In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, PokemonGo is here. Every millennial’s dream of running away from home to become a Pokemon trainer is now a reality thanks to their smartphones and the tenacity required to correctly and repeatedly swipe up. The hit app, developed by Google offshoot Niantic, has shot to the top of the charts; it was downloaded at record rates, hit number one in the app store in days, and garnered more than 6 million Twitter mentions in less than a week.
But as Gary Vaynerchuk says, “Marketers ruin everything.” It was only a matter of time before advertisers of all types wanted to “catch ‘em all” too.
Niantic has said that they do intend to offer advertisers the chance to purchase “Sponsored Locations” to advertisers, allowing retailers and other businesses to pay on a Cost Per Visit basis to have their physical locations added to the list of Pokéstops and Pokégyms that the app’s users flock to.
This capability isn’t available yet, but the lack of formal advertising opportunities hasn’t stopped local businesses from finding creative ways to tap into the apps popularity to gain turn aspiring Pokémasters into customers.
Small businesses that are lucky enough to be designated as Pokéstops are making use of the the games “lure” feature to drive foot traffic into their storefronts and shops. A $100 in-app investment gets you enough Pokecoins to buy 24 half-hour lures, which creates an incentive for the apps users to come into the store.
But even businesses that didn’t land on the map of Pokéstops have found creative ways to tap into passing foot traffic. Sandwich signs on sidewalks across the country encourage Pokétrainers to come in to claim discounts based on the team they’ve joined, the creatures they’ve captured, and more. This Modell’s Sporting Goods store in the Upper East Side of Manhattan offered a 15% discount to any Pokétrainer at level 5 or above.
Some brands—as they always do—simply relied on social posts as a fast and free way to tap into the trend. The danger of that approach, as pointed out in this run-down of brand tweets from Digiday, is that the line between clever (a la Planned Parenthood’s tweet) and tone-deaf (We’re looking at you, Pert…) is incredibly thin.
Few businesses have reported a measurable difference that a Pokémon Go promotion has created, though one New York pizzeria did report a 30% spike in sales in a single weekend after just a $10 investment in lures.
These guerilla tactics, and others, use features were intended for standard gameplay and not officially offered—or marketed, as far as we’ve seen—as ad products. And depending on the price point of the “Sponsored Pokéstops” we’ve been promised, and how long it takes Niantic to actually roll them out, the app’s developers may have a challenge getting advertisers on board.
These “unofficial” tactics will be more familiar to retailers by that point, many of whom may not be interested in changing the process or tactic; if it’s not broke, after all, why should they fix it? And even if the official ad products come with added analytics and targeted visibility options as incentives, it will likely be tough to price them competitively enough to convince advertisers not to simply continue dropping lures for $1.19 an hour, or putting out app-themed promotions at no out-of-pocket cost.
Perhaps both options can co-exist. But with the founder explicitly saying that sponsored locations are a better business model than in-app purchases—and the fact that recent Pokemon Go updates seem to be focused on giving them added control— it wouldn’t be surprising if Niantic took more steps to reduce the appeal of these creative alternatives and create a more controlled sponsorship environment as it has done in the past.
They could limit lure drops by a single player in a given area, making it harder for retailers to create a continuous flow of foot traffic with the feature, or they could use app behavior (limited movement, repetitive purchases, frequent luring in a non-residential area, etc.) to flag and identify accounts that appear to be making unauthorized use of these features for advertising purposes.
Perhaps they take the aggressive trademark enforcement route, like the NFL does with the SuperBowl—or… you know… The Big Championship Pro Football Game—making it a risk to use the app name, character likenesses and other elements on any signs, promotional materials, or in any other way that could result in profit.
And, of course, there’s always the possibility that the fervor over this whole thing will have passed in a matter of weeks, and we’ll be on to the next app…