It's a familiar sight now. Crowds of people - of all ages - glued to their phones on an unremarkable street corner in search of, you got it, a virtual animal. Few could have predicted the success of the latest craze to hit the UK.
Or could they?
Every brand wants a 'Pokémon Go'. They want their campaign, game or experience to be the phenomenon that everyone's talking about.
Niantic, the company behind Pokémon Go, released a very similar game, Ingress, two years ago. It was designed, according to reports, to help track paths through parks. Put a virtual 'Portal' in the middle of a park, and see how people reach it. Bingo - you're getting people to help you map paths. Smart use of gaming.
It was pretty successful with die-hard fans, but it didn't take off like Pokémon Go. Critics say it was too uninspiring, yet Pokémon Go strips away everything bar the very basic elements of the game.
According to Jonah Berger's Contagious, there are six factors that combine to create an addictive ('sticky' is the term used in the industry) game. Pokémon Go hits all of them.
1. Does it have a high social currency? Everyone wants to look good in the eyes of their peers. This is why we Instagram a night out with friends, not a snap of us watching Pointless in our PJs.
Pokémon Go became such a huge hit so quickly because people downloaded it, played it, and shared it with their friends, generating social currency for its users. It created the 'viral loop' that brands aspire to. Other people saw their friends post pictures of Pokémon in their area and they had to get the app to be part of it. Soon people all over the world were clamouring for it to be released in their country.
2. Is there a strong trigger? We're creatures of habit. One way to ensure the success of a product is to create a trigger that's linked to how we live our lives.
Mobile games use time as a trigger. They're designed to be played in short bursts by people on the move. So when we find ourselves stuck on a bus in a traffic jam we reach for our phones and fire up a gaming app. Soon this creates another trigger - routine (or habit). You might start getting off the bus a few stops early to catch Pokémon, but in no time at all it will become part of your route to work. You start to form habits around the app.
3. Does it create strong emotion? For many players, Pokémon Go ignites memories of playing Pokémon as a child that may not have surfaced for twenty years. The nostalgia factor here is huge. Pokémon was a phenomenon that captured the minds of a generation of kids; it's those same 'kids' who are playing today.
4. Is it public and shareable? If it's built to show it's built to grow. There needs to be a way for people to share their experiences with the product and Pokémon Go makes this easy. It allows you to snap photos of Pokémon when you find them (so you can share that funny snap of finding a rare one perching on top of your cat's head).
Importantly, it's public in the true sense of the word. This gets people out and walking in public spaces, in the real world and has been praised for such by industries as varied as health and sport. It gets people talking, and sharing a real experience.
5. Does it offer practical advice or solve a problem? Maybe not, but it certainly is relevant to our times, which is not too far removed. People want to be seen as helpful, insightful and original, yet topical and ahead of the game. Taking part in and sharing this sort of content helps solidify that image.
6. What's the story behind it? Stories - particularly nostalgic ones - are powerful. They're how we communicate. If a brand can take the usual facts and figures about its product and create content that tells (or inspires) a story, it stands a much better chance of being talked about. Pokémon Go excels here as it enables people to tell their story to almost anyone, through any channel they choose.
Of course, once you've built your following you have to nurture it. This is perhaps where Niantic has fallen short; there has been no community management. In fact, there has been near zero communication and Reddit feeds have exploded with feedback from angry fans, particularly around unannounced and unjustified changes to the game, such as the '3 step' display.
As Yang Liu, creator of Pokévision, a since disabled external tool designed to enable gamers to continue to play when the in-game tracking broke, wrote in an open letter to Niantic:
"You've simply captured all of our hearts with Pokémon Go, Niantic. But then, you broke it all too quickly."
In writing this one letter, Liu has become the hero of the Pokémon Go narrative, and Niantic the villain, leading to calls from fellow fans to install Liu as Community Manager. The lesson here for brands is clear; neglect your community at your own peril. A two way, open dialogue is imperative to building a strong, collaborative community that works with you and contributes to ongoing and sustained growth.
There isn't a set formula for creating a campaign that sparks conversation across the globe, but there is science to it. Forget the question: "What can we do to get consumers talking about this?" and start asking: "How can we inspire people to invite and integrate us into their lives?"