Everyone is doing it.

We mean Pokémon Go, of course, the mobile app version of the nostalgic game that requires players to capture Pokémon in their various forms. Unlike virtually any previous location-based app, Pokémon Go is attracting literally millions of users. More than 40 million downloads took place within a month of its release, within a month to download the app voluntarily, giving marketers vast data about their locations, travel patterns, and consumption choices. So how can marketers leverage this information?

Lo-res_42-37670458-SA key recommendation is to make sure that they do not interfere too much with the primary purpose of the app, in consumers’ minds: It’s a game. People play Pokémon Go because it is fun to do so, not because they have rationally decided whether to share their location with Nintendo, the maker of the app, or other companies that might access that data. If marketers disrupt the fun or make the game seem less playful, they risk ruining the success of the trend.

The content also is key. Rather than promising further nutrition information about a food choice or insights into a brand’s history—the sort of information provided through many mobile apps—Pokémon Go offers both nostalgia and cutting-edge entertainment. Players are not interested in Nintendo, other than to recognize that the company and the Pokémon concept have been around for decades. Thus parents might encourage their children to play, connecting them to the game they themselves enjoyed in their youth.

With its advanced technology, Pokémon Go also makes the regular world a little less ordinary. The local park appears filled with mythical characters, and even a government building or library might be a PokeStop—an access point for collecting a rare monster. Layering the virtual reality over actual reality suggests an advance that previous efforts have been unable to get consumers to embrace.

Its popularity also might stem from its simplicity. Pokémon Go does not offer extraneous chat functions or complex social links. Rather that connecting through mobile media, it allows players to interact in person. As one player explained, “If someone’s at a PokeStop and they have their phone out, you can just assume they’re playing.”

Savvy marketers can take advantage of the popularity of the game though. For example, mall traffic has increased according to some reports, with players making their way around the indoor facilities to find new characters. As a result, these players are increasingly likely to take a short break to visit the retailers in those malls. One report indicates that 75 percent of them were more likely to visit Hot Topic, and many consumers popped in to Taco Bell and Red Robin too. But stand-alone retailers such as Home Depot have thus far been unable to leverage the benefits of the locational application.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What consumer needs does Pokémon Go satisfy?
  2. How can marketers create additional value associated with this app?


Christopher Mims, “‘Pokémon Go’ Surged by Building Community,” The Wall Street Journal, July 25, 2016; Jerrid Grimm, “Is Pokémon Go the Killer App for Location-Based Marketing?” Advertising Age, July 14, 2016; “Lowdown: Pokémon Could Boost Victoria’s Secret, Says Report,” Advertising Age, July 20, 2016