Pokémon Go Finally Gets Augmented Reality Right

We here at Target Marketing have tried to get behind augmented reality on several occasions. I even once said “of course QR Codes are gonna work, it just makes sense!” Scott Stratten said they killed kittens. Turns out he was right. So imagine my chagrin to see Pokemon — a bunch of Bulbasaurs and Jigglypuffs led by an electric rat — role out an augmented reality experience that conquered the world in less than a week.

We here at Target Marketing have tried to get behind augmented reality (AR) on several occasions. QR Codes on the cover, Layar throughout the issue, some goofy stuff in our digital editions …

I even once said, “Of course QR Codes are gonna work, it just makes sense!” Scott Stratten said they killed kittens. Turns out he was right.

So imagine my chagrin to see Pokémon — a bunch of Bulbasaurs and Jigglypuffs led by an electric rat — roll out an augmented reality experience that conquered the world in less than a week.

Pokémon Go leaves Tindr too wet to light, aiming for Twitter next.
Pokémon Go leaves Tindr too damp to light, aiming for Twitter next.

In less than a week, the free Pokémon Go app, available on Android, iOS and the Nintendo DS handheld game, is on its way past Twitter in active users, and already bigger than Tindr. (Does that mean Millennials prefer catching Charizards to dating?)

And the player base isn’t so much kids (although there’s a lot of them too), but young adults who grew up with the earlier Pokémon games.

What does all of that mean for marketers? Here are five things I’ve learned watching the electric yellow rat take over the world … again.

1. There’s a Way to do Augmented Reality Right

I think a lot of marketers have seen that, when it comes to augmented reality, just because you build it does not mean they’ll come. The novelty of augmented reality isn’t enough, and neither is getting a piece of your web content launched from a ketchup bottle or whatever else your trigger is.

Pokémon Go is a game that asks players to walk around outside to capture Pokémon hiding out in he world. And players are doing that! Social media is full of jokes about the fact that young adults are running around all over cities and the suburbs to catch Pokémon. It’s working.

How is that different from what we did in Target Marketing magazine? Or even what Google offered with Google Glass? Well for starters it’s an experience that is 100 percent designed to be augmented reality. Pokémon go doesn’t treat AR as just a way to access existing content on a new device, it is an AR-only experience. If you want those Pokémon, you have to take your phone for a walk.

It’s also a very novel experience that’s put together well. Nantic Labs, the company that actually developed the game for Nintendo, has been doing similar games for a long time. They know how to deliver an experience that gets the best out of the platform. That’s essential to a successful AR experience.

2. Grant the Wish

An article on Vox made a great point about why this game is such a hit with young adults:

Pokémon Go is an attempt at realizing what fans always wanted from Pokémon … Since the games came out for Nintendo’s handheld consoles, fans all around the world have shared a dream: What if Pokémon weren’t limited to the games’ world? What if they were real and inhabited our world? What if we could all be Ash Ketchum, the TV show’s star trainer, who wanders the world in his quest to catch them all and earn his honors by defeating all the gym leaders? I want a Pikachu in real life, dammit!
—”Pokémon Go Explained,” German Lopez, Vox

Every market has an ungranted wish. If you can find that wish and make it come true, they will love you for it.

Pokémon Go lets fans who grew up watching these cartoons and playing these games break that wall they never could and hunt Pokémon in real life.

What does your target market want that no one’s ever been able to give them? Maybe it’s not a specific thing, but a way to access a product or service, like Uber putting taxis at the tap of an app. Maybe it’s an experience they could never have before, like Pokémon Go.

Identify that wish and think hard about how you could do it. You may have five or 10 years of new technology to make something happen that no one realized could be done before.

3. No, You Can’t Buy a Pokéstop