Yesterday, as I was walking back from lunch, a middle-aged businessman stopped in front of me and took a picture of a dumpster with his smartphone — or at least that’s how it must have appeared to those uninitiated into the world of Pokémon Go. But I knew better, for at that moment, I happened to be playing the game myself. The businessman finished capturing his Pokémon, looked up at me and smiled sheepishly before scurrying off in pursuit of his next digital quarry. That’s when it occurred to me: The world of local marketing has fundamentally changed.
For those of you who have yet to play the game (and as such, still have some semblance of control over your life), let me give you a brief rundown of the magical app that has kids, teenagers and adults alike lurking in nearby parks after midnight just to catch a few extra Pokémon.
The freemium game uses your phone’s GPS and camera to turn the real world into a digitally augmented world teeming with wild Pokémon. To get started, you’ll need a smartphone and a good pair of walking shoes, because you’re going to have to leg some miles. After downloading the app, players (called “trainers”), wander aimlessly through urban jungle and countryside alike in search of little digital monsters known as Pokémon.
You use the map on your smartphone to navigate, and as soon as you feel your phone buzz, look alive, because a Pokémon or a location of interest is nearby. If you corner a Pokémon (or should I say, if you walk toward them), the screen on your smartphone, with the help of your phone’s camera, will seemingly project the digital creature onto the physical world. Move the camera on your phone side to side, and the creature will remain fixed to a given spot. Then, in a quasi-Fruit-Ninja move, you proceed to flick Poké Balls at the creature on your screen to capture it.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting — at least from a local marketing standpoint. The game includes places called PokéStops (where users can stock up on accessories and tools needed in-game) and Gyms (places where users go to train their captured Pokémon and fight them against other players). These virtual locations are paired with actual real-world landmarks. These real-world landmarks could be anything — a graffiti mural on a wall, a large tree in a park or the friendly confines of your local McDonald’s. See what I’m getting at?