PUBLIC Speaking: Lessons in Engagement from Pokémon Go

Nintendo/Niantic’s new baby Pokémon Go is getting more press than Kim and Kanye’s latest offspring. In the few weeks since its launch, the augmented reality (AR) app has broken all sorts of records and quickly rivaled more established apps (Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook) for number of active users and time spent on any given platform. It is the ultimate success story – doubling Nintendo’s market value nearly overnight – and has both corporates and non-profits scratching their heads to figure out how they can play in this augmented universe.

You can breathe a sigh of relief – you do not necessarily need your own ‘Pokémon Go’ strategy. Even though designing an AR experience sounds pretty awesome, you need to first determine what forms of engagement best align with your organization and resonate with your target.

So, the question we need to be asking ourselves is not “what’s our version of Pokémon Go” but rather “what factors are driving its success”. It’s these learnings that are applicable across sectors and hold important lessons about engagement for businesses and non-profits.

If you do have a cause to invest, virtual reality – a close relative of AR – has proven to be a very powerful story telling medium for brands and non-profits alike (see here, here, and here).


It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that one of the demographics primarily responsible for Pokémon Go’s early success is the original ‘Pokémon Target’ from the late 1990’s – millennials. The augmented reality platform speaks directly to this cohorts desire to meaningfully engage with brands that understand who they are and offer personalized experiences. The hard play at nostalgia doesn’t hurt either.

The takeaway here is not “target millennials” but rather, identify the target with whom your cause/offering will resonate most strongly and develop your engagement around an insight that speaks directly to their interests, behaviours, desires and fears.


The success of Pokémon Go is illustrative of the fact that we now, without a doubt live in an ‘experience economy’ – an economy where consumers are interested in buying experiences from brands, not only for entertainment purposes, but because it provides a really powerful opportunity to tell a story about who we are (at least publically).

In the world of social purpose, we’ve heavily relied on telling people about an issue, our mission, and (hopefully) our impact but not necessarily letting them experience it. We have inundated them with requests to sign petitions, RT our calls to action, or buy a goat and as a result ‘cause consumers’ are becoming increasingly skeptical and desensitized to our asks.

But by designing experiences that help straddle the divide and show our audiences the change they have helped (or can help) enable, we can:
• Create content with strong ‘market value’, offering both organization and audience a powerful, shareable narrative
• Establish loyal followers that feel more deeply connected to your issue or brand


Pokémon Go has become the most successful foray a video game manufacturer has made into the area of mobile gaming, not to mention AR mobile gaming. This is hugely significant. While the technology and experience is pretty novel (at least from a mass consumer standpoint), what – in my opinion – really jumps out is a conscious move away from a gaming station.

The move here is brilliantly strategic – why spend dollars both building and advertising new consoles when there’s a ready-made platform that people already use for hours and hours per day? The opportunity for potential engagement on smartphones is exorbitantly higher than relying on console (and game) sales given that 6.1 billion people around the world are slated to have them by 2020.

While it’s still early days for Pokémon Go, and more findings will continue to reveal themselves as the app grows out of its infancy, a preliminary look at the factors underlying its wild success highlight a few learnings that those of us working in the social purpose would be well served to keep in mind when thinking about engagement.

Bottom line: If you want to move people, truly move people, lead with a compelling insight and experience… They’ll do the rest.

Caleigh Farrell is a Research Strategist at PUBLIC. Follow her on Twitter @caleighashton.

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