A Marketer's Guide to Pokémon Go
Feeling Krabby? Have another Meowth to feed? At the very least, you know not to say "bless you" when you hear someone say "Pikachu," right? This lingo is vital for any marketer trying to keep up with the latest global mobile obsession, Pokémon Go.
This game is the latest incarnation of the 1990s entertainment craze that included Game Boy games, trading cards, manga and cartoons. Go debuted this month for Android and iOS, much to the delight of 20-somethings who were in elementary school at the peak of Pokémon popularity in the late 1990s.
As Go claimed the top position in app download rankings, it faced its share of snafus, largely as a victim of its own success. Its servers were constantly down. When its first users could access the game, it took forever to load. It asked registered users to keep logging in. It wouldn't remember preferences in users' settings. Its battery usage is horrendous; in a 24-hour period the weekend after Go launched, it consumed 71% of my battery -- even as I tried to use it in the battery saver mode.
Go's users are crazy over it, though. As the app loads, a screen advises users to "stay aware of their surroundings," lest a giant sea dragon eats them. A bigger risk is oncoming traffic. For this demographic that uses "adult" as a verb to describe how they try to act like grownups after they have already reached adulthood, playing Pokémon Go may be the first non-ironic activity they've done in years.
For marketers, the rekindled craze may be easy to dismiss. Many people who have been "adulting" for too long will be baffled by the game mechanics, which involve physically walking around to collect virtual goods, train monsters, and battle. Yet with Go lifting Nintendo's stock price 9% the day the game debuted, it will have an outsized influence on future mobile experiences. Here are four reasons why some of the more striking attributes should inspire others:
1. Great ideas are often ahead of their time. Niantic, a startup created within Google in 2010, developed Go with Nintendo and The Pokémon Co. as Google spun out Niantic in 2015. Niantic's initial games, Field Trip and Ingress, were well reviewed but never gained mainstream popularity. Go builds upon the earlier games, so this is more of an extension than reinvention. Such a resurgence is all too common. SmarterChild was a popular chat bot on AOL Instant Messenger, and Keebler launched its RecipeBuddy bot in 2002, but for about 10 years bot development lay dormant until Facebook, Slack and others delivered scalable value. Virtual reality had a longer hibernation. Snapchat's geofilters and Snapcodes built on augmented reality and QR codes, respectively.
2. People only complain if they don't like you. As frustrating as the server outages are, people brag about how much progress they are making despite being unable to log in much of the time. Others shared screen shots of the battery drain. It's reminiscent of the early days of Twitter, when the Fail Whale became part of the service's charm and a sign of its popularity.
3. Not all features need to be available everywhere. In Pokémon Go, if you try interacting with most of the map's locations, a message pops up saying the spot is too far away. Even in densely populated Manhattan, most residents or commuters will have to walk a few blocks to access a "gym" where virtual monsters battle. Restricting the app's functionality forces players to put in more effort, and this fosters more devotion. For any mobile experience that you develop, imagine if some features only worked at specific locations, during certain times of day, or during situations such as if it's raining or a local sports team is winning. Those can be triggers that make people remember the brand more.
4. Mobile is the glue between online and offline. Pardon the banality, but Go takes this to a new extreme. Somehow, Pokémon became one of the best exercise apps ever. Players are going for walks just to catch critters and to hatch virtual eggs, which requires walking up to 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) to discover what's inside. I experienced this as well, as I walked miles pushing my napping toddler in her stroller to bolster my monster collection. My Pokémon characters have spent more time at the gym in the past week than I have the past year. All the while, such detours will reroute people to various local businesses, so store owners should check if they have prime Pokémon real estate, as Jason Evangelho notes in Forbes. In the unlikely event that this app's popularity endures for years, it could drive up property values among millennials who want to live inside virtual gyms.
This all sounds like a typical Marc Andreessen tweet where he exposes contradictions. "'Mobile apps make us lazier!" "Mobile apps make us healthier!" "Location-based games and augmented reality are dead!" "Location-based games and AR are back!" Meanwhile, the country with the highest concentration of senior citizens continues influencing global youth culture.
Go is one of those apps that you must experience to fully appreciate. Before you do, buy an extra battery pack for your phone. Soon, you'll be spending so much effort running out to the virtual gym that you can cancel your membership to the real one.