The Marketing Behind Pokémon GO

Why you shouldn’t be surprised this mobile game’s a runaway hit.

The Marketing Behind Pokémon GOEven if you don’t play video games, you’ve heard about Pokémon GO. Thanks to social media, this mobile game’s pretty inescapable – from friends and family posting screen caps of their in-game exploits to article after article of the good (1, 2, 3), bad, and amusing.

More than one piece marveled that Pokémon GO achieved its success with little to no marketing. The problem with this assertion? It isn’t entirely true.

A conventional advertising, public relations, or social media campaign didn’t precede the launch. Instead, marketing was built into Pokémon GO from the start – with an eye toward maximizing almost two decades of fan interest and engagement. 

Disclaimer: This is an exercise in armchair marketing. I have no inside knowledge or affiliation with Pokémon GO developer Niantic or The Pokémon Company. The better part of a decade I spent marketing anime and manga does come into play.

Marketing factors that shaped Pokémon Go.

An idea that taps into the original property’s essence + novel technology.

The Pokémon franchise centers around the idea of catching and cataloging different species of Pokémon, nurturing them, and then participating in Pokémon vs. Pokémon battles. Its hundreds of fictional species vary in power and temperament. They also are frequently cute. Many – if not most – Pokémon fans have thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to catch and train Pokémon for real?

The technology Niantic utilizes for Pokémon GO was originally developed and fine-tuned for its game IngressUnlike much of the virtual and augmented reality currently available to consumers, Niantic’s technology doesn’t require expensive hardware. The right app on a relatively recent, GPS-enabled smartphone allows you to “see” game elements on-screen as you aim your phone’s camera at a real-life location. (Time to catch some Pokémon!)

Leveraging a powerful brand & the 20 years of marketing that built it.

The multimedia Pokémon franchise spans video games, trading card games, comics (manga), children’s books, multiple animated (anime) series and movies, toys, apparel, merchandise, and special events and tournaments.

Although the brand’s visibility and popularity did level off from its phenomenal heights of the late 1990s and early 2000s, it never went away and is still a consistent seller.

Identifying Pokémon GO’s potential audience & its overlapping segments.

One of the most important questions to ask when you’re creating a product or service is a marketing question: “Who is going to want, use, and support this?” For Pokémon GO, this target audience includes:

  • Current fans of video games, cartoons, comics, trading card and tabletop games, and anime and manga. (If these fans happen to be parents, many actively share their hobbies with their children in an age-appropriate way.)
  • Fans who were around for the franchise’s first round of U.S. success. Today, many of those early fans are parents or regularly interact with children. And many have introduced the kids in their lives to Pokémon.
  • Individuals for whom Pokémon was a step toward exploring the worlds of video games and anime.
  • Fans whose interest in the franchise has waned. (Even then, many are still likely to have nostalgia for the Pokémon property and its characters.)

Understanding how potential audience members behave & engage with one another.

Niantic and The Pokémon Company know that these fans turn to social media and special events specifically for the purpose of interacting with others who share their same interests.

  • They are early adopters who are active on social media and are mostly up-to-date with the latest tech gadgets.

Pokémon GO gives its players one more way to interact with fellow fans in the real and virtual worlds. It also receives the benefit of fan-driven social promotion, as players flock to the Internet to post their latest in-game “captures” and organize real-life gatherings.

Then there are peripheral audiences, like savvy local businesses who actively host events, place lures, and capitalize on their in-game status as a PokéStop or gym to draw players to their real-life locations. (Flipside: If you don’t want to be a stop or gym, you can tell Niantic here.)

Carrying all of above through into Pokémon GO’s actual mechanics & gameplay.

Matthew Lynley does an awesome job breaking this down in his article at TechCrunch.

Yeah… There’s no marketing here. SO MUCH marketing!

Are you playing Pokémon GO? Do you have any insights or questions?

Let me know via Twitter, Facebook, or email!


“Pokeball” icon by Mateus Leal, via The Noun Project.