When Satochi Tajiri first created the Pokemon concept in 1995, and released the first two Gameboy video games (red and green) a year later, he would never have envisioned middle-aged bureaucrats running round London (and every other city in the world) trying to catch them all just 20 years later.
Pokemon Go is rapidly becoming the most successful mobile app of all time. It took just 13 hours to hit the top of the US sales charts, and after a global frenzy of anticipation cut that to just three hours for the German charts. It’s lucrative too, topping $2m of revenue per day in the US market, according to Yahoo.
There are lots brands can learn from Pokemon Go, but here are some you may not have considered…
Lesson 1: Reality trumps quality every time
Remember when reality TV came on the scene? "Proper" TV people bashed it, claiming a lack of production values, wit, etc. But people lapped it up anyway.
Why? Because it broke free of the studio and embraced the rough and ready unpredictability of the real world. It was closer to us and, therefore, more relevant. Pokemon Go has done the same.
In spite of its success, it’s considered a poor game by any objective measure. A Guardian review summarised it as "not a good game, but a great experience".
The fact that it exists in the world around us, not just on our screens, means, like reality TV, that quality doesn’t matter. Take your campaigns out of their media spaces and into the world around them, and the same will apply for you.
Lesson 2: Embrace chaos
Part of the reason why reality is so effective (and part of the reason brands avoid it) is because it’s dangerously unpredictable. You lose control.
However, as we saw even with "brand disasters" like Boaty McBoatface, the unpredictability of something you don’t control can be far more compelling.
With Pokemon Go, the most exciting developments have been where it’s gone a bit off piste, with creatures popping up in all manner of places they shouldn’t. A recent report in The Telegraph found them on the Iraq Frontline, in a cemetery, in court, in a Holocaust Museum and in a birthing ward.
The point here is that while brands care about this stuff, people don’t – in fact, their tastes are often the opposite of brands’, and any brave ones brave enough to push the boundaries will reap the rewards.
Lesson 3: Idea first, tech second
The tragedy of Pokemon Go is that it’s going to herald a flood of poorly conceived AR-based campaigns. Augmented reality (AR) is largely unsuccessful for a reason – its applications are extremely limited.
The key thing to remember here is this: people don’t love this game because it’s AR, they love it because it’s a real world version of Pokemon (which just so happens to use AR).
This no more represents a breakthrough for AR than Cadbury’s iconic campaign represented a breakthrough for gorillas – sure they were great in that context, but that doesn’t mean we all need to sit around thinking of how we can use gorillas in every idea.
As ever, we need to be careful to lead with a great idea (like searching the world around you for hidden Pokemon) and only then think about how we can best execute it, not worrying about throwing the latest tech at it just for the sake of it.
That’s how Pokemon Go became successful, and how you should too. Trying to chase it will see you end up like the thousands of AR apps that existed before Pokemon Go, but for some reason never caught the imagination.
Alex Smith is planning director at real world marketing agency Sense.
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