Will Pokémon GO spark a marketing renaissance in augmented reality?

Augmented reality has never quite fired for Australian marketers, despite several attempts to make it work. Mumbrella looks at whether the success of Pokemon Go will breathe new life into the technology for marketers.

If you are in possession of either a friend or an internet connection, then chances are you’ve heard about Nintendo’s new augmented reality game Pokémon GO.

Released on mobile Android and iOS in Australia, New Zealand and Japan on Wednesday, the app has taken the country and the internet by storm. Using the app, players discover virtual Pokémon in their real-world surroundings, then battle to win them.

These are not generated purely at random: geographical locations will harbour different varieties of Pokémon, enhancing the immersion experience. Water types will appear more frequently near water. Players can travel to nearby Pokémon gyms to do battle.

Indeed it’s been so popular it has raised some fears among authorities about people getting run over as they wander down the streets looking at their phones instead of where they are going, leading the Northern Territory police to issue a warning to users to be careful.

The phenomenon has not been missed by several brands, with the likes of Woolworths jumping on board and creating social content around the game, a virtuous promotional circle.

Woolworths is one of several brands that taking the opportunity to interact creatively with players.

Woolworths is one of several brands siezing the opportunity to interact creatively with players.

Search the #PokemonGO hashtag on Twitter and you will be greeted with an immense and ongoing worldwide commentary. A large slice of this focuses on Nintendo’s servers: they keep crashing under the staggering number of simultaneous players.

And it just so happens that the majority of these players are millennials: the coveted, ad-resistant demographic that marketers the world over are increasingly desperate to snare. Already brands have leapt hungrily at the chance to reach the app’s players by integrating their brands into the gameplay.

There have already been a few forays into AR content from brands in Australia. McDonald’s launched its TrackMyMacca’s app in 2013 which displayed the production process of their food to combat negative perception of their supply chain. It enjoyed some success at award shows, but hasn’t made a follow-up appearance for the brand suggesting it wasn’t wildly successful commercially.

track my maccas

More recently, in March last year cosmetics giant L’Oreal Paris launched its free Makeup Genius app, which used facial recognition technology allowing consumers to virtually apply its products. While not unsuccessful, the audiences of both campaigns were intentionally niche.

Most of Australia’s major publishers have also given up on AR, with a series of ‘hover apps’ designed to be held over the pages of magazines unceremoniously scrapped after failing to get traction from advertisers and readers.

News Corp was among publishers to invest in AR with Plattar

News Corp was among publishers to invest in AR with Plattar

But while more people have now been exposed to AR in the wild, Leslie Nassar, co-founder and innovation director of digital product studio Wrangling Cats, is doubtful of any immediate shift towards AR in the marketing landscape.

“I’m not sure if it’s going to change anything for brands,” he says. “I think brands will jump on the bandwagon regardless… [in the past] it’s been relatively unsuccessful and I think the reason for that is honestly that it’s a lot more fun to catch Pokémon than it is catching bottles of dishwashing detergent.

“If people want to play a game then they don’t necessarily want to play a game with branding all over it.”

Nassar suspects that the watershed moment for marketers will arrive when AR technology becomes “integrated at a system level… actually built into the platforms or built into the phones and the operating systems.”

The Dallas Mavericks happened upon a Pokemon at the gym.

The Dallas Mavericks players happened upon a wild Pokemon at the gym.

The problem, he claims, is the “installation gap”: where consumers are required to download and install an app before they can access AR services. This is the hurdle that has proven most challenging to overcome. Once AR capabilities are inbuilt, Nassar claims, we’ll see a shift.

“Then AR becomes analogous to the mobile web. Where in the old days you had to download a web browser for the phone, as soon as it was integrated with the phone… everyone was using it and now it’s the number one platform. That’s how people are consuming content. I think the same thing happens. If you had an AR renderer built into the camera of a phone you’d see some amazing executions.”

Venessa Hunt, head of mobile at media agency group GroupM, is equally cautious about AR’s immediate marketing potential.

“I think it’s probably a little bit too early for brands to be experimenting with augmented reality, just given that there’s not a lot of consumer-facing products,” she says. Virtual reality is a different story, as the necessary technology is already widely available to consumers in the form of products like Samsung Gear. Similar advances in technology distribution are crucial in taking AR mainstream, Hunt says.

“The launch of the HoloLens will most likely change the game quite considerably from a consumer-facing standpoint and actually getting devices or technology in the hands of normal, everyday people instead of just gamers and technology folk.”

Players are unwittingly interacting with brands as one spots a potential meal escaping from the local IGA.

Players are unwittingly interacting with brands as one spots a potential meal escaping from the local IGA.

However, Hunt is less optimistic about AR’s potential for mobile devices.

“If you’re talking about just general augmented reality inside apps and things it’s existed for a long time,” she says. Instead, she believes augmented reality will develop hand-in-hand with virtual reality.

“I think brand experiences definitely will be back on the rise for augmented reality, for sure. But I think it’s more about virtual reality and augmented reality rising together.”

It remains to be seen how marketers respond to Pokémon GO’s astonishing success. It is the first time, Nassar says, that augmented reality has gone “scaleable mainstream”.

“Google has had their own AR game out for years now… there’s a lot of people playing it but it’s still fairly niche. Certainly nothing like Pokémon GO,” he adds.


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