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Pokemon Go, Augmented Reality Present New Challenges for Marketing Professionals

We speak to Zach Rosenberg, president of media agency MGMB, about just how this somewhat unexpected eruption of augmented reality will affect digital marketing strategies.


Nintendo’s release of Pokemon Go has taken the world by storm, as a walk down the street is now an exercise in dodging the many players, heads buried in their phones, that run around in person of imaginary creatures that are overlayed onto their devices’ cameras.
We speak to Zachary Rosenberg, president of MBMG Media Group, about just how this somewhat unexpected eruption of augmented reality will affect digital marketing strategies.

Are Marketers Ready for Augmented Reality? 

To most of us, it felt like Pokemon Go came out of nowhere. But were marketers ready? According to SmarterWeb, 5.9% of Android users were on the app by July 15, nine days after its release, sending marketers scrambling to find a way to monetize it.

Zachary Rosenberg, President, MBMG Media Group
Zachary Rosenberg, President, MBMG Media Group

In-game advertising, to this point, has been limited to “lures” that attract a Pokemon to your place of business for 30 minutes in what is called a “Pokespot.” Physical businesses like restaurants, bars or stores have already seen huge results: A New York pizzeria that paid $10 for a lure apparently saw a 75% increase in revenue, and who doesn’t like to see local businesses thrive?

Brands looking to target Hispanics will be particularly interested in Pokemon Go, Rosenberg pointed out, because the demographic uses mobile heavily.

Rosenberg’s take is that the adoption was more astounding than the technology, given the fact that the game requires so much action: “You never know how much effort people are willing to put into something. When you think about, expecting people to leave their house/couch to go out into the streets to accomplish these missions is a big ask.”

Pokemon Go, backed by Nianta Labs (a spinoff of Alphabet, which owns Google) and Nintendo, had the backing of big brands with lots of resources. Rosenberg asked: “The real question is, would a game/brand with less recognition have been able to have the same effect?”

Challenges: Fear of the Unknown, Timing

Nianta claims that more advertising options will be introduced in the form of sponsored locations, which use the logic of Google AdWords by charging per visit instead of click. But the app’s continued success may be affected by timing: “Releasing the game during the summer was a smart move but once kids are back in school and overall mindset shifts away from summertime fun, it will be interesting to see how the user base fluctuates,” said Rosenberg.

Continued momentum will also depend on a “second wave” of players adopting the technology, and any other AR games that are released. “As with all new technology, there will be early adopters and those who are intimidated at the unknown,” Rosenberg added.

Tracking ROI

Augmented reality is unique in that it is so dependent on physical location, but time will tell how effective location-based marketing is. Aligning brands’ objectives with the reach of AR-based marketing will “vary from one campaign to another, depending on each campaign’s specific goal,” Rosenberg asserted, and “understanding this goal will inform the exact metric for the return on investment and determine if those metrics are in fact, trackable.”

While physical locations like restaurants and cafes can measure ROI easily through visits that convert to sales, the success of other campaigns and sponsorships may not be as easy to measure.

Hispanic Targeting Opportunities

Brands looking to target Hispanics will be particularly interested in Pokemon Go, Rosenberg pointed out, because the demographic uses mobile heavily.

Not only do they use mobile heavily, they often depend on it. A new study from the Pew Research Center found that while just 10% of white smartphone owners rely on mobile devices to access the Internet, the same is true for 23% of Hispanics.

The study also found that the digital gap between Latinos and Whites is shrinking, which makes sense, since the Hispanic population is the fastest-growing in the United States. In the study, the percentage of Latino adults who report using the Internet increased from 64 percent to 84 percent between 2009 and 2015, versus an increase of 80 percent to 89 percent among White adults who use the Internet. This means that while the gap was 16% in 2009, it is now just 5% in 2009.

“Targeting options are consistent across games,” Rosenberg added, and augmented reality will afford brands tools for “relevant in-game options that may appeal to a particular segment of a brand’s target.”

The app has drawn big numbers of minorities to the Pokemon franchise. A recent study by mobile marketing firm mfour found that 40% of Hispanics said that the new app was their first introduction to Pokemon, while that was only the case for 32% and 31% of Caucasians and Asians, respectively. The study claimed that 13.4% of respondents identified as Hispanic/Latino.

Lee Vann, cofounder of Hispanic marketing agency Captura Group, commented: “The Pokemon Go craze looks like it is here to stay and along with it AR is becoming a top-of-mind tactic for digital marketers.  It is not surprising that the hottest game on the planet, or virtual planet, is being embraced Hispanics and marketers looking to tap into the nation’s fast growing, digitally connected consumer group should considering going with Pokemon Go to reach them.”

Rosenberg also highlighted what is one of the biggest  concerns with augmented reality: intrusiveness. While AR ads are effective because they generate such high levels of engagement, they may be so engaging that they become annoying. Like they are with pop-up ads, brands must be careful.

The final verdict: “Until adoption of AR games grows in scale, targeting may be more limited.”

Above all, Rosenberg reiterated that not all brands’ messages align with augmented reality games. “I would urge my clients to take a step back and evaluate if developing a game fits into their brand voice and objectives,” he advised. “If it does, the key will be riding the wave while AR is on the upward trend. If not, brands can find other ways to leverage the current trend, especially within social.”

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