Businesses are eager to leverage the success of augmented reality game, Pokémon Go. Stories range from shelters who use it to get dog walkers, to a Manhattan pizza parlour with Pokémon themed pizzas. Even the Calgary Chamber of Commerce has told businesses to take advantage of this new marketing tool.

To discuss Pokémon Go’s successful use of brand equity and how businesses can leverage it, we turned to David Hardisty, Assistant Professor of marketing and behavioural science at UBC Sauder, where huddles of students have been spotted catching Pokémon all over campus already.


How did Pokémon Go become such a big success?

Pokémon Go was built on an existing game originally created by Nintendo, whose co-creator Niantic was refining another augmented sci-fi reality game, Ingress, for three and a half years. Compared to Ingress, Pokémon Go is watered down, although Nintendo plans to add more features. But because of the Pokémon brand, this game took off like Ingress never did.

Also, all the PokeStops are crowdsourced, that’s why it’s so thorough. Nintendo obviously wouldn’t be able to research every little Canadian city as easily.

Demographics factors in as well. You have this generation who grew up knowing and loving Pokémon, and it’s the same generation who grew up with mobile phones. There was a lot of value in combining the two – people are on their phones all the time. It took this perfect storm of factors to get this type of technology into the public consciousness. While this game itself may or may not become a long-lasting fad, you can be sure there will be more to come, now that we’ve seen the potential.

How should businesses look to capitalize on Pokémon Go and augmented reality technology?

Well it’s still in early days. We’ve heard how PokeStops are being used now to drive sales, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Nintendo and Niantic started charging businesses to have one or began controlling it in some way, it’s going to blow up pretty quickly. Businesses just need to make sure they know what customers they want. You’re attracting a certain demographic with this game, and if they aren’t your target market they may just turn off other customers from your store.

What’s an example of an application of this in the future?

In general, the more value you can provide to consumers is how you monetize, so you need to use augmented reality (AR) to make your business more fun, useful, and interesting to consumers. Don’t create a gimmick, you need to provide value. If you have an inventory that’s changing really quickly, like a bakery, augmented reality is great for those types of promotions. Another possibility could open up marketing revenue for retailers like Walmart. Retailers would ask suppliers for permission to feature their products more in the AR realm, just as what happens in real life on shelves for product placement. There might be some interesting information that would be added in AR for your product that might not be added for others, or just something fun to draw attention to it. We’ve seen this before with QR codes.

What excites you about the potential for this technology in marketing?

One thing I’m excited about is the social side of this technology. People talk a lot about that with social media, but then you’re often interacting with someone who could be a couple kilometres away or across the country. So, even though it’s called “social”, it’s often an isolating experience. With augmented reality, it's actually something you can do together to create a shared real-world experience. Businesses often look to forge connections and having a social experience with customers, so there’s new opportunity there. What people really care about is other people, social connections, and so if you can have a shared meaningful connection, that’s really potent. It’s an entirely new type of experience that will bring people together. 

Brian Wong, 25, is a UBC Sauder BCom grad and co-founder of Kiip, an online mobile app rewards platform that enables brands and companies to offer real-world rewards for in-game achievements. We also asked him for his take on Pokemon Go.

Brian Wong Pokemon

“Pokémon Go is a beautiful mixture of reality and fantasy,” said Wong. “Usually our issue with fantasy games is that some brands may be awkwardly fit, but here the game is set in reality, so it makes a lot of sense."

When asked if he plays, he jokes his answer is ‘I don’t do drugs’, a nod to the game’s addictive quality. That quality in-part comes from the achievement structure set up in the game, which makes it a natural fit for Kiip’s marketing. Wong is excited about the possibility to tie real rewards to existing in-game challenges, like arriving at PokeStops, hatching eggs, and so on.

But, despite the excitement around augmented reality, he said it’s only one part of the game’s success.

"People think Pokémon Go exploded overnight but the reality is that they've been building this brand for decades,” said Wong. “This is the power of brand equity.