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Nick Bennett

Strategy Director

Pokemon GO has the potential to change the marketing face of small & local business

Pokemon GO, is everywhere. If you’ve not heard about it, then where have you been? Essentially it is a game that you play using your smartphone, but what does it mean for marketing and what can we learn from it?

The popularity of the App has been unprecedented, storming its way to the top of Apple and Android app stores in record time. This popularity looks set to challenge young internet companies which specialize in increasing foot traffic for small businesses and may end up playing a role in major brands' marketing, according to industry experts.

The augmented reality game from Nintendo enables players to walk around real-life neighborhoods to hunt down virtual cartoon characters on their smartphone screens. It launched in the UK today and has more than 65 million users in the United States just seven days after launch.

That is more users than Twitter, and the game is already helping local restaurants, coffee shops, and small retailers to attract new customers. Small businesses can activate a "lure module" feature that attracts virtual Pokemon characters to the store, thereby tempting in nearby players. For retailers who don’t see much traffic, this could be a great ploy to get people to visit, and of course with footfall, comes the opportunity to sell product/services. This USA Restaurant 'Dairy Queen' has perhaps missed the point!

Many shops are attracting customers by advertising themselves as "Poke Stops," a place where gamers can grab new Pokemon balls and increase their level of power within the app. Experts said it is only a matter of time before major brands jump on the bandwagon.

The popularity of Pokemon GO does threaten companies like Foursquare, which has a service called Swarm offering coupons and prizes to customers who "check in" at participating venues.

That said, it may not just be small retailers who are getting behind it, as a report on tech news site Gizmodo on Wednesday said a student in Australia had uncovered code in the game's workings that indicated a sponsorship system and mentioned the name of McDonalds.

In many ways, what will be interesting is that we have a new digital channel that has been at the centre of bricks and mortar stores digital strategies in the last few years. The likes of Facebook and Twitter should feel worried that marketing spend may be spent elsewhere. Until now, the lure of genuine geolocation social platform has been missing - and Pokemon has achieved mass engagement almost overnight.

This to an extent is made the more interesting as Pokemon GO players are highly engaged, and likely to spend more time in the app than they do with some of the most popular social apps such as Facebook Inc's Instagram and messaging services WhatsApp and Snapchat, according to SimilarWeb, a market intelligence and web analytics firm. With the prominent rise around VR - it is no surprise that upon closer inspection, the game could be used with Google Cardboard. That said, and as outlined in the article - it poses the question of whether it should be, or the advantage of doing so?

Whether this is a fad and the latest craze remains to be truly seen, but it is encouraging that new technology innovation can rival the pre-existing players and engage with a younger audience. The question is this - when the big brands come calling - will the essence and fun of it be lost?