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Pokémon GO: Augmented Reality, Rekindled Childhoods, Adaptive & Experimental Thinking

If you’ve not heard of Pokémon GO, or if you’re not really sure what relevance it has outside of just being a game, then please keep reading. DB’s Fahud Ahmed takes a look at the latest trend sweeping the world, and what it means for brands…

What is Pokémon GO?

Marrying Augmented Reality (AR) technology with camera phones, and reviving the Pokemania era of the 00’s for all grown-up millennials, Pokémon GO is a mobile game which gives millions of people the opportunity to fulfil their childhood dreams of being a true Pokémon master.


For the uninitiated, gamers travel between the real world and the virtual world to discover Pokémon in real locations, all through their smartphones. Exploring your local neighbourhood and beyond, your Smartphone will vibrate when a wild Pokémon appears and, using augmented reality and your phone’s camera, you can can catch the Pokémon by taking aim and throwing your poké balls with a flick of your finger! As you level up there’s an increased chance of discovering more powerful and rare Pokémon.


So far, opinions on Pokémon GO are divided. Some people think that it’s just a fad and, with its battery and attention consuming ‘childishness’, that it will soon fizzle out. Others are already heralding Pokémon GO as a giant step in augmented reality gaming. For me, this is more than just technology being demonstrated. It’s about how a game has become so quickly embedded within culture, and has subsequently provided an exciting opportunity for brands to be expressive and open to connect with modern consumers. After all, it’s not every day that a new game comes along and encourages players of all ages – and from all corners of the earth – to go outdoors and explore the world. Even if it is chasing imaginative creatures!

Putting my Design Bridge hat on for a moment, Pokémon GO is a great case study to talk about when we are encouraging our clients to be proactive and experimental with their design and digital thinking. As the use of AR technology is becoming a lot more accessible for brands, I think it’s the perfect example of taking a relatively simple idea, using technology to bring it to life, and enhancing the brand/consumer relationship.

To explain this a little further, I have put together my pros and cons of the Pokémon GO phenomenon.

The Pros

These are geo-tagged markers on a map – mostly local business and historical landmarks – where players can stop to replenish their in-game resources. Pokestops in prime locations are noticeably seeing more people in the area, and as users scan the local area for a rare Pokémon they are also stumbling across local businesses, some of which are using it to their advantage and responding in clever and relevant ways. For example, during my recent Pokémon GO endeavours, my phone battery was low and I was in need of a charger. I spotted that my local pub had a board outside inviting Pokémon Trainers to get a free phone charge and access to free wifi inside:


This is a warm welcome for players, executed in a witty and friendly manner, and it instantly drew me in (just like a Pokémon drawn to a lure). I bought a drink, too, so it had the desired effect!

A “lure” is like an alluring fragrance which attracts Pokémon to your vicinity. Lures can be placed at Pokestops for 30 minutes. What’s great is that Pokémon GO users can only use the lure at a Pokestop, and many small businesses – just like the pub I mentioned before – are experimenting with using lures to attract new customers. Equally, big businesses are jumping on the bandwagon, and McDonald’s became the first sponsored location when the game launched in Japan. This particular sponsorship has raised some eyebrows, and fast food is a little contradictory my next “pro” point…

Increase in exercise
Pokémon GO encourages people to explore the outdoors, and the algorithm means that (in simple terms) the more steps you take the easier it is to find Pokémon, and the further you travel the more chance you have of discovering a new rare Pokémon. It even encourages gamers to clock up to 5-10km to hatch an egg (if you’ve been lucky enough to have been rewarded with an egg during gameplay, you must put in the steps to hatch your newborn Pokémon)! In London there has been a dramatic rise in the use of Santander Bikes (what you might still know as “Boris Bikes”) as they are one of the most efficient means of travelling to discover new ground (and Pokémon) as fast as you can!

Mental health benefits
We are all aware of the issues around seclusion and mental health for people of all ages, and it has been reported that playing Pokémon GO has been helping to address these issues. By encouraging more quiet and reserved individuals to step outside, get some fresh air and, more importantly, socialise with other gamers, it is opening up new ways to meet people with a shared interest. Making new friends and having a sense of belonging within a group of likeminded people (including being part of 1 of the 3 Pokémon clans in the game) is an incredible accomplishment that may not have been part of the original plan. Seeing strangers in London interact because they are all playing Pokémon GO is refreshing to see, and I’m sure this is also the case for players all over the world, too.

The Cons

As usual, when an out-of-the-ordinary idea like Pokémon GO goes viral, there will always be people ready to shoot it down and emphasise the negative. However, I feel that some of the criticism the game has received is justified, and some comments are worth keeping in mind.

Always be appropriate
Don’t appear in places that don’t fit your brand. There should definitely not be a Pokestop at Auschwitz, for example!

Always be welcoming and inclusive
With larger groups of people travelling to catch Pokémon, some areas can become heavily congested and this can be intimidating for people not playing (although if you’re clever, like Zipcar in Boston, you can take advantage of this). Bringing people together in an environment that you can control or integrate into easily will help.

Always link digital to real life
Being absorbed in the game has, in a few cases, led to lack of awareness of the real world and some people have found themselves in dangerous situations or hazardous environments (more on some of these on the BBC website). Digital activities shouldn’t be all consuming. They should complement your brand and your consumers’ lifestyle offline as well as online.

What brands can learn

Be open
Keep up to date with cultural conversations and trends, and think about how they might be relevant to your brand and your audience – be open to new ideas.

Be responsive
If you find something relevant, take advantage of it – just like this 10 year old boy in Canada did – but do it quickly. The digital world is fast moving, which leads me on to my final point…

Be brave
Don’t be afraid of experimental thinking and taking risks. The younger generation tends to warm towards the more adventurous ideas. It may sound crazy to one person, but it could be perceived as a genius move by millions.


Fahud is a Junior Motion Graphics Designer, based in our London Studio. AT time of publishing, Fahud has caught 73 Pokémon on Pokémon GO.

Scrabble letters image credited to Jeff Djevdet, originally found on Flickr.


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