Winding back the Clock

In a marketing world where those who can master the art of segmentation, positioning and target market identification reign supreme, imaginary monsters in a not so imaginary world are re-writing the rule book.

Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm, and in doing so has asked some questions of the traditional marketing principles we know and love. For those who are unaware, Pokémon Go is an app that allows users to catch “pocket monsters” (or Pokémon) using their mobile device. What sets Pokémon Go apart is the use of augmented reality (or AR), meaning that the user’s real-life environment is mirrored in-game to give the perception of catching these Pokémon in the real world.


Source: PC Mag (2016)

The concept of Pokémon is certainly not a new one, with the brand being popular for over two decades. The graph below illustrates just how popular the brand has been, and the vast quantity of units sold accordingly.

Source: Vox (2016)

Source: Vox (2016)

What this graph doesn’t show us, is the reported 100 million downloads Pokémon Go has had in under a month since launch. So how has a brand that’s slowly declined in popularity over the last 2 decades, managed to completely reverse this trend and produce numbers like we’ve never seen before?

I pondered this thought, trying to work out how and why this craze has been so successful, is it just a fad? Sure, the apps free to download so anybody can jump on and download it, but the app is still generating a reported $10 million PER DAY through micro transactions. So what’s the formula? How can this model be replicated? Who is the mastermind behind this stroke of marketing genius? How can I make $10 million per day?

With marketing principles being in the forefront of my mind, I thought it would be appropriate to look at the way Pokémon GO is marketed, surely that’s one of the keys to its success?

Let’s start by looking at the traditional Pokémon target market.  The original  games were undoubtedly targeted at the youth market, I myself vividly remember spending hours upon hours playing through the Pokémon games from the age of 6 and I certainly wasn’t alone. Just writing about it brings back a host of memories of time where responsibility was just a blurry pile of letters, working something old people did, and only thing weighing me down was the stress of trying to get my pen license, ahhhh the nostalgia.

But hang on, 6 year olds aren’t walking around trying to catch Pokémon on their iPhones in 2016? Are they? Research conducted by SurveyMonkey suggests 46% of Pokémon Go players are aged 18-29 (see below), could it be that those 6 year olds that were playing the game back in 1999 are the 18-29 year olds playing Pokémon Go today? Signs point to yes.

What we see with Pokémon Go is not one specific target market or segment but an accumulation of targets through two decades of sustained success as well as brand development and awareness. Call it a mass marketing approach to market segmentation if you will, but to be brutally honest I’m not convinced the developers even have a specific strategy in mind. The app itself has been plagued by faults, with reviews on the iTunes app store rating the app a measly 1.5 stars (out of 5) and yet it continues to hold the number 1 position on both the Google Play and iTunes app stores for 4 weeks running.

Source: Motherboard (2016)

Source: Motherboard (2016)

Simply put, it just doesn’t make sense. With my marketing hat back on, I don’t see a refined, specific target market and I don’t see the product being strategically positioned in any particular way. What I do see is dozens of people on the train trying to catch Pokémon on their phone every morning and every night. What I see is one of the most successful apps of all time, with a model that should ensure sustained success. What I see is a strong brand, outstanding innovation, a great sense of timing, and a good hearty dose of nostalgia all coming together and telling the rule book to take a hike. It’s obvious that the product isn’t perfect and the core-marketing principles of the product are near nonexistent but yet, somehow, it all just works.

So what can we learn from Pokémon Go? Well whilst nobody can ever question the importance and significance of marketing, sometimes there’s more to it than meets the eye. Sometimes things don’t make sense and that’s perfectly fine, sometimes just giving the people what they want is enough – even if they haven’t worked out that they want it yet.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a lot of Pokémon left to catch.




Author: Harrison Shannon-Brown.


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