In the summer of 2016, pedestrians on New York’s Fifth Avenue encountered crowds of (mostly young) people, hastily running into Central Park, smartphones in hand, shouting out Pokémon names and cross-street locations. Within days of its release on July 6, 2016, Pokémon Go, an app that brought the 1990s gaming craze to virtual life, became a phenomenon. Its 40 million daily active users (at its peak) surpassed those of Tinder, Snapchat, and Twitter and created a level of in-app engagement that Facebook could only envy. It took complete control of the commutes, lunch breaks, and social gatherings of legions of people around the world. Intent on “catching” Pokémon in the wild, gamers thronged into museums, streets, even Arlington National Cemetery.
Although the Pokémon Go fad now has predictably faded, it holds important lessons for companies intent on reaching and engaging consumers where they are, especially retailers: The game, the first truly social augmented reality (AR) experience, enthralled the new breed of omniconnected consumers as nothing else had done previously. Players not only shared an insider world where they could fight each other, but they also walked together and gathered at PokeStops in the middle of the night. The people who embraced the augmented reality of Pokémon Go live in a world where the line between real and digital is so blurred that they essentially became one and the same — constantly augmented and improved by invisible technologies. And they are hungry for better, more personalized experiences.