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Group using phones to play Pokemon Go

In the beginning, there was light. And some millennia later, humans evolved and created Pokémon GO. If you’ve been on social media or paid any attention to the news in the past week, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the game and how it appears to be taking over the nation. If you wander down the sidewalk or through your local park, chances are you’ll find hordes of humans with their faces buried in their phones. Pokémon GO is now the fastest growing app in the app store history. It has knocked Mobile Strike and Game of War off of their “highest grossing” thrones, which means the game is already pulling in more than $1MM every single day. When it comes to daily active users, the app is trending towards dethroning Twitter. And if you’re talking about time wasting, the app is being used a staggering 43 minutes per day on average, putting Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook Messenger to shame.

In the span of a week, the game has become a cultural phenomenon. But it’s not just fun and games – Niantic has created a real money maker. And where there’s money to be made, you can find people using the application in new, interesting ways.

Where Did Pokémon GO Come from?

Although the app just launched, the game has been teased for a couple of years now. On April 1st, 2014, Google Maps ran an April Fool’s Day joke that planted the seeds of what would become Pokémon GO. The video was meant to be a light-hearted joke:

Instead, it generated a lot of positive buzz and sparked interest in the project. The game’s developer, Niantic Labs, began as an internal startup at Google. Niantic’s first application was Field Trip, released in 2012. The app tracked location data to help you discover unique things located around you. This lead into Niantic’s first AR (augmented reality) game, Ingress, which was launched in November 2012 as an invite-only application.

Screenshot of Ingress. (Rootzwiki)

Gameplay of Ingress, Niantic’s first geolocation-based game.

Ingress was a science fiction game that told a story of technological factions battling for control of the world. Gameplay consisted of walking around as your GPS relayed game information to the server and allowed you to “hack” portals. Portals were local community landmarks and were primarily user-created. Businesses could also pay to sponsor a portal, which would make their site a destination for Ingress players. Players also acquired various gear and weapons which could be branded, i.e., the “Wal-mart Shield” or the “Starbucks Power Cube”.

In August 2015, Niantic announced it would be spinning off from Google and becoming an independent company. This very narrowly preceded the announcement in September 2015 that Niantic was partnering with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company to produce Pokémon GO.

Local Businesses Can Tap into The App’s Popularity

As it stands right now, there’s no actual way to purchase your way into the app’s database. While Ingress used a combination of sponsored locations and user-driven data aggregation, Pokémon GO is instead pulling data directly from Ingress to determine the location of its stops and gyms. However, even without the sponsored advertising options present, local businesses can still leverage the app’s popularity to their advantage.

Pokemon Go lures in Nash Square Raleigh

Nash Square in downtown Raleigh, NC.

Just yesterday, as I was out to grab lunch, I noticed one specific corner of the shopping center I was in had several stops clustered together. Not only that, these stops were “lured”, which means someone had played an item on them that increased Pokémon spawns in the area near the lure. Obviously, since I had a bit of time to kill on my lunch break, I drove over to the corner of the shopping center where the lures were activated. Outside of the business, there was a display table setup. All of the employees working the table had their phones out, and it became clear to me that these people were the ones setting the lures. There was a crowd of people in the area, all on their lunch break, creating a ton of foot traffic for the business.

If your business is located near a stop, you should be looking into “lures”. Lures can be found randomly in the game, or you can purchase them from the game’s shop using real currency.  When you look in the shop, you’ll see that there are a few options for purchasing the game’s coin currency. $100 USD will net you 14,500 coins, and the best value pack of lures comes with 8 will cost you 680 coins. So you’ll get 4 hours of lures out of one pack, and with 14,500 coins, you can purchase 21 packs of lures. For $100, you get essentially 84 hours’ worth of publicity for your shop. There are very few marketing options that you can use for that cheap!

You can also consider taking advantage of the app’s popularity by simply advertising your business on social media! Is there a “rare” Pokémon that spawns at your business? Post a photo of it and share it! Is your business a gym location? Get a whiteboard or chalkboard and keep a tally of which of the game’s three factions is in control. You could even offer specials to people based on who controls your business, similar to how Foursquare (or now, Swarm) offers geolocation-based specials and offers.

The Future of Geolocation

Many people are claiming that Pokémon GO is simply a fad, and the jury is out on whether they are correct or not. Perhaps in a few months, the parks will be empty again and people will be back to being reclusive. But the one thing that isn’t just a fad, however, is geolocation technology and its impact on our daily lives. Over on Vox, Ezra Klein quoted venture capitalist Chris Dixon: “The next big thing will start out looking like a toy,” he says. And wouldn’t you know, here comes Pokémon GO, a nice little geolocation and augmented reality package wrapped inside the wrapper of one of the most ubiquitous toy lines of the past twenty years.

When business went digital, it took years for people to perfect marketing in the new mediums, and those strategies are still being developed and iterated upon even today. Pokémon GO just took geolocation technology mainstream. It has blended the swelling digital tide of user behavior-based advertisements and microtransactions with more traditional marketing tactics like giveaways, specials, and in-store promotions. Nobody knows what the future will hold. But the wild success of Pokémon GO is likely to change technology, for better or worse. And it’s a new frontier that I, as a marketing professional, am excited to see grow and evolve.

Will Hare is a web marketing and digital media professional residing in Durham, NC. When he’s not on the job, he likes to consume and critique board games, video games, films, and television.