Pokemon GO reveals 5 important marketing truths you can’t underestimate

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Unless you’ve been living on another planet for the last several weeks, you’ve no doubt heard of the Pokemon GO craze that’s sweeping the globe. 50+ million downloads later, and people are still out walking the streets, through parks and even into closed spaces like stores and stations to throw a virtual PokeBall at virtual fictitious creatures.

It’s a powerful shift in the gaming world, and integrates many tech categories, including mobile, AR, GPS, and more.

But beyond the tech itself, what’s most interesting are the marketing implications. (What would a good fad be without in-app purchases, right?) And the Pokemon GO craze reveals some deep-seated marketing truths that should not be underestimated.

Never underestimate the power of brand bonds.
While Pokemon GO is a 2016 phenomenon, its roots go back more than 20 years, to the Pokemon game developed for the original GameBoy console by Nintendo. This collecting game centered around fictional creatures called Pokemon, and was a huge hit, eventually spinning off six generations of gaming updates and more than 700 “species” of Pokemon.

The original games captured the attention of young children and tweens prior to 2000 – the group we now fondly call millennials – and those children lived and breathed the games, the anime series and feature films. There’s a complete mythology that children became immersed in, memorized, and fantasized about as a result of all the media pushed out around the brand (not unlike some other franchises you may have heard of, like Star Wars or Harry Potter.) It’s no surprise, then, that when the brand resurfaces decades later with a new iteration, that the barriers to entry are virtually non-existent, and the familiar faces (who can resist a Pikachu?) bring back deeply embedded fond memories and feelings of a bygone youth.

Never underestimate the power of new technology
The tech involved with bringing Pokemon GO to market is pretty hefty, especially in its integration of several complex technologies into one robust platform. There’s a gaming component, of course – objectives, scoring, playing against others, battles in PokeGyms and reloads at PokeStops. There’s full mobile integration (iOS and Android compatible,) with GPS into a hyper-animated GoogleMaps application. And central to its appeal is the AR (augmented reality) built into the experience, that “hides” Pokemon into your normal environment when viewed through your device’s camera. Oh, and a wearable device for playing the game (line extension anyone?) is set to be released in September of 2016.

It should be noted that tech is at the heart of this whole thing, and that Niantic, the company who developed Pokemon GO, was at one time an internal Google startup that spun off (with $30 million in pledged investments) back in October of 2015, right around the time Google restructured as Alphabet.

Never underestimate the power of fads
It’s hard to resist the appeal of seeing scads of young people laughing, working together, laughing, running around the streets, laughing and having tons of fun. Did I mention laughing? Fads capture attention, typically of a specific group, and gain popularity due to their exciting or enticing nature. That is happening here on a grand – indeed a global – scale, and a great many participants have the Pokemon history to fall back on. To be noted, the Pokemon universe is rolling up new fans as a result of Pokemon GO’s popularity as well. Also of note is that fads typically don’t last – some turn into trends, and I suspect that we’ll see that in this case, because of the copycat phenomenon…see below.

Never underestimate the copycat syndrome
How many brands right now do you think are huddled in their war rooms, feverishly discussing the Pokemon GO craze and asking the inevitable question “how can OUR BRAND do something like this?” Naturally, when a craze sweeps the nation (and in this case, the developed world,) competitors and non-competitors alike recognize the opportunities and rush to develop their own versions to grab attention and attempt to capitalize on the appeal.

Once it becomes viable that there’s a WILLINGNESS on the part of millions of people to participate in a specific type of activity or behavior, brands rush in with their own versions. Expect to see at least a dozen new AR-oriented applications, games, and extensions within 6-18 months. Some may find traction (if they can bring their own appeal to the engagement,) but most will typically fail – either because the appeal will fall on deaf ears, or because the offering won’t be actually cool, or because it will become too overtly commercialized.

Never underestimate the power of community
One of the most critical elements of the Pokemon GO craze (and it was likely unintended,) is that it brings people together. You see groups of 2, 3, 4 or more people walking around with their phones and working together to find new Pokemon. They’re young, they’re laughing, and it looks like they’re having a great time. (Seriously, who wouldn’t want to be involved with that?)

This part of the phenomenon speaks to a deeper truth about consumers and brand adoption behaviors – we’re far more likely to adopt a brand if we think we can be affirmed or liked in some way as a result – especially by our peers. Pokemon GO has done that in a unique way: with the backdrop of a well-established brand familiarity, with the integration of emerging technologies and through the power and comfort of a large peer community.

So…if you’re one of those brands who are considering launching your own version of Pokemon GO, don’t underestimate these important elements. And more importantly, don’t OVERestimate the appeal of your brand to extend into this realm. If you’re gonna do it, do it right, and do it in context with what your consumers really want. After all, you gotta catch ‘em all!

 

The Curious Case of Apple and the FBI

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There’s a lot of talk going on right now in Silicon Valley about this case the FBI and Apple are grappling over: it’s an attempt to unlock the iPhone 5C of Syed Farook, the Pakistani-born terrorist who, along with his wife, killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California.

At the heart of the case is a request by the FBI, now filed into a court order, to impose upon Apple Computer to help the FBI unlock this device. As you know, iPhones can be locked with a numeric code, and after numerous attempts to unlock the device with the WRONG code, the software has a built-in “erase all” function. This is built into iOS, and it’s a protective device. The FBI is specifically requesting Apple to write NEW software that will override the built-in protections of iOS, so that the FBI can try 10 or 20 million different passcodes without erasing the contents of the device.

The first issue, of course, is how the FBI can’t figure out how to get into this device. You could probably throw a rock in Silicon Valley and find a dozen entry-level hackers that could circumvent the passcode to get into the device. How does the FBI not have 10 of these people on staff already?

Sure, the nature of this attack was awful, and would get even your garden-variety patriot up in arms about getting to the bottom of the crime, and especially finding out if anyone else was involved. It makes perfect sense, from an investigational perspective, to see what information that phone has on it.

However, I’m not sure that’s Apple’s responsibility. And as the Tim Cook-penned response indicated, it does set a dangerous precedent about privacy and the reach of government. He wrote:

“Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.”

But more than all that lofty ideology, this seems like a pretty cut-and-dry case of “it’s not our problem.”

In some sense, I think the FBI is confusing Apple with other tech giants like Google or Facebook. These companies DO have oodles of information about their users – usernames, passwords, location history and much more. But this is not the business Apple is in. Not by a long shot. They make their money on selling devices.

And that’s where I think this discussion hinges. All Apple did was sell a device to a consumer. What that consumer subsequently did with it is his business. Now, if that device was used in a horrible crime, (and that’s not a fact, but rather only an angle being pursued,) it certainly makes sense to see what information is on there. But how that is Apple’s responsibility seems, at the very least, confusing – if not downright dangerous.

From a brand perspective – this is a high-stakes game for Apple. If they capitulate (or are forced to,) then the risk of floodgates opening becomes a likely outcome – expect every country around the world (especially high-iPhone-penetrated countries like China and India,) to issue similar orders to the company.  And then expect similar orders to flood the executive offices of every technology company, social media company, e-commerce company and so on.

If Apple holds firm here, they could come off looking like heroes of privacy and vicars for establishing the boundaries between technology and civics. But at what cost? Is there a public backlash against the brand for “not cooperating in the war on terror?” Or is there a sentiment for honoring our rights to privacy that Apple would have stood steadfast to uphold?

This is dicey, indeed. And if I’m a brand manager for Apple, I would be constructing about 17 different contingency plans. Let’s stay tuned.

What happens in the sky might be solved in the cloud.

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At this point, nearly two weeks after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, the only certainty is the source of the next conspiracy theory.  We’ve heard every theory from hijacking to pilot suicide to computer hacking terrorism.  There’s no plane.  There’s no physical evidence.  There’s no group claiming responsibility.  And the worst part – there’s no concrete data to tell us where that plane was, where it was heading, or what might have gone wrong.  Some of the best thinking, not unsurprisingly, is being forwarded on WIRED.com.

Why is that?

It turns out that, as astounding an engineering feat it may be to get 30 tons of aluminum aloft and cruising at 500 mph, there really is not that much new “technology” in aviation.  Sure, there are on-board computers, there are advanced avionics systems, there’s radar and so on.  But in terms of how planes are tracked, the systems are still pretty crude.

In the United States, for instance, there can be upwards of 50,000 aircraft flying through the skies on any given day.  These are tracked through the air route traffic control centers (ARTCC) using basic radio frequencies.  A plane flying from New York to Los Angeles, for instance, is simply “handed off” from one ARTCC to the next, until it’s close enough to talk to the air traffic control tower (ATCT) at Los Angeles.  Along the way, they’re instructed on basic parameters:  what altitude to fly at, what heading to take and so on.  And flights heading across oceans don’t even have real-time contact:  they’re given a heading, an altitude, and they simply “check in” via high frequency radio with control centers that can be sometimes thousands of miles away.

When a plane crashes (a rare occurrence, in terms of probability,) or disappears (even less likely,) the investigation usually focuses on finding the “black box.”  The black box houses a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder.  These record all kinds of information about the flight, including the mechanical data, and the conversations between the cockpit and the towers.

Why not modernize the flight data recording and cockpit voice recordings into a more technologically advanced system?  For instance, why doesn’t every commercial flight have a real-time data stream to the cloud?  From the time a plane is at the gate, through takeoff and climb, flight routing, approach and landing, EVERYTHING can be uploaded in real-time to the cloud.

This would be big data indeed.  On the receiving end, interested parties (from the airplane manufacturers to airline system executives to airports,) can monitor that data for all kinds of information BEFORE anything happens.  Think of the advances that might be realized:

  • A real-time data stream can tell the pilots and the airline about on-the-ground conditions, such as tire pressures, tire wear (heck even your basic automobile can do that,) hydraulics systems, power systems, computer systems and more.
  • In-flight data streams can inform on other conditions like rate of burn on fuel, weather-related data (triangulated with the aircraft’s current heading and velocity,) best altitudes for certain legs, engine efficiency and diagnostics and even act as the precursor to ATC at arriving airports for more streamlined trafficking.  Every interested party could tap into segments of the data set for relevant and actionable information.
  • Imagine – if the real-time data recording detects any glitch whatsoever, the awaiting airport can have the appropriate crews ready to remedy the problem and get the plane back in the air sooner than later.  That’s good for the airline, and for impatient passengers.
  • With big data providing in-air information, manufacturers like Boeing and Airbus can have access to a wealth of information about their aircraft, providing a post-sale, ongoing flight test to make longer-term observations and in turn, inform their engineering teams with an up-to-the-moment feedback loop.
  • With big data, we could probably streamline airport efficiency as well. (Yay!)

But mostly, the benefits of big data center around safety.  Big data is, at worst, informative.  And at best, it’s predictive.  If we could predict when issues might arise (even at the probability level,) we could keep pilots, crews and passengers safe, and probably avert any more, um, disappearing aircraft.

But why isn’t this done on a global scale?  There are drawbacks to such a proposal, to be sure.

  • Any system that can be built is eventually at the risk of being hacked.  Duly noted.  So we build in the world’s most sophisticated security (like every government/defense/space program has,) and find ways to packet, encrypt and protect.
  • There’s the sheer heft.  We’re talking storage in the yottabytes and a data center the size of Topeka.
  • This most likely hasn’t been done because it would be prohibitively expensive.  To the tune of tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars to craft, build, deploy and maintain a data system of this magnitude.  And then there’s the storage/archiving issue.

But think about it:  that cost could be amortized by every airline, manufacturer and aviation association in the world, and if it carries with it the promise of improved safety, greater efficiency, and predictive analytics, who wouldn’t be in favor of that?

We have entered the age of the Internet of Things.  Our homes are warmed by “smart” thermostats that are remotely controllable.  We have “smart” TVs and “smart” dishwashers and “smart” refrigerators to enhance our entertainment choices and the temperature of our water. So why not a smarter aviation infrastructure?

But who could build such a vast and predictive data center?  I don’t know for sure, but it might rhyme with Froogle.

Advertising: starring social media

I’m sure you’ve noticed this, but the phenomenon of digital interactivity – and especially via social media – has become a pervasive theme in modern television advertising.  Everywhere you look, brands of all kinds are using dramatic setups in their spots that either include, focus on or ultimately lead to some kind of digital interactivity.

To clarify, this is not just listing all the places you can find the brand on social media with a tag at the end of the spots.  This is regarding the growing number of spots being ABOUT social media, and about our digital lives, and how the brands are woven into our modern lifestyles.

Survey Monkey, typically regarded as a b-to-b entity, has gone out with an appeal to the consumer audience, and claims that their platform can be used “for all kinds of things, including event planning.”  What I love about this spot is the way it’s contextualized (and well-directed, as the story bookends the extended spot) around the “original” survey model.  Molly leaves a note in little Johnny’s locker, handwritten with crayon:  Do you like me?  With two options:  Yes.  No.  Classic.

Now, obviously, it makes sense for any type of online platform to use the digital life as the basis for the creative.  Google has done this marvelously before in their search spots, and more recently in a spot for their Nexus 7 product, where they use the theme of “search” as the basis for interacting with their electronic gadget.  It’s good – and they touch the humanity button perfectly with good casting and a few carefully planned tugs at the heartstrings.

Samsung’s Galaxy S4, (whose advertising still confounds me, since they’re just marketing around features instead of trying to find differentiating benefits, but that’s another post,) has a new spot featuring a traveling baseball team.  A bored infielder is using the video capture on the device to film his sleepyhead travel companion.  As the nod-er-off-er’s head bounces, the video is captured, and the buddy starts to tool on the loop.

And that’s what’s interesting – the ad isn’t about the quality of the video the device provides, the number of megapixels on the device, or even the dopey “tap to share” feature on the device, but rather on the video loop that this kid will create with the device.  (A primary-grade-level feature on any smartphone today.)  Ostensibly, the owner of the Galaxy S4 in this case is merely considering what a great Vine upload this would be, or at the very least how many likes that GIF will get on Tumblr.  THAT’s the unspoken focus of this spot, and it marginalizes the brand in some ways, because you can do that with ANY bloody phone.

In another category altogether, Wendy’s has taken up the social-media-as-the-end-to-the-means with its latest spot for its chicken flatbread sandwich.  In the old days, we would have just created a situation-comedy style setup with the big laugh at the end and then a 6-second panning beauty shot of the sandwich.  Today, the dialogue and setup is totally based on social media:  male character walks in and starts the dialogue with “hey…you saw my post on this great bakery…” and then ends with him posting a pic of redheaded “Wendy” to Twitter. [They also tagged the spot with a hashtag #twEATfor1k.]

And it goes beyond fast food into several other categories.  One new car commercial (for Honda) touts its “the car reads your emails for you” feature, and positions it as a safety benefit.  Smart.  But stop and think about that for a moment:  the brand recognizes the need for us to stay connected to our digital lives, and has built in an e-mail reading feature into their vehicles, and is now running spots promoting that.  That goes way beyond MP3 players and partnering with Pandora for entertainment purposes.

Surveys.  Search.  Social media posts.  All taking a lead role in spots for big brands.  Going even further, many brands now are using crowdsourced images and videos as the visual basis for their ads. It’s an interesting paradox, or at least a healthy turnabout:  for years, brands have hoped to be discussed and passively promoted through social media and across the digital landscape.  Now, social media and the digital life are being actively promoted via brand advertising.