What news publishers can learn from Pokémon Go

By Geoff Tan

SPH Magazines

Media Centre, Singapore


Pokémon Go is the biggest phenomenon of late that has undoubtedly taken the world by storm. Not that the technology employed is all that new. Not that other brands have never tried to capitalise on the platform. Not that Augmented Reality is all that current to warrant a novelty following.

So why the sudden surge of success?

Pokémon Go is not necessarily unique, but it offers important lessons to the publishing industry.
Pokémon Go is not necessarily unique, but it offers important lessons to the publishing industry.

Wikipedia defines AR as “a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics, or GPS data.”

In 2010, I was made aware of an AR concept and application by Dentsu Japan (introduced to me by its Singapore office) called iButterfly.

Intrigued by how this technology-led solution had the potential to sexify newspaper advertising and enable interactivity leading to an enhanced level of consumer engagement, we collaborated with the agency and introduced iButterfly to a series of advertisers.

We were hoping to secure a campaign where readers of our titles can be enthused to open up the app on their smartphones, hunt for virtual butterflies, and be rewarded with coupons, vouchers, and more.

Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to secure a significant commitment. Brand owners to a large extent would rather adopt a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to a new technology.

Over the years, many brands have experimented with AR in newspapers but without the resounding success Pokémon Go enjoys today. One might ask, what went wrong initially? Was it something that was way ahead of its time? Could it be that the business model used to push out the application was too narrowly oriented to enable mass consumer participation?

I guess it was too idealistic for us to think that a host of generic geo-seeded “butterflies” without any established brand linked to it could be powerful enough to secure a cult following.

Six years down the road after our effort of touting iButterfly, Pokémon Go hit town and was reported to have brought market value gains to US$7.5 billion in just two days! The game, which brings together a 20-year-old franchise with AR, empowers players to traverse real-life neighbourhoods, tracking down virtual Pokémon characters.

This hype came way after investors turned their attention away from AR more than two years ago and started to pump big bucks into Virtual Reality. AR today is focused more on head-mounted hardware devices such as Meta, Magic Leap, and Microsoft’s Hololens. However, Pokémon Go has clearly demonstrated that its popularity and worldwide acceptance and participation does not depend merely on new hardware.

The success of Pokémon Go must be attributed to the ideas linked to the game play and the fact that the audiences across the globe are playing the game based on basic AR experiences seen and interacted through the lens of the smartphone camera.

It was also the willingness of three companies, namely Niantic, Pokémon Company, and Nintendo, to come together to collaborate and make it a winner!

But rather than sit on the sidelines and go green with envy at the big bucks the owners of Pokémon Go are reaping, we as media owners and publishers should objectively look upon the situation and ask ourselves what we can learn from it.

For one, it has reinforced my belief that trying to grow our businesses organically is an antiquated, old-fashioned stratagem that needs to be buried once and for all, never ever to be dug up again.

Never before has “collaboration” been more important than the present day, and companies must be able to openly admit that they do not have all the capabilities required to be successful on their own. Partnering up with the right strategic solutions providers to enable new business models and share in the spoils is the way to go.

Pokémon Go has also confirmed for me the dangers of over-relying on new software and hardware to future-proof our businesses. More importantly, it’s the big idea that is the key to our success blueprint.

This, combined with the relevant technology (not necessarily the latest), are the ingredients that will bring in the results. Pokémon Go, as we know, only harnesses entry level AR and geo-location capabilities to provide engagement and interactive experiences to millions of fans.

Now with the proliferation of Pokémon Go in more than 30 countries and growing, the question remains: Can publishers capitalise on this to drive toward their own goals and targets? Being the indomitable optimist that I am, my answer is yes!

Pokémon Go has already educated the world’s public on the user experience. There is absolutely no reason we cannot latch on to this and offer our subscribers and readers value-added elements in terms of vouchers and coupons virtually seeded as “Pokémon” equivalents (carrying our brand name), ready to be accessed via an AR app interface on smartphones and tablets.

In addition, advertisers can be enticed to increase their commitments with our titles in return for these virtual geo-placed embellishments that will, in turn, deliver a higher ROI for them.

It all boils down to the question: Do we dare to try, or do we wait and see? With this blog piece going out to publishers the world over, let’s see who the innovative companies are that will come through for the win.

About Geoff Tan

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