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How do you get brands onto a bandwagon? Pokémon…

Miles Freeman, Account Manager at Lexis Agency, discusses why brands should think carefully before riding a cultural bandwagon.


Not for a moment do I doubt the potential that Pokémon Go offers the marketing and communications industry. It’s a game-changing application of augmented reality (AR) and possibly one of the best opportunities yet to target ‘millennials’, an audience that typically rejects direct advertising or more established marketing methods. Already some big brands have successfully harnessed it as a marketing platform but my question is whether jumping on this, or any other cultural bandwagon (‘brandwagon’ anyone?) is an effective and sustainable way to reach consumers.

We’ve all seen the videos of Pokémon Go’ers scrambling over each other to find a rare ‘Vaporeon’ Pokémon that sprang up in Central Park, NYC (if not – here you go). Global appetite appears infinite and the apps momentum seems unstoppable. But are we acting naively in assuming this will continue – we all know that fads can fade as fast as they grow.

Certainly there are brands where utilising the platform is a no-brainer. McDonalds Japan has seen a significant uplift in sales after it partnered with the games’ developers, turning 3,000 restaurants into ‘Pokémon Gyms’. This success, however, can’t be replicated with ease. Like most bandwagons – there isn’t room for everyone.

Every company, every product, has a brand goal and a strategy for how it’s going to get there. The temptation is often to view bandwagons as faster and more lucrative ways to achieve that goal. But that isn’t always the case.

So where do we, the communication industry, fit into this debate? Well we’re the bastions of cultural trends, right? It’s our job to recommend to our clients which cultural currencies they should be buying into – and which ones they shouldn’t. The vast majority of investors look for long-term options as it often yields a greater return, and it’s no different for brand fame.

The current success of AR apps certainly validates the importance of investing in progressive technologies to engage and entertain customers. But, brands shouldn’t rush to capitalise on this and risk compromising its own brand messaging. Anyone else a little confused by Mercedes’ recent partnership with Pokémon Go to lure players to dealerships?

Whatever the outcome for Pokémon Go, it’s clear this is still early days for advertising and marcomms in the VR and AR arena. There is an immense opportunity for the strategic application of the technology but brands must consider carefully before they jump onto the bandwagon. I guess my advice on embracing these ‘brandwagons’ goes against that of the Pokémon motto: “You haven’t gotta catch ‘em all!”