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Andre Burnett | How Pokemon grew up - The value of growing a brand instead of changing

Published:Wednesday | July 20, 2016 | 7:00 AM
André Burnett.
A group of Pokemon Go players at Bayfront Park in downtown Miami.
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To some of us, it might seem strange that the word Pokemon has suddenly popped back in conversations we overhear, social media posts we scroll past or even in the news.

If it is strange, then you're probably late to a new-old-new fad that has somehow captured the imaginations of over 7.5 million users in less than a week.

Even if you have no interest in video games, Pokemon became a part of popular culture almost two decades ago, and like all fads based on an actually great product or premise, it burned brightly for a while then it faded into shadowy esotericism.

Except, unlike no other fad before it, Pokemon is somehow back. But, instead of preteens and teens, we have grown people with every important jobs and even more important, families, walking around trying to 'catch 'em all'.

The game Pokemon Go was released for iPhone and Android users on July 5 and even though Jamaican users are supposedly restricted, Pokemon fever has taken over Jamaican social media. The game is an augmented-reality take on the classic video game, where users explore their real-life surroundings for hidden creatures. If it sounds a little silly, it kinda is. But it's fun and people like fun, so brands have taken notice.

"Wherever they're already gathered, we'll build something for them". That's my interpolation of the classic Kevin Costner line from Field of Dreams and it applies perfectly to how brands respond to fads. Whenever attention shifts to new content, brands scramble to find unique ways to utilise this content to push their message, product or service.

What's important to note is the original Pokemon game was released 20 or so years ago This means the original fans of the game are now the demographic that marketers are struggling with ... insert scary bass tones ... 'millennials'.

 

BASIC MECHANICS

 

This disloyal, whiny, entitled generation, that I am a proud part of, are a marketer's nightmare; but the success of Pokemon Go has important lessons for brands and products to adopt to really connect with millennials instead of hurrying to be late to the next fad.

Here's one: People react negatively to change but positively to growth.

The basic mechanics of the original game could be explained as simply as exploring, collecting, puzzle-solving and showing off. Of course, it's more complex than that and lots of kids truly loved the actual game on their Nintendo Game Boys.

Now, fast-forward two decades the same fundamental product is still there, but it has adapted to incorporate the new lifestyle of the same users. Here are a few:

- Fitness is huge now walk or run more and get a chance to capture more Pokemon;

- You can show your achievements to a whole lot more people than you could when you had four friends in high school;

- Non-committal fun to use when you want and put down when you want. The game asks you to catch 'em all, it didn't say when.

This is analogous to what happens to Jamaican brands that enjoyed decades of loyal patronage before this generation decided that it would rather try a few other, newer and cheaper options. Market research finds that while the generation before us had strong feelings of brand loyalty based on personal experience, reputation or just tradition, this generation is more self-aware when it comes to brand choices.

A brand that has not adapted to mirror the lifestyle, norms and nuances of the generation thus risks losing relevance slowly but surely as they find that their reputation counts for less to a 24-year-old that is constantly asking: What's in it for me?

Most times, the marketing departments of major brands realise the necessity for augmentation and realignment of the brand message and positioning, but the rest of the company has to be convinced.

And why does the rest of the company needs convincing? Because growth is normally communicated as change and even worse, a change was effected when growth was needed.

Pokemon Go is going to be around for a while and the crashing servers show that even the developers are surprised by how much people are loving a Pokemon designed specifically for the 2016 adult.

So, what do we do as marketers and product developers to grow with our targets? Two simple principles:

- Integration How can your product or message enrich and add value to your consumers' lives with as little friction as possible?

- Facilitation What can your product or message do to aid social or other achievement for your consumers?

Yeah, the 'simple' was a bit of a stretch, but we're seeing it happen right before us. Who's next?

Andre Burnett is a creative strategist, entrepreneur, planner, writer with too many email addresses.

dre@museinspires.com