The brilliance of Pokémon Go, and how devotion is timeless

21 July 2016
I’m sitting here at my desk, attempting to carry out some benchmarking research, but I’m not really getting anywhere. Instead, I’m constantly looking at my phone, trying to find an excuse to head down to the other end of the office, to be in range of a nearby Pokéstop.

I have of course, like millions of others worldwide, caught the augmented reality bug that is Pokémon Go. It’s been around for a few weeks in the US, Australia and New Zealand and it launched in the UK and Europe end of last week, and there was a huge following even within a few hours - so much so, Nintendo’s global stock has nearly doubled to a whopping $42bn since launch. A fellow commuter on my way home that first night also whipped out his phone as he sat down and we both started Pokémon-ing away. A shared nod of approving acknowledgement soon turned to a simultaneous snarl of rage as the train moved into a dead spot for internet connectivity.

If the phenomenal demand for this new app-based game is managed well, it could be a turning point for rejuvenating the global franchise that once topped every child’s wishlist in some form or other. What’s more however, it’s likely a turning point for the global world of mobile engagement through its utilisation of technology. As we’ve seen in the last week, there are probably thousands of angles a blog post on Pokémon Go could take, but the notion of meeting customer need through technology to reignite devotion to a brand is really strong here.

As technology and subsequent consumer habit have evolved, Game Boys – the console of Pokémon’s first incarnation in the mid-1990s – gave way to mobile phones and eventually smartphones (now with as much gaming power as most handheld consoles anyway). Pokémon and Nintendo’s grip on popular culture understandably waned through this cannibalisation of the handheld gaming market by smartphones, relegating the brand into the depths of public consciousness despite still producing games and merchandise. So, how do you bring back to life an iconic set of digital creatures that once captured the hearts and minds of millions of children and adults worldwide in the 21st-century mobile-first environment? Simple. Bring pocket monsters into the real world through the devices that everyone has in their pocket.

What the partnership between Niantic and The Pokémon Company has done is not really ‘brand new’ in terms of technology. Niantic has built significantly on its previous augmented reality game attempt but now leveraged the critical mass of the Pokemon brand to get people engaged. In doing so, Pokemon has managed to reignite the lapsed fan base of millions around the world through this mobile AR and geolocation technology, meaning anyone who grew up wanting to run around throwing Pokéballs at imaginary creatures can now do exactly that.

Looking at that oft-used Warren Buffett quote that ‘it takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it’, the Pokémon brand is now 20 years old, yet never really disappointed their fans, and never ruined their reputation. Their fans just grew up and lost the ability to continue interacting with the brand as handheld technology and consumer attitudes evolved. By tapping into the untapped resources of mobile, geolocation and AR, it’s brought the brand back to life and to the mass market once again. What’s more, it shows quite how much people still love Pokémon and how consumer attitudes towards brands they’re truly emotionally connected to don’t change. Real devotion isn’t transient, it’s timeless.

But enough of all this nostalgia, I’m off to catch a Pikachu.