies by visiting PokeStops. Gyms and PokeStops are located around points of interest like a landmark, a building or an interesting piece of street art.

So far I’ve walked 4,427.9 Km playing the game, collected 47,643 creatures, visited 53,681 PokeStops and battled 5,993 times in Gyms. I’m proudly a Level 40 Trainer now – the highest level.

There are numerous currencies in the game – XP (total points), Stardust (used to upgrade monsters), Levels (unlock game features – a function of XP, and each level is exponentially more points than the previous), coins to buy items (earn in the game and purchase in-app), candy for evolving and upgrading monsters.

Why do I play it? It’s perhaps the best example of gamification of any digital experience I’ve come across, and I apply insights I learn from it to create habit every day in the work I do as a digital strategist. Equally I might just be hopelessly addicted. Anyway here’s a summary of what I think marketers need to know – a “12 Steps” programme for creating habit with digital experiences…

12 steps to creating habit

Be contextual

PokemonGo is based on Google Maps – and as such makes the place you are into it’s game space. While the game happens in your location, the nature of the place influences which Pokemons appear (fish usually near water, for example). It also pulls in weather data and the game uses that in interesting ways. For example one of the creatures, the Castform, has four versions to collect which spawn in distinct weather conditions – and I’m still wishing for snow to get that one!

Connect culturally

While the company behind the game developed much of the game mechanics on a previous game (called Ingress), this remained a niche game. It was the addition of the loveable characters that directly targeted a generation of Millienials who grew up with them. The next big game from Niantic will use Harry Potter characters, so will engage Millennials, Gen Z and a broad church of wizard fans.

Give people something to collect

“Gotta get em all” – the bedrock of gamification is to collect all of the Pokemon characters in each Generation (they’ve released three of seven Generations so far…) Quite a few are locked to regions so to collect them all, you’ll have to travel around the whole world – and people do. Humans are hardwired to want to collect and complete things, and will go to extraordinary lengths for only digital rewards.

Use the senses to reinforce habit

At key moments of surprise and delight, Pokemon Go uses touch, vision and sound to deepen the experience and embed the memories. This could be a screen or light flash, the phone buzzing, a whizzy visual sequence or push notifications. They each become more and more familiar to you and man they feel good.

Celebrate cultural occasions with events

Pokemon Go makes the most of when players are celebrating monthly or annual occasions (like Thanksgiving or Easter) – Extras like double points (both XP and Stardust) are available and certain Pokemons appear more frequently. One of the best was Valentine’s Day when we had a lot of pink monsters – especially the highly desirable Blissy. After the fun of the event, this creates the anticipation and excitement for what the next one will be. Events can also be location based – in a specific city or park, in a particular country or around a gaming conference – and create quite a buzz in social channels.

Make it team based

Pokemon Go has three teams – Mystic (the best), Instinct (they’re OK suppose) and Valour (nasty bunch – avoid). Teams work together to attack Gyms and then fill the gym with their Pokemons and are the source of a lot of banter. Gyms are where you train your monsters – where they learn to fight each other. Gyms are also where you can earn your daily 50 coins – serious stuff. If your Gym is under attack you can feed your team’s monsters raspberries and they’ll resist longer. Over time I’ve noticed people make friends with those they meet and chat to on Messenger, WhatsApp and on Reddit, and I’ve even heard of PokeDates happening.

Give people patterns to learn

While it’s seemingly random when and where Pokemons appear, there are patterns that you notice over time. Players learn these patterns, build expectations and turn up to collect a Pokemon they want – but the patterns change every two weeks – making the process into another game and creating expectation around what the next pattern will offer.

Offer time limited special editions

People like specials built around occasions or moments. For instance Pikachu appears in a regular, Christmas, Halloween, Party Hat and Ash Hat (wearing Ash Ketchum's trademark cap) versions. You got to get it while it’s there – or it’s gone!

Tease with super rare limited editions

Scarcity mixed with randomness creates a real rush – and Pokemon Go achieves this with ‘shiny’ editions of the monsters (based on Panini sticker books from the nineties). These are identical but with different colours to the originals and are completely random – with a frequency one in thousands. There are also the mythical Unowns – almost impossible to find, and when they appear people break speed limits to get them. Add the fact that there are 26 variants to collect and you’ll see why people share their Shinies and Unowns on social when they find them!

Make it hackable

Letting people bend the rules (a bit) helps keeping them engaged. The game includes a scanner which gives you an idea of which Pokemons are near, but there are also a world of third party Pokemon Go specific map apps which scan the region you are in (how else would you find that Unown at midnight in a forest in Sussex?). There are also devices which automatically play the game as you walk – all you do is press a button on your wrist (like a caged rat in an experiment?) and the ultimate GPS ‘Spoofing’ – hacked versions of the game which allow you to place yourself in any location without getting off your sofa. Spoofers are hated by players on foot – but also are key when your team has low numbers on the ground – and in that instance are referred to as ‘air cover’.

Bring everyone together with a common goal

Legendary Raids when a very powerful Legendary Pokemon takes over a Gym and up to 20 players attack it for a chance to catch that monster. While the teams get an advantage if they’re in the majority, what’s most important is numbers, so in most instances team rivalry melts and sworn enemies work together against a common goal.

Invitation-only events

Trainers occasionally receive invitations to Exclusive Raids for the very best Pokemons (currently the Mewtwo). The invitation is for a fixed place and time – and if you don’t turn up, you miss it. I received one for London when I was in Melbourne on holiday and I did research flights back.. Needless to say people share their invitations and the

As you can see the even gamification itself is gamified – the game uses more habit creating techniques than I have found in any digital experience. Hang on a second, there’s a Shiny Pikachu across the road, gotta go.

Omaid Hiwaizi is an integrated planner and digital strategist.

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