Pokemon Go is not simply a location-based augmented reality game but also a global social phenomenon that took place during the summer of 2016 (Fitzpatrick, 2016). The game's success was unanticipated and unprecedented and this brand marketing essay will identify and critically analyze some of the main reasons for its success, which include nostalgia, escapism, innovation, unique experience, and the social and inclusive community, and the impact it has had on the Nintendo brand. It will also discuss what brand managers in other industries could learn from this situation.
One of the main reasons that researchers are attributing to the success of the Pokemon Go game is nostalgia (Hardy, 2016). Plenty of consumer research has been done regarding and how consumers have a preference towards an experience associated with objects they have had a positive experience with at a younger age (Holbrook and Schindler, 2003, p.108). So given that the Pokemon brand, which includes video games, anime, toys, and much more, was extremely successful in the late 90's and early 2000's a lot of people have had emotional connection with brand when they were younger, and therefore could relive those positive memories through the new game (Hern, 2016). However, nostalgia isn't enough, after all Nintendo has released numerous Pokemon games over the years and none of them were as successful as Pokemon Go (Frank, 2016). Therefore, the key success to Pokemon Go is creating an emotional hook using nostalgia while also offering players the opportunity to explore something completely new and exciting (Vaynerchuk, 2016).
In a world of omnipresent technology and information overload it is harder than ever for brands to capture the consumers' attention (Bezner, 2016). Nintendo was able to reach the customer and build a more meaningful connection with them by creating an new and exciting experience that the customer actually wants to consume. Pokemon fans have always wanted to be real life Pokemon trainers and with Pokemon Go customers were able to live their dreams by travelling and catching pokemons in the wild (Morin, 2016; Praderio, 2016). The consumers felt more satisfied with this experience because it was authentic, it wasn't just using augmented reality for the sake of using it, the augmented reality was an essential part of the experience and allowed customers to connect with the game more (Pine and Gilmore, 1998; Vaynerchuk, 2016; Hobbs, 2016).
Furthermore, Pokemon Go offers customers the opportunity to escape the stress of everyday life and the onslaught of bad news from around the world (Calleja, 2010, p.344). The game makes it easy to lose track of time and ignore other things that could or should be done instead. The users are escaping into an augmented reality where the only things that matter are how many pokemons you have caught. It is a game that engages its consumers and rewards them the more they consume it (Kamen, 2016). The more the user engages with the game, the more rewards and achievements are received, which elicits positive response from users and increases the individual's desire to return for more, thereby creating long term interest in the product (Vong, 2016). There are many stories that have come out about players being so engrossed in playing the game that they got into accidents or found themselves in dangerous situations (Chen, 2016).
In addition, research has shown that social interactive games lead to more individual gratification and enhances enjoyment (Wei and Lu, 2014, p.324). While most video games are played alone and in private, Pokemon Go encouraged people to be more socially and physically active (Sears, 2016). To play and progress through the game users had to walk around in public and visit ‘places of interest', these could be buildings, public art, monuments, etc. Friends and acquaintances are able to engage with one another while playing the game, as well as meet new people at these ‘places of interest' (Cuen, 2016). Therefore, due to the emotional enjoyment consumers experienced from playing the game and its public consumption, Pokemon Go became a social epidemic through word of mouth communication. It wasn't Nintendo's advertising campaign that led people to download the game, but it was the users themselves telling their friends, family, and other people they know to download and play the game (Forbes.com, 2016; Morrison, 2016). Moreover, due to the competitive nature of the game, Pokemon Go cashes in on social currency. Social Currency refers to the theory that people like look smart and in-the-know, so they talk about things that help portray a positive image of themselves (Berger, 2014). Hence why users post screenshots of the rare Pokemons they just caught on social media and compare their level score with friends and other players (Sears, 2016).
The rules of the Pokemon Go game are very simple, it can be played anytime and anywhere, and all you need is a smartphone with access to the internet. Thus the inclusive nature of this game enabled what was once a niche community to turn into this massive global community (Mims, 2016; Sears, 2016). And unlike many free mobile games these days, it it is not filled with adverts and it does not require you to make in app purchases to enjoy the full game which many games find off-putting causing them to stop playing (Bradshaw, 2016).
The success and exponential growth of the Pokemon Go community has led to the growth of the Nintendo brand community. The brand community refers to “a specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of relationships among admirers of the brand” (Muniz and O\'Guinn, 2001, p.412). The Pokemon Go game has given the members of the community the opportunity and material to create further value. As mentioned before, members of the community love the game so much that they basically spend a lot of time marketing the game without getting paid. They create new content based around the game, document their progress, welcome others to the community, make it more accessible for others to join the community, and much more (Scott, 2016; Schau, Muñiz and Arnould, 2009, p.36).
Not only has the game increased the reach of the Nintendo brand but it also changed how the brand is perceived (Perez, 2016). Before Pokemon Go was released, customers perceived Nintendo as a fun, friendly, and nostalgic but also an outdated brand that relies too heavily on mascot characters rather than being innovative and original (Reddit, 2016; Roberts, 2016). Pokemon Go reinvigorated the Nintendo brand which is now perceived not only fun but also an innovative brand that is willing to try new things and enter new markets (Flom, 2016). Having said that, Pokemon Go's success doesn't guarantee the continued success of Nintendo, this will depend on how the brand will take advantage of this opportunity to retain these new customers and whether or not it will change its long term business strategy accordingly (Fortune, 2016; Kohler, 2016).
Therefore, those who argue that Pokemon's success was accidental and caused by the herd mentality effect are wrong, and brand managers could learn a lot from this phenomenon (Morin, 2016). Brands need to make sure they remain authentic in the products, services, and marketing campaigns they produce, otherwise consumers will see through it and not engage with the brand. Brands need to honor their brand heritage while living in the present (Bradt, 2016). The main thing brand managers can take from this situation is to stop dwelling in the past and try to be innovative especially if there is a market opportunity. For so long Nintendo was hesitant to enter the mobile market and was very adamant on offering games that can only be played on their own consoles, which resulted in the business losing revenue and the brand losing fans and interest (Titcomb, 2016). So for instance this lesson can be applied to the automotive industry and how brands such as Jaguar should honor their long brand heritage while still being innovative by producing electric and autonomous vehicles given the huge market opportunity (Fowler, 2016; Gao et al., 2016).
Brands should try integrating the latest technology trends, such virtual reality, 3D printing, wearable tech, and modular technology, similar to how Pokemon Go used augmented reality (AR) technology in their game (Arthur, 2016). And if the brand doesn't have the capability to develop the product/experience on its own then it should partner with another brand that has more expertize in that area which can benefit both brands similar to how Nintendo benefited from collaborating with Niantic to develop the Pokemon Go game. The collaboration can be hugely advantageous for brands but it needs to be authentic and come across as a natural combination (Scharf, 2016). An example of this is when the watch brand TAG Heur collaborated with tech companies like Google and Intel to develop their connected smartwatch (Brown, 2016).
Furthermore, given that we are in the experience economy, brand managers should look into creating memorable and exciting experiences that engage their customers rather than simply selling products and services (Schmitt, 1999). Pokemon Go wasn't just a game that people played on their phone, it was an adventures experience in which people traveled to new places, met new people, and hunted pokemons in the real world (Praderio, 2016). The brand's experience should make the customer feel strong emotions, such as the nostalgic and effectively emotional John Lewis adverts and the exciting and fun Cadbury World (Friedman, 2016). Similar to how Pokemon Go brought individuals together into a community, the brand experience should relate the customer to something outside his/her private state (Schmitt, 1999, p.62; Skenazy, 2016). Moreover, brand managers can look at how other companies used the Pokemon Go phenomenon to successfully promote their brand by being early adopters and getting creative and innovative. So for instance brands could try to do something original around the latest craze that is the mannequin challenge (Agrawal, 2016; Bradley, 2016).
In conclusion although Pokemon Go is already in decline and people have moved on to other things, there is no denying how successful it was and its huge impact on the Nintendo brand and marketing as whole (Their, 2016). The customer's nostalgia, need for authenticity, and search for escapism, as well the brand's inclusive community and product offering of a unique and engaging experience, have all led to the global growth of the game through word of mouth. Pokemon Go has helped grow the reach, awareness, and the community size of the Nintendo brand, as well as change customer perception of the brand completely which may help sustain the brand in the long term. Finally, brand managers in other industries can use Pokemon Go as a case study to show how by not dwelling in the past, being innovative by taking advantage of the tech/market trends, collaborating with other brands, and offering memorable experiences can bring a lot of success to their brands.
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