Monday, August 8th, 2016 | 7 min read
Augmented reality isn’t new, but it’s taken Pokémon Go, a free, location-based augmented reality game, for most people to become aware of the technology. (If you’ve seen more people than usual stumbling around on the sidewalks staring at their phones, they’re playing Pokémon Go.) Augmented reality, or AR, is a view of the real world augmented with graphics or sounds. In the case of Pokémon Go, for example, users view the regular street scene in front of them, but see superimposed with characters from the game in front of them.
Marketers have already been using AR technology, but naturally a blockbuster game like Pokémon Go, which is quickly becoming a cultural phenomenon, is a boon for advertising. Businesses have quickly understood the value of customers hunting for virtual monsters in real-life businesses. Niantic, a Google spinoff company that helped develop Pokémon Go, has promised in-game advertising opportunities, and it has also said that it will allow businesses to pay to become sites that will attract players.
Games like Pokémon Go will only increase the popularity of AR, and marketers would be wise to watch the trend and identify ways to leverage the cutting-edge technology.
Companies of all sizes are scrambling to get in on the Pokémon Go craze. You might have noticed local businesses like your corner coffee shop touting themselves as PokéStops, or locations where players can gather items that will allow them to capture more Pokémon. The first sponsored PokéStop popped up in a McDonald’s in Japan. Onscreen, it looks a lot like regular stop, just with the golden arches logo. This type of subtle branding is less likely to alienate users who are wary of overt advertising – a particularly important factor given how many players are marketing-averse millennials.
In addition to sponsoring PokéStops, marketers are going where the players are, from special weekend events to pop-ups at other PokéStops. Hillary Clinton’s campaign, for example, scheduled a voter-registration event at a PokéStop in Ohio. After all, as business owners (and campaign staffs) know, the toughest part is often getting people in the door.
Small brick-and-mortar businesses are getting in the game by urging players to post screenshots to their Facebook or tag their Instagram for a discount on menu items, thereby driving social media engagement and boosting sales. Marketing strategies like this allow small businesses to capitalize on the craze while it’s still in its nascent stage, and without blowing their meager advertising budgets on something so new and unproven.
The end game for businesses isn’t just being part of a game -albeit a popular one – that could end up as a passing fad. The real prize here is important customer insights. With a game like Pokémon Go, which uses the GPS in a player’s smartphone to detect their movement, there are endless opportunities for marketers to take note of user behavior and subsequently provide relevant, timely content.
The type of data capture through AR games and apps also raises some serious privacy concerns. Millennials might be considered pretty suspicious of traditional advertising, but, ironically, technology like this has the potential to gather even more information about them than more old-school methods. And considering that Niantic is a Google spinoff, you better believe that they’re not missing a data-capture opportunity.
Games like Pokémon Go aren’t for everyone, of course, but that doesn’t mean that AR marketing doesn’t have other substantial, practical uses. AR has some helpful “try before you buy” applications, like a tool that helps with choosing furniture and accessories for your home. Buying items like a new sofa can feel risky because you don’t really know if a piece will work in your home until it’s there. And choosing wrong can be an expensive mistake. Companies like IKEA and Sayduck have made it easier to choose correctly by enabling users to “place” pieces in their homes and see how they fit, both in terms of size and aesthetics.
Buying the wrong shade of makeup isn’t as regrettable as choosing the wrong sofa, but it can still be annoying. Shiseido is reducing that risk with its AR makeup mirror, which allows users to see how various colors will look on them before they buy.
AR can also make grocery shopping a more seamless experience. With IBM’s AR app, launched in 2012, shopper can quickly compare products by pointing their phone’s camera at a shelf. The app returns product information and a ranking based on the customer’s preferences. The app also offers coupons on certain products, which is another marketing opportunity for manufacturers.
Pokémon Go players have been busy documenting their adventures on social media, including countless screenshots on Instagram of Pokémon appearing on or around them. Cute characters and huge gatherings in unexpected places make for fun, shareable content.
AR also allows you to take your selfie game to the next level. Snapchat has a variety of cute filters that can do everything from add a flower crown to your head to make you look like a cartoon dog, providing great opportunities for marketers. For example, a makeup company or a fashion brand could allow users to “try on” a new look or trend and then post a photo of themselves on social media. Creating this kind of immersive content will inevitably prompt their friends and followers to make and share their own images.
If you’re a gambler, you could probably place a confident bet that Pokémon Go is a fad. But whether it is or not, it has brought AR to the forefront and highlighted its potential in a way that hasn’t been done before. In some ways, it feels like a case study for how businesses react to and engage with this new application of AR, and smart marketers will study it to inform their own choices and dream up innovative new ways to use it. In fact, Pokémon’s tagline seems like a message to marketers: Gotta catch ‘em all.