Did you know that the media franchise we all call Pokemon is 21-years-old?

Well the nineties favourite has just reinvigorated itself with the launch of Pokemon GO.

If you haven’t already seen, Pokemon GO is the new joint venture between The Pokemon Company, Nintendo and Niantic, Inc. that has reprised the original Pokemon game into a smartphone-only, augmented reality experience.

The app already has more active users than Twitter, despite it only being officially released in Australia, New Zealand and USA. 

Instead of the brand languishing at the bottom of a nostalgic refuse collection, this merger of legacy brand and storytelling with new platforms and technology has created AR’s first killer app.

And there are a number of lessons that can be learned regarding how brands should be thinking about their digital transformation.

Stop being romantic about the past

Pokemon GO is a perfect mix of something users care about, with something that is relevant today. 

The asset that is the Pokemon franchise is extremely valuable and it’s as evident today as it was two decades ago.

However, this product could only be executed because Nintendo got out of its own way.

The company has famously resisted smartphone games as mobile inherently devalues the intellectual property that it owns. 

However, now it is finally listening to the market as it relates to the business of casual gaming and the results are clear.

Much has been made of Nintendo’s 58% increase in stock price ($11bn+) since last Tuesday’s launch.

However, the increase isn’t just because this game promises to make that much in revenue; rather Nintendo is realising that in a mobile-driven world, it needs to focus on being an IP licensor rather than just a game maker, as analyst Ben Thompson explains:

The potential that Nintendo has truly woken up to is the latent value in its intellectual property and it is poised to take advantage of mobile’s scale in a far more effective way than anyone thought possible.

New technology needs brand, storytelling and good use cases

This is not the first ever AR experience. It isn’t even the first AR game by Niantic, the creator of the technology that used to be incubated in Google and is now part owned by Nintendo and The Pokemon Group.

However, it is the first to get this degree of success.

While the emphasis in many digital transformation efforts has been around the technology that needs to be created and integrated, the value of brand should not be underestimated in not only creating relevant experiences, but even making new technology commonplace.

Google Glass has struggled to become anything more than a fringe accessory for users in very specific circumstances, yet users of Pokemon GO are happily engaging in augmented reality, as are users of Snapchat via its filters and lenses.

The difference with Pokemon and Snapchat is that AR is simply a byproduct of engaging with a brand and narrative that users are already invested in, rather than the focal point of the product.

This might be the way forward for legacy companies - resurrecting much-loved characters and brands to create meaningful experiences that are enhanced by new technology.

Double down on the strength of your brand and collaborate for the tech  

As mentioned previously, Pokemon GO is a three-way venture between Nintendo, The Pokemon Company and Niantic. 

The technology that powers the game was created in 2010 by Niantic, which went on to release AR-based games in 2012 (The Field Trip) and 2013 (Ingress).

Rather than Nintendo attempting to create the same capabilities from scratch, inside a culture that has been historically anti-mobile, it made far more sense to invest in the technology startup and work together to build the game.

In fact, one reason for the relatively rapid turnaround (the app took around 10 months to develop) is because it was built off the back of the Ingress game's infrastructure, but with Pokemon IP.

While most businesses don’t have the spare cash to invest in AR startups, it is entirely possible to outsource and/or partner with a technology specialist to handle what they know best.

This way, brands are free to focus on how their IP can be reimagined in a new world.

What's next?

Now all of this doesn’t mean Nintendo is saved: Pokemon GO could still be just a fad, albeit one of viral proportions. 

Making money out of mobile games is notoriously hard, but the fact that it is both the most downloaded and top grossing app on iTunes bodes well.

Moreover, if history is a reliable teacher, only 1%–2% of users will actually go on to make in-app purchases; are there other ways to monetise Pokemon GO?  

Also, is this success something that can be duplicated for Nintendo’s other brands and franchises?

Only time will tell. However, what is clear is that in this fringe case of nostalgia meeting augmented reality, a path for digital transformation has appeared in the quest to catch ‘em all.

Bola Awoniyi

Published 12 July, 2016 by Bola Awoniyi @ Econsultancy

Bola Awoniyi is a Digital Consultant at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

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Comments (9)

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Alasdair Graham

Alasdair Graham, Head of Online Marketing at Shout Digital

RE the other ways of monetizing pokemon GO - they'll likley make a lot on 'physical' products (e.g. toys etc like Angry Birds) Perhaps more interestingly though, what if businesses can use pokemon Go to attract customers to their physical store fronts. For example cafes/toy stores using the 'lure' function to bring people to pokestops near their storefront. Beyond this, what if a store could 'pay' to become a pokestop to increase their footfall? Exciting times indeed!

about 2 years ago


Naomi Brown, Digital Advertising Manager at Wex Photographic

It could get really interesting if brands were allowed to pay to get pokemon in their stores - imagine if there was a pokemon in every McDonalds - would they be able to turn that footfall into sales? They must be looking at that in terms of monetisation.

about 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff

Alasdair, Naomi - I believe this is the image you're looking for :)

about 2 years ago

Alasdair Graham

Alasdair Graham, Head of Online Marketing at Shout Digital

I suppose that's one way to do it! Think i'd go more with a "10% discount for team Valour members" angle over the "No kids" sign!

about 2 years ago

Bola Awoniyi

Bola Awoniyi, Digital Consultant at EconsultancyStaff

Ben - Maddening!

Alasdair & Naomi - The idea of physical locations/brands effectively acting as some kind of in-game sponsor in ways you have both described would be very interesting and not necessarily difficult, as it could be done on a self-serve basis like Snapchat's geo-filters. However, having played the game, I can tell you that although the lure function did get me to go to certain locations, not only did I not enter the nearby stores, I didn't even look up from my phone.

There is possibly something in in-game sponsoring. Whether it will actually provide a return for brands, or whether Nintendo will feel compelled to actually do it, given its not really been part of their business model remains to be seen.

about 2 years ago


Merrily Chopp, Marketing at PINT, Inc.

Its amazing the breadth of ideas this game has inspired. The connections you've made are smart ones. I posted about some web presence/web development ideas we can take from Pokemon Go, if you're interested in comparing notes :-)

about 2 years ago


Candace Robinson, Product Manager at Dell

Great post Bola! Pokemon Go is going to change how brands interact with users in ways we couldn't have predicted. The affects this AR game is having on brick and mortar stores today is already creating all sorts of interesting opportunities and threats as mentioned in the comments below.

As I have a special place in my heart for nonprofits, I'm particularly interested to see if any of them jump on the bandwagon or effectively harness this tidal wave of interaction.

about 2 years ago

Anthony Leaton

Anthony Leaton, Freelance at Emarketing Manager

It depends on how it evolves - and what Nintendo do next. Right now its a fad so people are on it. But hey, I guess you are going to get bored going past the same pokestops and catching the same pokemons going to and from work.

The main question is how are they going to gamify it - using events in real life places but with seasonal themes (as used in WoW and OaC).

There are great ways to monetize it. I guess paying for very rare or high level pokemons at places is a way to get real life visits.

Charity Pokestops and live music / cultural events?

Let's see

about 2 years ago

David Sealey

David Sealey, Head of Digital Consulting at CACI

Thanks Bola. Great write up on what I believe is one of the most significant digital transformations that I can think of!

about 2 years ago

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