Augmented Reality: What the heck is Pokémon Go, and why is it Important?

Industry news

Imagine being able to see how a couch would fit in your living room before actually buying it, or being able to see which sunglasses suit your face or which clothes look good on you without physically trying anything on. Augmented reality, or AR is here, and it’s promising to shake up the way big business, small business and Not For Profits communicate with their target audiences and promote their products, services and causes.

Just over a month ago, the world was turned on its head with the launch of Pokémon Go, an adaptation of the 1990’s game, animated cartoon and media franchise, Pokémon. Put simply, Pokémon Go is a game played on smartphones that involves catching a variety of cartoon figures called Pokémon. Players visit landmarks and pinpointed locations to find Pokémon and equipment used to catch them called Pokéballs. The game is overlaid on Google Maps, and players are tracked in space and time using their smartphone’s GPS and clock. With 151 species of Pokémon available, the game encourages players to travel far and wide at all hours of the day to ‘catch them all’.

What makes Pokémon Go so significant is its status as the first instance of AR that has achieved mainstream success. For many years, the computer science field has been trying to demonstrate that AR is ready for people. With its users spending an average of 43 minutes per day on the app (more than Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter), and with more than 125 million installations (and counting), Pokémon Go has proved that people are ready for AR.

So what does this all mean for big business, small business and Not-For-Profits?

Firstly, this means new opportunities to market products to customers, to advertise to audiences and to draw attention to worthwhile causes. Secondly, it opens up the opportunity for organisations to use AR to create real, lasting value for their consumers and supporters.

This all begins with understanding AR and how it differs from other digital technologies such as virtual reality (VR). While the two are similar in some aspects, there is something inherently different about AR, and that is its ability to blend virtual content and real life. While on one hand VR is a fully immersive experience that isolates people from their real surroundings to place them into a completely new virtual world, on the other, AR gives people the power to interact with virtual objects or characters within the framework of their own real surroundings. It’s about enhancing what already exists by intertwining virtual elements that might be missing in a specific situation within physical reality. This is one of the reasons why Snapchat’s AR feature is so popular, with users playing with different visual effects to transform ordinary videos into shareable stories.

Dozens of businesses and organisations are already using the power of AR to promote their products, services and causes, with McDonald’s Japan the first to tap into the Pokémon Go craze by partnering up with the app’s creators to include 3,000 of its restaurants the game, in turn driving customers to branches. Small businesses are also cashing in, purchasing lures to attract Pokémon and boost foot-traffic for less than $24 per day. Not-For-Profit organisation Greenpeace Brazil has also used Pokémon Go as a means of raising awareness towards endangered species in the Amazon rainforest, tweeting, “Butterfree (a type of Pokémon) is not endangered, but in the heart of the Amazon, 302 species of butterflies are.”

Outside Pokémon Go, we have seen AR integrated into apps such as the Museum of London’s “Street Museum”, which incorporated the museum’s extensive photo, painting and illustration collections and used AR to overlay these images on a user’s physical location, allowing them to see what the area looked like 50 years ago. The app exceeded its goal of 5,000 downloads by 25 times, and even tripled visitation. Similarly, stationery brand BIC used AR to address the move from traditional drawing and colouring to mobile games as the main form of kids entertainment. The company’s “BIC®Kids DrawyBook” app lets children bring their drawings on paper to life with the magic of AR.

Examples such as these highlight the power of AR, with the mainstream adoption of the technology offering a world of opportunities to media producers, marketers, publicists, and anyone with a story to tell. However, for AR’s potential to be fully realised, organisations need to stop themselves from hastily developing AR-based apps, and instead focus on better understanding how their target audiences can interact with the technology, and in turn, add real value.

Pokémon Go was able to achieve the success it did because it gave people the opportunity to interact with others in the physical world, while tapping into a sense of adventure and nostalgia (for older users) and coupling this with new technology. Now it is up to marketers, publicists and organisations to follow its example by finding ways to integrate AR into their campaigns, so that it not only encourages target audiences to take a particular action, but at the same time enhances their lives –making them easier, more fun and more convenient.