Three PR Lessons From Pokemon Go

In 1996, when the first two Pokémon games were released on Game Boy, they broke all sorts of sales records, as users across the world clamoured to ‘catch ‘em all’.

Fast forward twenty years and history is repeating itself. Since its release in July this year, the latest offering from the franchise, Pokémon Go, has racked up millions of downloads, social shares and column inches.

Global phenomenon

Arguably the greatest pandemic since swine flu, Pokémon Go is a free location-based augmented reality game, developed by Nintendo and Niantic Labs. To play the game, players use the GPS capability on their phones to locate, capture, battle, and train Pokémon, who appear on the screen as if they were in the same real-world location as the player. The real-world is mapped using Google Maps data.

By the end of July, the mobile app had surpassed Twitter’s 65 million American users. More people were playing it than browsing Facebook. And Pokémon Go was installed on more devices than the likes of Tinder, LinkedIn and Candy Crush.

Organic growth

The great thing about Pokémon Go is the hype surrounding the game developed organically, thanks to word-of-mouth. As a result, the press were all over it and brands were quick to jump on the Pokémon Go bandwagon with some wacky PR stunts.

Virgin Active got on board early, announcing that London-based runners could take part in guided Pokémon Go runs with a personal trainer from their central London gym. Participants set out on a 5k route via a number of Pokémon Gyms and Pokéstops, catching Pokémon as they went, while taking on some interval training challenges.

Meanwhile in Russia, SberBank offered free accident insurance to anyone who got hurt while playing the game. This followed reports of people walking into trees and even crashing cars while playing. All players needed to do was register with the bank and provide some evidence of the accident when making a claim.

The bank said it was also planning to use ‘lures’ in the game to get players in-store, rewarding those that caught a Pokémon in branch.

PR Lessons

There’s no denying Pokémon Go was a PR and marketing triumph, but what PR lessons can we take from it?

1. Play on Nostalgia

We all remember our childhood fondly. Do you remember trading that shiny Charizard card for a Machamp behind the swings? Two decades on, the Pokémon brand has continued growing, now featuring over 720 characters over 26 main series titles. However, Pokémon Go made the decision to only include the original 150 Pokémon in their latest release. This decision may not help to sell the very latest Pokémon’s newest roster of creatures, but it undoubtedly feeds people’s nostalgia and helps ease them back into the franchise.

2. Change with your customers

2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the Pokémon brand. While new games continue to be released every few years, the original followers of the series have now grown up. The kids who once traded cards in the playground are now working adults, and are more likely to be talking about politics than Poliwags.

When it comes to PR, it pays to be on the cusp of the new and now. For years, Nintendo held off developing games for mobile, as smartphones directly opposed its Game Boy and DS product families. But the company has finally created a game for the device its audience uses most, and the result is undeniable.

3. Engage millennials

A study by the LA Times found that more than 80% of Pokémon Go players fall within the millennial demographic. This generation is known for responding to ‘share-worthy’ digital content and self-directed experiences. The millennials are largely responsible for the campaigns that go viral.

Pokémon Go targeted millennials where they spend their time, on social media. They used Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to promote the physical locations of Pokémon characters and ‘gyms,’ with a focus on landmark locations. Millennials loved it and the app went viral, sparking an impromptu gathering of hundreds of Pokemon fans to play the game in New York’s Central Park.

This is the best sort of PR. And the press want to be part of any viral craze. So making your campaign millennial and social media friendly could give you the momentum you need to get wall to wall coverage.

Want to join the PR revolution? Call me now on +44 (0)77604 70309

I get you into the places that matter

The Times
Financial Times
Evening Standard