Pokémon Go: The App that Changed the Game for Location-Based Advertising

This time last year, people around the world found themselves riveted to their mobile phones, prowling around parks and walking into pizza shops in hopes of spotting — and catching — wild Pokémon.

The release of Pokémon Go last July and its near-instant success was a watershed moment in many ways. Dubbed the biggest mobile game in U.S. history, the app shook the gaming world, bringing the promises of augmented reality (AR) to daily life. It also had a huge impact on advertising, too, showing brands new ways of engaging consumers and driving foot traffic.

How did Pokémon Go become such a game-changer? It was able to capitalize on some of the biggest digital trends of our time, including the rise of geolocation. Brands looking to meaningfully engage with consumers and make use of location data can learn valuable lessons from the app that changed the game for advertisers.

1. Harness the Insights and Capabilities of Location Data

One of the reasons for Pokémon Go’s high adoption rate is that it relies on features and capabilities its audience already knows and uses — like cameras and location services. For Pokémon Go gamers, there are no new features to download or headsets to buy, so it’s quick and easy to join the Pokémon World.

For marketers, location data can boost both online engagement and in-store foot traffic. With proximity targeting, for instance, brands can serve ads when a consumer comes near one of their stores. Instead of delivering a generic ad, brands can also use location data to craft unique and highly effective ads. For example, they can serve consumers a map that indicates the nearest store location and suggests the quickest way to get there.

And just as the creators of Pokémon Go used troves of Google Map and historical location data, brands, too, can layer real-time data with other consumer insights. With historical location data and browsing histories, for instance, brands can more accurately identify and target their ideal audience for improved campaign performance. Instead of targeting everyone who comes within 100 meters of a store, a discount clothing retailer can target only those who frequently visit similar retailers or browse related merchandise.

2. Engage and Entertain Consumers

Of course, Pokémon Go did more than simply capitalize on our familiarity with location services: It seized an exciting, cutting-edge technology — AR — to immerse users in a world of fun and 1990s nostalgia.

In this way, the game reminds us that consumers young and old seek entertainment, whether they are at home scrolling on their phones or running to the nearest PokéStop. Advertisers wanting to communicate with consumers will need to be creative and engaging.

Brands can consider weaving interactive games into their ads, or experiment with other imaginative forms of content such as rich media or responsive ads. Consumers interested in an ad, for instance, can be asked to shake or spin the phone instead of touching the screen. Advertisers can serve interactive native video ads instead of standard video ads.

They may not have needed another reminder, but Pokémon Go has shown advertisers that they can no longer get away with boring, irrelevant or annoying ads.

3. Capitalize on the Growth of Gaming

The success of Pokémon Go is partially a result of the app’s unique capabilities, but it’s important to see such success within another global trend: the rapid rise of gaming. According to Meeker, there were 100 million gamers in 1995, and there are 2.6 billion today.

That’s why advertisers looking to forge meaningful relationships with consumers should turn to in-app and video game advertising. But sponsoring PokéStops isn’t the only way to reach gamers; brands are increasingly spending money on games in the form of in-game ads, around-game ads and “advergames.” Worldwide, advertising revenue from video games totals $5.61 billion, and it’s predicted to grow another $1.3 billion by 2019.

When consumers are fully immersed in a game, their eyes are glued to their screens, so there’s no better moment to capture their attention.

Blending the Digital and Physical

Experts have long described how the boundaries between the digital and physical worlds are blurring. Cisco IBSG says there will be 50 billion devices connected to the Internet by 2020. Gartner predicts that this year, this blurring of boundaries will provide a wealth of new opportunities for businesses.

Pokémon Go has blended the digital and physical worlds in exciting news ways, and there’s much marketers can learn from it. Brands hoping to catch consumers need creative and engaging solutions to capitalize on the rise of gaming, the sophistication of location data and the human need for interaction.

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