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Smoking is BACK! Or, The 5 Reasons Pokémon GO is so Powerful

By Rick Kiley, Co-Founder of SoHo Experiential

“Gotta light?”

There was a time in my life when those two words were all that was needed to break down the nerve-wracking barrier of actually speaking to a stranger. With words. Out of your mouth. In a world before tinder and text messages; in a world before you could digitally engage with people with such anonymous ease, you had to open your mouth and therefore risk seeing someone respond negatively to what you had to say. During this time of my life, call it my “pre-responsible phase” of adulthood, I smoked. Not a ton, but enough to occasionally ask for a light. Of course I knew the cigarettes were bad. They are terrible. In fact, I’ve always hated cigarettes…but I loved smoking. I loved the people and the immediate bond and acceptance I felt with others. We shared a common interest, spoke a common language, and reflected a sense of belonging in each other.

In July of this year, Pokémon Go stormed onto the scene. By tapping into millennial nostalgia and executing a cute and “share-worthy” augmented reality tool, Niantic (creators of Pokémon Go) shattered records for downloads and Daily Active Users. Furthermore, they created a very intuitive digital app that crosses over into the real world in a meaningful way.

Why meaningful? Because Pokémon Go is just like smoking – because Pokémon Go offers a world where users share a common interest, speak a common language, and reflect a sense of belonging in each other.

Here’s why it matters, and what those who create live or digital engagements should keep in mind if they wish to replicate its success:


1. Pokémon Go brings people together in the real world

People once worked together on manufacturing lines, and now we all sit in front of computer terminals. People need other people, and as we become more digitally dialed in, the opportunities to work and congregate together are rarer.

Many apps are building critical mass based on the notion of avoiding human contact. Ever use Seamless Web or another food delivery service? They run subway ads that say “Over 8 million people in New York and we help you avoid them all.” It’s successful because people don’t want to actually speak to someone and place a delivery order. Pokémon Go does the opposite.

Users actually want to engage with each other, go on “Poke-dates”, etc. It’s as if once people are out of their home (and pajamas), a whole big world opens up to them. Then they pop a lure on a Poke-Stop, and they meet other people trying to “catch them all.” They actually talk to each other. And seem to enjoy it!

2. Pokémon Go offers immediate belonging

To feel like we belong is a biological necessity. I spent much of my young life trying to figure out where I fit in (It’s probably why I smoked), and today still think about this when the circumstances dictate it. Anyone who picks up Pokémon Go belongs.

It only took seeing my son engage with others on the street with a simple gesture towards a mobile phone and the two words “Pokémon Go?” to see the power in that sense of belonging that I haven’t seen since saying “Gotta light?”

With a simple nod of the head, my son and this stranger have forged a relationship and spin into a discussion about levels, teams, and most powerful characters. I’ve witnessed this many times – not once has the response been “bug off.”

It’s a welcoming group; a group that shares a common interest, speaks a common language, and reflects a sense of belonging in each other.

3. Pokémon Go fits into life without changing it

Pokémon Go requires you to walk around and catch Pokémon. Normally, when I walk around, I’m doing something passive (anything from thinking, or listening to music), but certainly not playing a game, or trying to achieve anything. I suppose what I’m saying is – I don’t feel like I’m giving anything up to play – because the gaming has fit into a time of my life where I’m not trying to achieve anything other than get from point A to point B. There is genius in the idea that the experience fits into life pretty easily.

4. Pokémon Go is a level playing field for new users and fans of the Pokémon franchise

I didn’t know thing one about Pokémon before downloading Pokémon Go. Other than Pikachu, I couldn’t tell you one character name. Were it not for my curiosity resulting from all the press at its launch I never would have even tried it. But, I did. Now I, a 42 year-old man, play Pokémon Go with regularity. I mostly keep up with it because my kids enjoy it, but I’d be lying if I didn’t confess to finding it compelling myself.

There are no head starts in Pokémon Go. Everyone begins on equal footing, and what users get out of it is entirely dependent on what they choose to put in.

5. Pokémon Go is addictive (sound like anything else?)

Confession time. Our trainer (I say “our” because it’s my kids’ and mine), is at level 21. We’ve incubated 82 eggs and caught 923 Pokémon. Even with all the time invested in it, the world is so large that it seems like there is always something to do next. New updates to gameplay ensure this, but it’s still a pretty impressive feat.

The qualities of Pokémon Go are ingredients for a very powerful recipe to engage and connect with people in a memorable and sustainable way. No matter what client we work with, no matter what story we are telling, and no matter how we are engaging people, we should use the questions, which Pokémon Go answers in the affirmative, as a litmus test.

  • Is what we are creating compelling enough that people will want to engage over and over and over again?
  • Are we bringing people together (ideally in the real world)?
  • Are we being open and welcoming, rather than exclusionary?
  • Does what we create cause people to give up something they do already, or not?
  • Are there low barriers to entry, so that anyone can enjoy, no matter what the relationship with the brand, franchise or property?

Answer yes to these questions, and I’d wager you’ll be on a winning path – like when you incubate a 10km egg, and find yourself with a powerful Snorlax.