Can Pokémon Go help brands catch consumers via sponsored locations?

As marketers scramble to capitalize on the cultural phenomenon surrounding Pokémon Go, one potentially effective way to organically boost brand awareness may lie in sponsoring locations within the augmented reality application, an strategy reportedly being explored by McDonald?s.

The United States release of the Pokémon Go app, which enables users to catch, capture and train virtual Pokémon hidden in real-world locations, has resulted in a veritable cultural craze adopted by many millennials and younger consumers. While the app does not contain embedded ads for the time being, brands will soon be able to explore the opportunity to sponsor locations in which Pokémon are hidden, per the Financial Times.

?Pokémon Go is perfectly executed to blend the physical with the real allowing for all types of experimentation and engagement at both the participant and brand level,? said Russ Zack, senior vice president of products and solutions at HelloWorld. ?For brands sponsoring locations within the app, there is potential to not only increase foot traffic to bricks-and-mortar stores, but to drive awareness through association with a cultural phenomenon that?s taken off with great speed.

?What?s more, it was created to take advantage of everything that is already built into the phone and the mobility of users,? he said. ?Leveraging this augmented reality experience affords brands looking to leverage the mobile advertising trend with a unique and innovative opportunity: to act alongside consumers on their journey to ?catch them all.?

?Sponsored locations within Pokémon Go put the brand on the same level as the consumer in a truly interactive way. Via success with sponsored locations, one could even imagine personalized brand messages and specially branded Pokémon according to the power and level of each player?s characters.?

Low barriers to entry?
With the novelty of the Pokémon Go app still flying high, the first brands to roll out sponsored locations may encounter relatively low barriers to entry and high consumer engagement. If the app becomes too oversaturated with sponsored locations, however, the strategy could backfire for late adopters.

According to a Financial Times interview conducted with app developer Niantic?s CEO, John Hanke, Pokémon Go will become monetized through sponsored locations. This will enable brands to pay to have various bricks-and-mortar locations pop up within the app, with the intent of driving users to those stores or restaurants and boosting foot traffic.

Advertisers would be charged on a cost per visit basis, per Mr. Hanke.

For example, if McDonald?s secures a sponsored location within Pokémon Go, the app could incite users to visit a specific restaurant in the vicinity to capture an elusive Pokémon. 

Rumors regarding McDonald?s sponsorship of the app have been swirling in the mobile space after several Reddit users reportedly uncovered lines of code suggesting a partnership was in place.

An anonymous source reportedly confirmed to Gizmodo that McDonald?s will sponsor locations in one Asian country once the app launches in that region.

Brands should consider being among the first to hop on this new mobile advertising opportunity, due to the meteoric reach that Pokémon Go currently boasts.

?For mobile marketing, this signifies an important shift toward integrating online and offline experiences,? said Adam Dorfman, senior vice president of product and technology at SIM Partners. ?Down the road, I would expect features to be rolled out that allow marketers to measure conversions as well as track in-store foot traffic that is directly tied to in-game advertising.

?Marketers will then be able to understand how Pokémon Go ? or other similar augmented reality games ? are driving foot traffic to their stores,? he said. ?As an example, McDonald?s could pay to have its 36,000 locations become PokéStops to incentivize people to visit its restaurants.

?Every time someone collects items from that PokéStop, there would be a direct correlation between someone using the app and visiting the location ? something that hasn?t existed before. In addition, should Niantic [allow] coupons or mobile wallet offers to be attached to PokéStops, marketers [would] then have the ability to track in-store sales to those in-game offers.?

Reports from SimilarWeb emerged earlier this week claiming that the app has overtaken Tinder in Android app downloads and is expected to trump Twitter in daily active users (see story).

Pokemon Go is now the most popular mobile game ever created.

?Businesses should understand how to work within the mechanics of the game to drive foot traffic, such as employing Lure modules, which attract players to a specific location by luring Pokémon for them to catch,? Mr. Dorfman said. ?Other engagement tactics might include celebrating the players at your location, which you can do in any number of ways, such as hosting pop-up events and offering promotions to players who are at your location hunting for Pokémon.

?The possibilities are endless.?

Gotta catch ?em all
Brands with significant bricks-and-mortar footprints that are interested in reaching millennials and younger consumers will likely brainstorm ways to capitalize on the Pokémon craze, even if they are unable to sponsor locations within the app.

?Beyond integrated sponsored locations, boosting brand awareness can happen in several ways,? HelloWorld's Mr. Zack said. ?For example, we?ve already seen Snapchat integrations with the game as well as social media posts from restaurants and retailers with promises of Pokémon that can be found on-site.

?In fact, this is just the tip of the iceberg right now. It might even be possible to see branded Pokémon characters in the game in the near future.?

Marketers including Auntie Anne?s and Maytag have already slid themselves into social media conversations surrounding Pokémon Go, with the former inviting Twitter users to upload photos of the Pokémon they have caught at its restaurant locations.

The ultimate question in brands? minds, however, is whether the app will maintain its phenomenal popularity long enough to warrant sponsorships and other related ? and more expensive ? marketing tactics.

?The biggest challenge with Pokémon Go is whether or not it will be able to maintain momentum,? Mr. Zack said. ?It took off very quickly, but does it have staying power?

?Part of what will inform the answer to that question is whether or not it can successfully monetize and set the rules of engagement within the experience for brands. This means asking how brands interact with each other and with participants. To remain successful, it?s crucial that the experience does not get cannibalized.?