Pokémon Go: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Whether you love it or hate it — Pokémon Go is the biggest global hit in a long time. Is it worthwhile to try and find a Poké-marketing angle?

We’ve been waiting for a truly mainstream augmented reality app to come along — and has it ever. Within a week of launch, Pokémon Go had more active users than Facebook — and that number is growing (if the servers can hold up).

In this 24-minute episode, I talk about:

  • The criticisms of the game (fair or otherwise)
  • The difference between augmented and virtual reality
  • Some of the ways businesses are getting a boost from Pokémon-hunting traffic
  • The psychological triggers that make Pokémon Go so effective (and how you can use some of them)
  • The downsides to viral success

Note: Seen a clever (or groan-worthy) Pokémon tie-in? Let us know about it in the comments!


The Show Notes

Sonia Simone: So glad to see you again, and welcome back to CopybloggerFM, the content marketing podcast.

CopybloggerFM is about emerging content marketing trends, interesting disasters, and enduring best practices, along with the occasional rant. My name is Sonia Simone, I’m the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital, and I hang out with the folks doing the real work over on the Copyblogger blog.

Note: See the show notes for all the links!

OK, we’ve got to just face it.

Pokémon Go is here, and whether you love it, hate it, think it’s the end of civilization or think it’s the coolest thing since WiFi, it’s here.

I don’t think there’s ever been an application that’s seen this kind of growth — within a week of launching it had more active daily users than Twitter, Snapchat, and possibly Facebook.

We’ve been waiting for the first really mainstream application for Augmented Reality, and it’s here.

So even if you don’t like Pokémon Go, let’s talk about it.

Warning: There will be buzzwords ahead! Nobody likes jargon, but it exists because it is useful. Whenever possible I will try to roll my eyes when using a really overused term, if that helps.

Pokémon Go sucks, don’t make me talk about that

Let’s talk a little bit about the haterade for a second.

First, there’s the concept, immortalized by a t-shirt on the British comedy The IT Crowd:

Nothing popular is good.

If you are interested in persuading people, this is a super unhelpful belief to hold.

It’s true that a lot of popular things are shallow and annoying, but some popular things are wonderful. Which are which? Hey, guess what, we all decide that one on our own. 🙂

I find it a bit sad to see people who on one side want to get more traffic to their sites, and then on the other automatically hate things if too many other people like them.

Criticism two is that it’s turning people into zombies. I’m playing the game myself, I have never seen so many families taking walks together and really interacting with each other — and with strangers. They’re quite a bit less zombified than many of the folks I saw with selfie sticks walking through beautiful ancient monuments in Rome last summer.

Mobile devices distract us, to a degree that can be harmful and even life-threatening. If you talk on the phone while you drive, you do not get to make fun of the Poke-zombies, sorry. Permission revoked. And P.S. you just cut me off with an illegal left turn. Sigh.

One thing Pokémon Go is doing that selfie sticks and texting and Candy Crush are not doing, is getting people out into the world. It’s a lot like a treasure hunt, or geocaching if you’re familiar with that, only the “treasures” are virtual.

My friends who have kids on the autism spectrum are thrilled to bits with this game for getting their kids into the outdoors, more active, and interacting with other players in real life. So just to put that out there.

Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality

OK, buzzword bingo time. Pokémon Go is an Augmented Reality game. What does that mean?

Well, Virtual Reality is the idea that the application takes over all or most of your perception. You’re in a completely different world, like Avatar, or at least one where 75% of what you perceive is generated by the technology.

Augmented Reality means that the actual physical world is there, but it’s got a little augmentation — some little animation or image — that’s blended with the real thing. In Pokémon Go it’s a cute little animal — that’s the Pokémon — that’s doing its thing in the grass or the sidewalk or wherever you are.

Boxcar Marketing has a nice one-minute video explaining the difference, as well as a very good quick email post on Pokémon Go and the value for business. I found it on Facebook — see, social sharing works. I’ll get you a link in the show notes.

Simple opportunities for businesses

The simplest way that businesses are benefiting from Pokémon Go is by setting up “Lures,” which are signals that attract more Pokémon, near their businesses. Not every business is able to do this, but if you’re near one of the “Pokéstops,” and your business would be a good fit for kids, families, or hipsters, it’s a pretty cheap way to really increase your foot traffic.

Our favorite ice cream shop in our neighborhood is a stop and is getting a great boost already.

I’m noticing lots of Lures set up in shopping districts and malls — smart.

Less obvious opportunities for businesses

The Boxcar Marketing post had some more creative thoughts for businesses that might not be as good a fit for the Lure thing.

Most of these revolve around a very old idea in advertising — join the conversation already taking place in your prospect’s head.

One of the most innovative I’ve seen is animal shelters offering the opportunity to walk their dogs while folks are looking for Pokémon. Any business or organization that in some way connects with folks walking around will have an opportunity here — fitness pros, shoe stores, etc.

I notice the local Build-A-Bear store has Pikachu — the most mainstream Pokémon — in the window.

I’m also seeing things as simple as “These Pokémon have been caught here.”

There’s a fairly weird genre of service providers offering things like rides to Pokéstops, and even bodyguard protection. Again, that’s not a business model — it’s just some creative person putting side hustles together who’s seeing the trend and trying something out.

Why does it work?

As someone who is having a lot of fun playing the game with my son, here are some of the things I think are making it work so incredibly well.

#1: They’re piggybacking off of something people already love. Now you and I don’t have the luxury of having developed the creative for the original Pokémon, but there might be something we’ve done that people really responded to.

#2: They understand how gaming reward systems work. Buzzword bingo time: Gamification — taking something and inserting some game mechanics into it to make it more fun.

Pokémon Go has a lot of little rewards. Specifically, for example, you can get an egg to hatch into a new creature. Well, to hatch that egg, you have to walk around.

I have a friend who’s an MD who mentioned that one of his young patients who’s been struggling with physical activity walked 20 miles in 3 days. Because of those intermittent rewards.

The game also rewards going to new places, because different kinds of little animals populate different places.

#3: Pokémon has always been based on that collector instinct — once you have one thing, you want to have the whole set.

#4: Pokémon Go has created a stair-step that’s rewarding at every point. So beginning players have fun things to do, then you “level up” and there are new fun things to do, and the whole time you’re looking beyond at the things you’ll be able to do when you keep playing.

I don’t know if they’ll be able to sustain it forever. They’re very creative, so maybe they’ll have a long run.

As my son said, “It’s not as infinite as Minecraft.” Which is bad math but correct business thinking.

#5: Pokémon Go encourages community interaction and connection. My son and I were already big walkers, although we tended to stay in our neighborhood and a few other areas — now we’re looking to find new places to walk.

I have the conversations with strangers you have on walks — nice weather, what a cute dog, etc.

But in two days I’ve had three much more in-depth conversations with people about the game — how does it work, what do I do with this, how can I get more of that, etc.

The documentation for Pokémon Go is light — and I wonder if that’s a gaming trend post Minecraft. Instead of them telling you precisely how to play, you go somewhere social and talk with other players about it.

All of this appears to have been thoughtfully designed by Nintendo and their partner company Niantic. They’ve put mechanics in the game to bring players physically together, as well as to walk more and to investigate some new places.

The downside to viral success

We can’t talk Pokémon Go without mentioning some of their challenges as well.

The growth of the app — which is free — has been astonishing, and this is a game that needs other players. It’s a community-based game — the more players there are, the more fun it is.

What’s not as fun are the DDOS attacks that have been plaguing their servers, as well as the insane volume of logins that have slowed things down, and a few hasty updates that broke more than they fixed.

For those of us who didn’t just add tens of millions of users to our projects, we might look at that kind of growth with envy — but explosive growth is nearly impossible to manage well.

A massive company like Nintendo can handle it — they have the resources and the buy-in from users, although the buy-in part has been pretty sorely frayed by the widespread tech problems. But your company and my company?

We’d do better to follow some of the interesting community and psychological lessons from Pokémon Go — but without the wildfire growth.