What do you do when you have a viral game that encourages players to walk around streets and parks? Sell ads, of course.
The developer of Pokémon Go said it will soon accept sponsored partnerships to make certain locations appear more prominently in the mobile game that has taken the country by storm.
The move to make even more money off this juggernaut makes sense given just how popular the game has become. Since its July 6 launch, it has become the biggest mobile game in history, as measured by daily active users. It now has more than Twitter, and people are spending more time on it than on Facebook. And the Wall Street Journal reported that advertising companies have been reaching out to Niantic to figure out how to get their clients in on the game.
Until the official partnerships start, some businesses that are already PokéStops — places in the game where players can find Pokémon and in-game items — have taken it upon themselves to do a little unofficial promotion. Players in the game can buy an item called a "lure," which increases the number of cartoon monsters that appear in the game — critters that players have to physically track down to level up in the app. Lures last 30 minutes. For about $10, you can buy enough lures to keep people coming to your store for four hours.
A pizzeria in Brooklyn used this tactic to draw in more customers and saw business jump by 75 percent, according to the New York Post. Washington's own Politics and Prose bookshop put down lures to draw players Tuesday evening, said Jon Purves, the store's director of marketing and publicity. The store itself is a gym — a place in the game where players can battle for dominance — and a mural on the store's wall is also a dedicated PokéStop.
"It certainly did bring people by," Purves said. "All throughout the evening we were seeing lots of kids coming along, and lots of adults as well hang out on the mural." He said that, overall, the store spent about $5 to draw people in for the evening and that the store was happy with the return on its investment. Other nearby businesses, such as Comet Ping Pong, also benefited from the lure.
"We might be talking to them about shared lure opportunities" in the future, Purves said.
Catherine Kruta found out that her family’s bakery in Collinsville, Ill., was a PokéStop when she downloaded the game and started playing for herself.
Kruta Bakery started making Poké Ball cookies to cater to the extra customers coming to the shop. The bakery made four dozen on the first day and sold them all within three hours — very unusual, Kruta said, for decorated cookies. The next day, they made 10 dozen and sold out again. On Thursday, Kruta was just finishing up a batch of 30 dozen.
The bakery has seen a pretty good uptick in sales, she said. “On the first day, we sold out of almost everything by the end of the day. That’s unusual for a Tuesday.”
Not everyone is happy with the increased activity the game has caused. But the prospect of drawing even a part of the droves of players currently roaming the streets looking for the cartoon creatures has obvious appeal for businesses.
Niantic, the developer behind Pokémon Go, has tried this trick before with its other major gaming hit, Ingress. In the past, Jamba Juice and Zipcar have both paid the developer to make their locations key spots in that game's augmented-reality map.
Niantic did not respond to a request for comment on how sponsorships in Pokémon Go will work.
It's hard to say exactly how much businesses would make from such an agreement, but given the popularity of the game, it could certainly drive a lot of foot traffic to stores that embrace the game. That's crucial, particularly at a time when foot traffic to stores is on the decline — a recent study from RetailNext found that traffic to stores in June was down 8.9 percent from the same month last year.
Certain types of businesses may benefit more from increased customer traffic than others, said Georgetown University professor Betsy Page Sigman.
"You probably don’t want to do it if you're clothing shop — you don't want too many people going through your stock and handling things. The ideal thing would be an inexpensive food or candy shop," she said. "Even if you get 1 percent to buy something, you’d get a huge jump in your revenue."
For players, this means there will be more places to collect items and Pokémon. But it's also key to remember that promotional agreements can expire; Ingress players found that out when all of the Jamba Juice portals in that game disappeared at the same time.
Ingress has also tried other tie-ins, which Niantic may use as a template for other promotions. For example, it worked with Vodafone in Germany to develop a special plan just for the data-heavy game. That's a clear example of how a company can benefit from embracing the culture of the game audience it's trying to reach. Businesses looking to capitalize on Pokémon Go have plenty to draw from to signal they're in the know — they could hand out gym badges, cater to the in-game factions or host events for players to swap tips and go hunting together.
For example, Char Pizzeria in Peoria, Ariz., has a special promotion that gives uses a free pizza if they take over its gym using any of the Pokémon with "Char" at the start of their names: Charizard, Charmeleon or Charmander.
In many cases, businesses are figuring out how to tap into the craze by asking their own employees who happen to be playing the game. Ashley LeFevre, a cashier at Peters' Bakery in San Jose, said another employee has been spearheading its efforts to draw in the Pokémon crowd — and has been the one defending the bakery's gym for her own favorite faction in the game, Team Instinct.
Even if you don't have a storefront, there are still ways Pokémon Go can help you financially. TaskRabbit, the gig-economy darling that allows people to hire others for small tasks, has officially said it will help people find Pokémon.
— TaskRabbit (@TaskRabbit) July 13, 2016
Presumably, that means being comfortable enough with whomever you hire to give them access to your account so they can catch in your name — and get all the benefits of exercise and social interaction for you as well.
Some might say that misses the point of the game. But, hey, to each their own.