Why Pokémon Go is a game changer for augmented reality and marketers

The global success of Pikachu in augmented reality-form presents a massive opportunity for marketers.

You might have noticed a congregation of excited teenagers at the end of your street battling for control of their local Pokémon Gym. In fact, such is the global phenomenon of Pokémon Go, you have probably already joined them.

Despite the mobile game being available only for a couple of weeks in the US and a few days in the UK it already has around 21 million daily active users in the States, surpassing Candy Crush’s peak audience of 20 million users.

The average iPhone user, meanwhile, spends 33 minutes and 25 seconds a day on Pokémon Go, which is greater than Facebook (22 minutes), Snapchat (18 minutes), Twitter (17 minutes and 56 seconds) and Instagram (15 minutes), according to SensorTower. The research firm also claims Pokémon Go generates $1.6m in daily revenue.

“Forget augmented reality, we have not seen anything succeed on this scale before, period,” says Ambarish Mitra, CEO of augmented reality developer Blippar. “In the history of the internet and consumer tech, nothing has had an adoption of more than 100 million global users in six days. The last record was Candy Crush – that took one year and three months to reach the same level.”

Augmented reality has been widely adopted by sectors such as the car industry, with the likes of Ford and Audi allowing users to preview cars with AR apps, and retail, with House of Fraser using AR tech to let consumers scan shoppable windows. Pokémon Go, however, has finally made it an everyday thing.

“Everybody said AR couldn’t be a success unless VR headsets or Google Glass took off, but Nintendo and Niantic have disproved that theory by making the most out of the 5 billion people who own a mobile phone with a camera,” adds Mitra.

“They said AR wasn’t going to fully take off until five or 10 years time, well, this has shown they were very wrong.”

Ambarish Mitra, CEO, Blippar

So how does it all work? Pokémon Go uses Google Maps to integrate the real world within its virtual universe. Users take the role of a Pokémon trainer catching Pokémon monsters by exploring the real world, with specific in-game rewards available only if a user walks up to 10km. Pokestops, which provide crucial in-game items, are also positioned throughout the real-world at landmarks and local businesses such as pubs and restaurants.

Smart business owners have already bought the in-game ‘Lure’ item – which attracts Pokémon to a specific location for 30 minutes for all users of the game and works out at a cost of £1.58 an hour – and are using it in a bid to tempt consumers through their doors. In-game purchases are big business, with Euromonitor International projecting the global mobile in-game purchases market to grow 20% to reach $29.8bn (£22.5bn) in 2016.

Marketing potential

(From left to right) – How you catch Pokémon in the real world, how the in-game world looks, a squad of Pokémon

Blippar, which provides the software for brands to create AR experiences, says applications for its API suite have grown threefold, as people wake up to Pokémon Go buzz.

Mitra claims the game, which currently generates revenue by allowing businesses to take up Pokestops, made more than $50m (£37.8m) in the first week following its release in the US. This figure, he says, could rise even more should developer Niantic figure out a more scalable marketing model.

At present, Nianatic is selling ‘sponsored locations’ to advertisers. A cost-per-visit model is also being discussed, with higher ad rates based around the rare Pokémon packages businesses buy into.

Mitra adds: “This will certainly drive footfall to businesses and there is also room for the in-game points to be exchanged for real-world rewards. Push notifications and couponing have been hugely hyped but both have generally failed with AR. But if you integrate these into the game behaviour of Pokémon Go, the possibilities for marketers are endless.”

Netbooster’s head of UK operations Jens Nielsen is backing Pokémon Go to quickly become a key channel for marketers. In his opinion, it solves one of marketing’s biggest conundrums.

“With almost two-thirds of Pokémon Go players in the 18 to 24 ‘millennial’ market, brands should embrace the opportunity this presents to target a market that typically tends to reject direct advertising.”

Jens Nielsen, head of UK operations, Netbooster

It will also solve the negative perception around traditional display advertising, according to Andy Pringle, head of performance media at Performics UK, part of Publicis Media.

“Traditional display advertising in mobile gaming has always struggled against a perception that ads disrupt the user experience,” he says.

“Branding, commonly within sports or role play games, adds value to the experience, but its return can be hard to measure. The opportunity here is fascinating, with brands playing an active role in the game itself. The clearest paid media opportunity is that Pokémon Go will actively encourage users to engage in ‘ads’, through driving them into store, or owned location, to have an interaction with the brand in return for an in game reward.”

The Google ad connection

Pokémon’s original creator Nintendo’s share value has increased more than 50% since the launch of Pokémon Go. However, it isn’t the only beneficiary of the game’s success.

Nintendo only owns a third of the game’s publisher The Pokémon Company, which was formed in 1998 to licence, manage and market the Pokémon brand. Nintendo, The Pokémon Company and Google invested up to $30m (£22.6m) in developer Niantic last year.

Video games industry veteran Ian Hetherington built the PlayStation business in Europe and has been responsible for investing in iconic games such as Grand Theft Auto (GTA) and Lemmings. He believes Google’s role cannot be underestimated.

“Google is a major shareholder in Niantic and Niantic is a spinout from Google Maps,” says Hetherington. “So Pokémon Go will have the Google advertising model and that means it can scale revenues very quickly, as it’s so established among marketers. Nintendo will see this very much as a gaming phenomenon but Google will see it as a marketing phenomenon.

eeGeo is hoping its more complex augmented reality worlds can become the norm for mobile gaming

He adds: “If you are Coca-Cola and want to drive drinkers to Hyde Park for an event or to enhance engagement, you now have a mechanic to do so and it is a very understood one.”

But Blippar’s Mitra has warned against brands banking too much on Pokémon Go as an advertising platform. He says the game could lose its authenticity if it goes too big on ad dollars.

“Players aren’t going onto Pokémon Go because they want to receive messages from Burger King, they are on it because they want to catch a Charizard. Any marketing model will have to be subtle. If advertising becomes the primary motive, then it will be the end of the game straight away.”

Should brands create their own AR experiences?

Antonin Lhuillier, managing director of North Europe for mobile gaming developer Gameloft, believes the success of Pokémon Go will stop many brands from creating their own AR experiences and instead look to partner with bigger games.

“Historically, brands would release native gaming apps of their own in an attempt to gamify their brand. What we see more of today is brands working with apps that already have massive audiences, integrating their brand in a natural way,” he explains. “This might be through sponsoring in-game tournaments, or providing bonus levels and content.”

Read more: NHS launches first ever augmented reality billboard campaign to show power of blood donations

Hetherington, who is also the CEO and founder of a 3D mapping company eeGeo, which provides a Pokémon Go experience for some of the world’s premium brands, expects the game to have many copycats too.

“The smartphone ecosystem, whether it is social gaming or anything else, is so massive and accessible that you would be crazy not to try to create some sort of commercial entity using AR off the back of Pokémon Go,” he adds.

However, the universe of Pokémon Go will quickly be replaced by a more advanced one, he believes, where games such as GTA can take place across high streets anywhere in the world and users can actually touch their surroundings.

He concludes: “Pokémon Go is still a very basic video game. It uses Google Maps at its most stripped down level. But imagine if the world you walked around in was fully 3D, if you could use a VR headset to walk around South Kensington with a friend who lived in Tokyo. What we’re seeing with Pokémon Go is just week one into the next five to 10 years.”

Brand viewpoint

Tom Davies, digital communications manager, Audi UK

Since the launch of Audi’s first AR application in 2011, the appetite of consumers for engaging and fun experiences has been clear to see.


The success of AR apps like Pokémon Go and Snapchat validates our continued investment in progressive technologies to engage and entertain customers, with applications such as Audi Vision unlocking extra content for our brochures, direct mail and outdoor campaigns either at home, on-the-go or in our retailers.

There is certainly an opportunity for brands to create partnerships with gaming platforms such as Pokémon Go to drive footfall in the retail space or generate rewards, but for Audi we would ensure we stay true to our brand messaging and offer users true benefit by sticking to the adage of either saving time (informative) or passing time (entertaining).  Audi will continue to lead the development and iteration of new technologies to ensure that our customers and fans can engage with Audi where they want and how they want.



There are 8 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. Engine Creative 19 Jul 2016

    As long time advocates of the power of branded AR experiences, Pokemon GO just might be the killer augmented reality game we’ve been waiting for! It is proof, if proof were needed, that our digital lives are overlapping with our real lives in ways which raise exciting new opportunities for brands in an increasingly connected world.

    Those that embrace AR as part of their brand strategy will shape the future marketing landscape. Those that don’t may well miss out on an exciting new post-Pokemon GO world of branded AR moments.

  2. Robert Allen 20 Jul 2016

    “by making the most out of the 8 billion people who own a mobile phone with a camera” – Interesting to know how that stat was arrived at given there are only 7 billion people in the World.

    Always enjoyed a bit of pedantry. Good article though.

  3. Cardy 21 Jul 2016

    I don’t really understand why so many people think the success of this game is the Augmented reality part. It’s a very small part of the game and many people turn it off, because it’s easier to play without it. the geolocation part of the game is obviously vital and I’m interested to see how long people will enjoy walking/biking/driving around to play a game.

    I suspect though, that the the thing that is keeping people playing is the game design. The game is all about progression, rewards, collecting things, characters and goodish story.

    It is these things which are keeping people engaged. It is these things which are motivating people to get outside and walk around. And it is these things that brands can use to meet their objectives.

    I think it is through game mechanics that brands have the potential to engage their customers and potential customers in new and innovative ways. IMHO.

  4. Thomas Hobbs 21 Jul 2016

    Haha thanks for pointing out Robert. That should read 5 billion. Changed.

  5. Nicholas Jeneway 22 Jul 2016

    I completely agree with Cardy. It is a geo-location game not and AR game.

    These games have already existed using the GPS in phones for a long time, such as Geocaching (actually around before smartphones) and Ingress (2013). The problem with Geocaching is that it is not easily scale-able and as a result they charged a subscription fee. Ingress addressed that problem but had a niche appeal due to the story / subject matter. They’ve taken these long standing ideas an associated it with an established brand in Pokemon which is accessible for broader demographics.

    Where AR actually worked was the marketing of the app in their trailer. The actual AR didn’t live up to that trailer but it got people intrigued and excited about the launch. I think AR is still mostly seen as a gimmick; like Cardy says most people switch it off.

    I think the bigger story is that consumers no longer care about being tracked by GPS 24/7 as long as the experience they get in return is rewarding enough.

  6. The world’s gone mad.

  7. Thomas Hobbs 26 Jul 2016

    Interesting perspectives Nicholas and Cardy but I think that the AR aspect, even if it’s a small element, has helped to create the biggest buzz for the game. People like the idea of catching pokemon in the real world. Yes, the hardcore players turn off the AR option but the casual gamers – who are most responsible for Pokemon Go’s mass market success – have been lured in and then sustained by the AR feature. I’m sure Niantic will only progress it further too.

    From a geo-location standpoint, Pokemon Go is not much different from Niantic’s previous game Ingress – in fact, it’s more or less exactly the same coding.

  8. Paul Smith 29 Jul 2016

    Despite the mobile game being available only for a couple of weeks in the US and a few days in the UK it already has around 21 million daily active users in the States, surpassing Candy Crush’s peak audience of 20 million users.

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