Pokémon Go Will Soon Tell You Where To Go

Danielle Beurteaux

Chances are you’ve run into a Pokémon Go zombie sometime recently (if you’re not sure, some of the players might be wearing yellow onesies). The free augmented reality game, which hit over 7 million downloads in less than a week, was first released in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand, and then 35 other markets—but without a key component. It has now been released in Japan (which saw reports of the first Pokémon-related accident mere hours post-release) with that missing feature.

That feature is advertising.

The game’s first ad partner is McDonald’s. More than 2,500 McDonald’s restaurants are now attracting players to play and order fast food. That’s some foot traffic.

Businesses in earlier markets have already been leveraging the game’s popularity with “lure modules,” or in-app purchases. Brand tie-ins were launched almost immediately to create “retail theater,” a potential boon for stores in environments like malls with declining foot traffic

But Go game developer Niantic has bigger plans for its runaway hit.

Companies will pay to be “sponsored locations” on maps that lead players from one Pokémon to another as they try to catch them. Game developer Nintendo has already done this with another game,  partnering with Duane Reade, Jamba Juice, and ZipCar. Partner companies are charged for every visit made by a gamer, and store locations as well as products will be inserted in the game in a way “that adds value to the game rather than detracts,” according to one shareholder.

Pokémon Go seems to have done what other attempts at digital advertising have so far failed at almost completely—getting people to physically enter and spend money at brick-and-mortar locations.

App advertising simply hasn’t taken off yet. Research from mobile analytics company AppsFlyer reveals some interesting numbers about global in-app spending. For example, only 5.2 percent of users make in-app purchases, and they spend relatively small amounts. North American users spend more than their counterparts in Europe and Asia.

Other apps are looking to innovate advertising technology to increase revenue. For example, social media photo-sharing service Snapchat recently filed a patent for technology that recognizes images in users’ photos. One potential use-case is to link identified images with advertising—the patent filing includes the example of a shot of a cup of coffee triggering a coupon offer for a nearby cafe.

Foursquare president Steven Rosenblatt says that “location intelligence and real-world foot traffic data” is developing into a big market, and more companies will be looking to that technology to attract customers and their wallets.

But there’s the risk of advertising overwhelm. For example, how will Pokémon Go players react if too many of those sought-after trophies lead them to yet another store? So far, they don’t seem to mind. According to New York two players interviewed by Bloomberg, they’d be fine with it, if it’s done well.

Want more marketing insight from Pokémon Go? Read 5 Things Pokémon Go Taught Me About The Future Of Marketing.

Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.