Pokémon GO was released in July of 2016, on various dates; depending on what country you lived in. Pokémon GO is a free to play, augmented reality game for both iOS and Android phones. It has in-app purchases, but these are not required to play the game. Pokémon GO has been downloaded over 500 million times worldwide. But what made this game so successful?
The game is a product of Nintendo and Niantic Inc., a software company based out of California. Niantic was most commonly known, before Pokémon GO, for “Ingress”, another mobile game where you travelled in the real world to achieve goals in the game.
Before diving into the marketing aspects for Pokémon GO, there is one more thing to be mentioned. Back in 2014 on April Fools Day, Nintendo teamed up with Google and had a one day prank called the “Pokémon Challenge”. People could go on Google Maps with their computers or use the app while travelling and catch Pokémon. This was very well received and is considered the inspiration for Pokémon GO. I think this was also indirect marketing for their current game, a “if you like this, you’re going to like this” tactic.
The marketing campaign for Pokémon GO was actually quite small. You could almost be bold enough to say, “It sold itself”. The campaign kicked off with a single 3-minute trailer in September of 2015 that was posted to the Pokémon YouTube Channel. This went viral and currently has over 42 million views. Nothing like this game had ever been done before and the hype led all the way up to its launch date. Fans were disappointed in a few initial bugs, but Niantic quickly fixed them.
Amazingly enough, the companies Niantic and Nintendo did very little marketing for themselves. Besides a few other small trailers, they didn’t do much else. And they didn’t need to, with so many people talking about it on social media. The real advertising for this game came from many other sources.
Pokémon GO has special areas called PokéStops where you can go to get useful items; these are usually real world landmarks, like a statue or a restaurant. Pokémon in the game also spawn in specific areas that are always the same. This is where other companies come in to use Pokémon GO as a way to advertise themselves.
Many restaurants and cafés use their location to entice “Pokémon Goers” to stop by for a drink or for a bite to eat. This symbiotic relationship benefits both the establishment and the game itself. The business gets more money in sales, sometimes with deals for “trainers”, and the game gets free advertisement and might even convince others who don’t play the game to give it a try.
Another way that Pokémon Go got its publicity is law enforcement and subway stations. This is an indirect type of exposure that often warned trainers to “not catch while driving” or to “stay behind the yellow line”. This is just more exposure for Nintendo and Niantic, whether the law enforcement and subway stations like it or not.
Most recently, Nintendo and Niantic have released a new video announcing the addition of Generation 2 Pokémon to Pokémon GO. This is clearly a well-timed strategy on their part. Everyone has been inside all winter, and now Generation 2 is released right on cue. This is probably the smartest move of the whole campaign.
Overall, I would say that the marketing campaign was effective, even though what they did was very minimal. When you slap a big name like Nintendo on anything, it will probably have success. By releasing this on a platform that almost everyone has access to, and knowing that their target demographic would be young adults who grew up with Pokémon, I’d say that their campaign was “super effective”. So what do you say? Do you have it in you to catch ém all?