Pokémon Go and the Shift in Mobile Advertising


“This is the year of mobile.” Advertisers have been saying it for years, and it’s true … to some extent. Every year the number of mobile devices in market increases, and the time consumers spend on those devices increases. The challenge from the beginning has been not only effectively reaching those users, but also properly targeting them. Until recently, mobile web and in-app banners have dominated the mobile space, but the summer’s hottest mobile app has shown that there might be a better way to engage users on their mobile devices.

Location, Location, Location

While better targeting technology has provided advertisers a better view of who the owner of the phone might be, there is still the issue of effectively engaging them. We have seen a number of solutions over the years, from more intrusive creative units to native placements that blend in with the content. However, in many cases, these solutions have done little more than cause us to reexamine the validity of the “mobile click”.

With the introduction of Pokémon Go and the movement that followed, it appears that the answer to mobile engagement has been right under our thumb the whole time. Over the last year, location data has become a key tool allowing many advertisers to not just target users but to track conversions and assign attribution. While questions about the validity of these data points still remain, until Pokémon Go entered the zeitgeist, few advertisers seriously considered using location data as a means of engaging users, primarily because there was no scale. But more importantly, because users weren’t ready to give advertisers all of the information needed to create engaging experiences.

However, as we are seeing with Pokémon Go, consumers are ready to not only share their location data with a 3rd party, but they are also willing to take action in the real world based on the signals that data provides. While the popularity of apps like Pokémon Go may rise and fall quickly, this new user behavior is likely to remain.

The Pokémon Go Effect

Exploring their neighborhoods and wandering around parks, business districts and maybe a few dark alleys, Pokémon Go users were out and about in areas that we have never seen them before. They allowed their mobile device to guide them on where to go, what to do and who to interact with in a completely different “social” way.

Aside from the nostalgia factor that Pokémon provided, Pokémon Go was truly alluring because it allowed users to interact with their neighborhoods in ways that they probably never imagined before. Suddenly their neighborhood looked totally different, there were unique experiences happening around every corner, and the users came out in droves. By moving around their environment and keeping their phones handy, users were rewarded with Pokémon and useful items.

Additionally, when walking through a new location many users would pull out their phones and attempt to locate new Pokémon. Now, instead of leaving their phone in the purse or pocket, they have it out and are using it to interact with the space around them. They are reimagining interaction with their world through the device. Brands now have the opportunity to leverage this interaction, and in some cases create it.

The Shift To Mobile Interactivity?

The challenge with the idea of “Location-based Mobile Engagement” is that most brands don’t readily believe they have a right to win in entering this new interactive realm. Mapping the physical world and finding a way to virtually insert their brands naturally into these experiences seems like a tall order. Further, most brands that have little control over the environment in which their products are sold.

Now is the time for marketers to challenge that thinking and fully consider where and when a user would be willing to interact with a brand on a mobile device. Thinking about the purchase decision process and the moments when the brand experience overlaps with mobile device usage are great starting points. Creating these moments of interaction will likely require brands to forge partnerships with mobile application providers or with retailers that have access to location data along with the ability to deliver a location-based experience to an audience.

These experiences don’t necessarily require the user’s camera, but they do need to be unique. How unique? Imagine a pizza restaurant that sends coupons for free pizza to users that were in the parking lot of a soccer field at 6pm on a Wednesday night. Another potential application could be for a shoe brand that offered runners at the start of a popular running path a custom, curated play list specific for that trail and that user’s desired tempo. Or how about for a golf equipment brand, enabling them to send users a few tips after their round, specifically if they spent a bit too much time in the rough.

Usage habits have changed, and consumers are expecting to receive more from brands when brands are looking to interact with them on mobile devices. With better location data it will become easier to target your desired user and provide them with a unique experience that ties your brand to their needs, organically. Mobile advertising cannot continue to be thought of as an extension of the display campaign, where brands look to drive awareness through scale. The new consumer is expecting a deeper experience and brands will be expected to deliver.

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Justin Estrada
Justin Estrada Associate Director, Digital Media

An Associate Director on the Integrated Media team, Justin’s constantly on the lookout for the best solutions for his clients. He doesn’t stop at good enough, and challenges his team and clients to think bigger. Justin’s passionate about innovation, so you can always count on him to know about the next big thing in advertising and how to best leverage it.