Is Pokémon Go Being Overhyped As a Local Marketing Platform?

Pokémon Go is a massive global phenomenon, with zillions of users so immersed in and obsessed with the augmented reality (AR) mobile game that they’re falling off cliffs, crashing their cars and generally getting into all sorts of trouble.

Because Pokémon Go requires players to move through the real world as they play — it’s substantially based on developer Niantic Inc’s earlier, similar AR game Ingress — it has given rise to numerous articles about the local/location-based marketing potential within the game. That has focused primarily on two promotional opportunities: Lures and Sponsored Locations.

Lures are bought by players (in-app payments) to attract Pokémon (AR creatures) to specific locations (PokéStops). The presence of a Lure, indicated on the gaming map, draws other players seeking to capture more Pokémon. Lures are short lived but have been successful driving foot traffic to local businesses.

The other main promotional option, now live in Japan, is Sponsored Locations, which is what it sounds like; McDonald’s is the first sponsor. Sponsored locations will probably be too expensive for small businesses, which will need to rely on Lures instead.

Only about three weeks old, Pokémon Go may have already peaked in some sense. Although it will continue to roll out around the world in new markets, I suspect large numbers of Pokémon Go players are really voyeurs, curious about what the craze is all about but not committed. I still believe, however, there will be a substantial core of people who play on, as the game evolves and spawns sequels, but that group will be smaller than that the zillions playing today.

While I expect more in-game promotional and advertising opportunities for retailers, restaurants and others to be introduced, it’s really brands and franchises that are best positioned here. Local businesses will need to be more creative and use ad-hoc tactics such as Lures and extra-game promotion to get players to come in. (The game could make huge revenues for Niantic and Apple.)

So, while I’m playing and think it’s fun . . . I believe Pokémon Go is being overhyped as a local marketing tool. Its blending of the physical and digital worlds has captured the imaginations of many marketing writers who naturally see and are excited by its potential. The pop-cultural phenomenon is reminiscent of the previously overhyped Second Life, although much more widely adopted than that example.

Earlier this month, right after the launch of Pokémon Go, I argued that it was “Augmented Reality’s Global Breakthrough Moment.” Indeed, I think the game is less significant as a local marketing platform than it is as a mainstream AR experience that will open the door for much more AR development (and gaming) in the future. It proves there’s a market — Pokémon Go is to AR as Oculus Rift was to VR.

That’s the true significance of the game in my mind. As a humorous aside, think about all the local media telephone reps out there trying to sell “Lures” or sponsored PokéStops as part of their digital marketing bundles.

Despite my coming out as a Pokémon Go bear of sorts, a fundamental point here is that AR is inherently “local” and so we can expect that the spawn of Pokémon Go, future AR games and apps, to offer numerous marketing opportunities for local and multi-location businesses.

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