Pokémon Go has become an overnight sensation, using Augmented Reality (AR) to superimpose a digital game over the player’s real world environment. The game encourages players to explore their cities, which is in turn driving real-world traffic for local businesses. AR has been instrumental in Pokémon Go’s popularity, but this technology provides many opportunities for brands that reach far beyond gaming and is opening the door for brands to leverage AR technologies to reach consumers. AR, for example, can be used to display and showcase products inside someone’s home, opening up new opportunities for brands to engage with consumers in their real world environments. The opportunities for AR are wide and varied and, leveraged properly, could provide brands with significant returns.

We explore what opportunities Pokemon Go and AR, as a technology, could offer brands and marketers to engage consumers.

What Is Pokémon Go

Pokémon Go is a mobile game that has become a viral sensation. Based on the popular Japanese video game franchise Pokémon, which is part-owned by Nintendo, the new mobile game leverages GPS and cameras on smartphones to simulate the Pokémon-catching experience from the older games in the real world.

In the game, players must leave their homes and explore their neighborhoods and cities, following a digital map that leads them to various characters and locations. There are now a few ways to capitalise on this new foot traffic and Niantic just announced that they are willing to create in-game sponsorship opportunities soon. Nintendo’s involvement and the fact that the game is marketed to kids means this will take time. For now, the game is monetised by in-app purchases by users instead of advertising, the same way the other large mobile games generate revenue. The game gets users out into the world, there are therefore marketing opportunities surrounding the game even without in-game ads or sponsorship.

While the camera-enabled AR experience is not necessary for gameplay, as the game is built around location services, it creates the game’s most share-worthy moments. Social feeds on Facebook and Twitter have included almost non-stop screenshots from the game in the last week. Om Malik wrote about the importance of the AR component for The New Yorker:

‘This weekend I went to the recently opened San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and wanted to know everything about the art and various installations, beyond what was posted on the walls. I felt as if I should be able to lift my phone and get more details on the process of the creation of the artwork, rather than having to type a search term into my browser. Pokémon Go had already changed my expectations on how to access information. That shift in expectation, perhaps, is the game’s true importance.’

Currently, the app is only available in the US, Australia, New Zealand, and Germany, but it is reported to be launching in Europe and Asia “within a few days.” Since launch, it has overtaken popular dating app Tinder in Android app installs, and its daily active users in the U.S. will likely surpass those of Twitter soon, according to SimilarWeb’s estimation. On the iOS side, the app has topped both Top Download and Top Grossing charts in the App Stores in all three markets it has become available in.

Brands without physical locations will have a tougher time capitalising directly on the latest Pokémon craze. While we are hoping for more opportunities to get in front of Pokémon Go players, through in-game ads or sponsorships, this is a good time to think about ways for AR to drive new opportunities for brands. AR can be a great way for customers to envision different products in their lives and to launch digital experiences from signage or product packaging. What we can do now through a smartphone is just the beginning. As Microsoft’s HoloLens, Magic Leap, and the rumored Snapchat glasses roll out over the next few years, the possibilities will be endless.

The nature of Pokémon Go demands players go outside and walk around. Already, there are stores and cafes seeing a spike in foot traffic because their locations are hotspots in the game. The New York Times reported that one bar in Harrisburg, Va., has started offering discounts to Pokémon Go players on a specific team, while a tea shop in San Francisco offered a “buy one get one free” deal to Pokémon Go players.

Outside the game, home improvement brands could use AR technology to provide a powerful preview tool for customisation, showing customers what their rooms would look like with a different wall colour or with a different set of cabins or carpets. IKEA has already developed an AR preview app to see if their furniture would fit in people’s homes.

Fashion and beauty brands can leverage AR technology to allow customers to try on the latest accessories and makeup without visiting a physical store. A number of beauty brands have created AR apps to enable virtual sampling and try-on, including Covergirl’s BeautyU, Sally Hansen’s ManiMatch, and L’Oreal’s popular Makeup Genius app. Fashion brands such as Rebecca Minkoff and Neiman Marcus have started testing AR-powered interactive mirrors to digitalise their fitting room experiences.

Pokémon Go demonstrates the real value that a technology like AR can provide for user experience. While the game itself provides some exciting opportunities for brands, the real potential will be realised when brands and marketers start to use the technology to create innovative opportunities to engage with consumers.

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