Pokémon Go: Insight into human behaviour


Five minutes in and I’ve already lost interest… but please don’t see my Attention Deficit Disorder as an indication that this product is awful. I personally think it is, but with more than 10 million users on Android something is clearly going right. As you may or may not have guessed, I’m talking about the latest fad…. I mean ‘craze’ to hit … Pokémon Go.

This is a game that, according to the BBC, generated 15.3 million tweets in its first week. To put that into context the BBC has suggested that this is far more than the 11.7 million for Brexit in the week of the UK referendum – and double the 7.5 million tweets about the Euros 2016 in its first seven days.

Having read many of the pre-release beta test reviews of the game over the last few months and seen the initial feedback, I thought this game would fall flat on its face. Early versions of the game left many reviewers wanting more (and I mean this literally as the most constant feedback was that the game lacked depth). But when you see so many people – from teenagers to twenty somethings and even those in their thirties – wandering around public spaces, phone in hand, ready to catch a Pikachu (it’s the only Pokémon I know off of the top of my head) then you know that this is a platform with potential.

But what is the potential? Having tried the game out myself I too was left thinking “so what?” – I walked around a few places and flicked an imaginary ‘Pokéball’ at an augmented reality creature. It’s safe to say it didn’t keep my attention for long.

The broader industry itself is wondering what plans Nintendo and the developer Niantic have for the game and whether or not the sudden surge in interest and players can be nurtured and turned into a sustainable platform.

But what Pokémon Go does offer us is insight into human behaviours and shows us communicators and marketers that gamification that transverses the real and virtual worlds could be a success. Why? Aside from giving people a reason to get outside and actually engage with the real world (albeit through an augmented reality lens), why on earth would you ‘waste’ time tracking down Pokémon. The answer is simple – status and reward.

With this in mind imagine the potential for brands, especially low engagement category FMCG brands. It’s enormous. Bear with me – this idea makes sense!

Imagine if brands were able to work with Nintendo to ‘pay’ to have Pokémon included in their packaging or point of sale? Yes, it’s commercialism pushed to its limits - but it’s also a great way for brands to build their narrative around the broader cultural zeitgeist.

Think of a brand such as the popular air freshener Febreze. Why not ask Febreze customers to find a Pokémon that has a link to the sense of smell? According to Google there is such a Pokémon – Slurpuss (although I’m somewhat embarrassed that I even Googled Pokémon). Flip this idea and apply it to the retail space and retailers have the opportunity to increase footfall in-store by creating lures and even hiding deals around the shop floor.

Ultimately taking a gaming platform and applying it to the world of consumer products could really shift how brands engage with their customers because it’s fostering deeper engagement behaviours.

Pokémon Go has certainly helped shift solitary mobile gaming to be more of a broader, community engagement activity. But once brands get involved you are turning a game into something much, much bigger – you’re turning it into a customer engagement platform that is already seeing higher daily usage than Twitter.

Nintendo… you can have this idea on me.