People who have caught the hype of Pokemon Go are busy chasing down wee cartoon creatures that appear in the mobile game as if they exist in the real world around the screen. And as this phenomenon grows, new players are taking chase: advertisers, pursuing people's rapt attentions within the app.
There is good reason.
In a matter of days, Pokemon Go has blown right past the peak audience of the addictive Candy Crush Saga as the biggest mobile game ever in the United States.
According to SurveyMonkey, the game has 21 million daily active users in that country.
Even in countries like Canada, where the game has not officially launched yet, some have downloaded it anyway through illicit means such as by changing the location settings on their phones.
According to research from SimilarWeb, 6.3 per cent of Android phone users in Canada had installed the game as of Monday.
The popularity of the game represents a considerable opportunity for advertisers.
One reason is that the rise of ad blockers has sent a message that consumers are pushing back against the unwelcome barrage of digital advertising, and this has pushed advertisers to consider strategies that make their brands part of the entertainment that people want.
In mobile, where screens are small and people's tolerance for interruption is even lower, that's especially important – it's also why advertisers have been drawn to sponsoring filters that alter photos and videos on Snapchat, for instance.
If marketers can find a way into Pokemon Go that is part of the game, without making the app feel ad-cluttered the way the Internet has become, that's a valuable opportunity.
Another huge draw is that the game depends on people looking for the cartoon monsters on sidewalks, in parks and in buildings in their vicinity. Players also look for real-life locations that the game has deemed "Pokestops," where they can gather tools to help them play, and "gyms," where the characters do battle with each other.
All of this depends on access to each player's location data. Location-based advertising has long been a topic of discussion among marketers, but most have struggled with how to avoid creeping people out by sending alerts to their phones about a sale just as they approach a store, for example.
The game could offer a way to do location-based advertising more seamlessly. The head of Niantic, which built the game in partnership with Pokemon Co. (which is partly owned by Nintendo), told the Financial Times on Wednesday that it has plans to sell "sponsored locations" within the app, allowing businesses to "pay us to be locations within the virtual game board – the premise being that it is an inducement that drives foot traffic." Niantic declined a request for an interview or to provide more information on its plans.
Some are already using the game as an unofficial marketing tool.
According to Bloomberg, the manager of L'inizio's Pizza Bar in New York saw food and drink sales rise roughly 30 per cent because of the activity that was located there in the game. Some of that was the luck of becoming an in-game draw thanks to characters and the ability to gather game tools, but the manager also spent money on in-game "lures" to draw more characters to his shop – and therefore more patrons. Other bars and restaurants have put up signs warning that only paying customers are welcome inside to play the game.
On Wednesday, the Tricolore Sports clothing outlet in Montreal's Bell Centre posted a picture on Twitter of a purple monster beside rows of Canadiens jerseys in its store, with the message, "I wonder what kind of Pokemon are in our store. Only one way to find out ... #PokemonGO." The Toronto Zoo also took to Twitter, and issued a media release, asking visitors to stay on the zoo's paths and not to cross barriers into enclosures while playing the game. While those concerns persist, the game has been a draw.
"I'm seeing people on site playing. … It is a great opportunity," said Jennifer Tracey, senior director of marketing at the zoo. "We're a not-for-profit, so we have a limited marketing budget. We're always looking for a creative way to attract people."
The zoo is avoiding any explicit advertising until the official Canadian launch, she added.
One real estate ad in Abbotsford, B.C., this week used its convenient location "between two Pokemon Gyms" as a selling point, according to the website Atlas Obscura. (That boast is missing from the ad currently however.)
Advertisers could also consider using an approach like that of advertising tech company Kiip, founded by Canadian Brian Wong, which partners with games and apps to offer sponsored "rewards" within games. Those can include coupons for free products to encourage sampling.
Because so much of the game depends on players moving around – walking to hatch "eggs" for example, or to find and catch characters – it could be a natural fit for fitness products as well. Vancouver-based mobile app RunGo, which offers audio navigation for running routes, has attempted to piggyback on the popularity of Pokemon Go by plotting routes taking users through Pokemon-heavy areas.
"With something like this, the authenticity of the experience is really important to the people who are playing it," said Wes Wolch, vice-president of content and connection planning at media-buying firm MEC in Toronto. He cautioned that advertisers who want a piece of the action will have to offer something that enhances the game, not just pushes their own message.
"We're all starting to think about this," he said.