The 7 Psychological Factors That Let Pokemon Go Take Over the World

Are you playing yet?

If you’ve been walking anywhere in a reasonably sized city in the past week, you’ve probably seen hundreds of people, staring at their phones and trying to capture some of the animated monsters we’ve grown to know and love as they exist in the new augmented reality of Pokemon Go. Hell, you’re probably one of them. I know I am (go Team Instinct!).

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Pokemon Go is an augmented reality mobile app released by Nintendo and Niantic. The concept is pretty simple; walk around with the app open, and you’ll encounter various tiny monsters, Pokemon, that you can capture and battle. Real-world points of interest like restaurants, monuments, and parks may be gyms, where you can battle for dominance, or Pokestops, where you can collect free items.IMG_6367

The app has been incredibly popular, downloaded more than 30 million times and responsible for a 50 percent boost in Nintendo’s stock price—not to mention a $7.5 billion increase in the company’s valuation. Pretty nuts, right? As a trainer, this is exciting—it means more people to compete with and strangers to talk to about the game. But as a marketer, this is downright magical. What is it, psychologically, about the game that’s sparked its mass appeal in the first place?

  1. The best of both worlds. The real world isn’t as exciting anymore now that all the world’s information is at our fingertips. But the digital world is lonely and isolating. Enter Pokemon Go, one of the first apps to successfully marry the two experiences. Google Glass, an augmented reality device a few years back, crashed and burned—perhaps because audiences weren’t ready for such a hybridization—but now, the world is craving experiences that are both physical and digital, and Pokemon Go is giving it to them.IMG_6368
  2. Nostalgia. Pokemon has been around for 20 years. Can you believe that shit? Nostalgia is an incredibly powerful human emotion, forcing people to think back to their childhoods with a blend of remembrance, reverence, fondness, and longing. Catering to this emotion yields for some powerful results; when people experience strong emotions, they form stronger bonds, even if those bonds are with brands and games. An entire generation of 20-somethings is experiencing a childhood phenomenon all over again, and they can’t help but get hooked on that feeling.
  3. Selective rewards. As human beings, we’re driven to seek rewards. But what’s weird is that selective rewards tend to be more exhilarating than consistent rewards. Think of this as the scratch-off lottery ticket effect; if you paid $1 and won $1 every time, you wouldn’t have fun and you wouldn’t play. But pay $1 every time, lose most of the time and occasionally win $100, and suddenly the experience is borderline addictive. Pokemon Go works the same way; you could walk five miles and only encounter weak fodder like Pidgey and Zubat, but the minute you run into a Snorlax or a Dragonite, you’ll be compelled to keep going back out for more.
  4. Novelty. No matter how good an experience is, if it never changes, people will get bored. In Pokemon Go, you can literally explore the world—you can find new Pokestops, new gyms, and new Pokemon anywhere you go, so if you’re tired of the app, all you have to do is walk somewhere new and you’ll get a new experience. Add in the fact that you’re likely to meet tons of new people playing, and you have a creation that constantly renews itself with fresh, novel opportunities so it never gets stale.
  5. Social proof. There’s also a layer of social proof involved with Pokemon Go. Early in its release, the app hit a certain threshold of popularity—the threshold where it became so popular, it started becoming more popular just because of how popular it was already. People gravitate toward what other people like—it’s the psychology behind viral content in a nutshell—so as soon as Pokemon started taking off, there was no stopping it. The social experience of seeing other people play in the real world, and talking to them about it only reinforces this social strength.
  6. Mastery. Another psychological factor for the game’s addictive nature is its layered support of personal mastery. It’s easy to get started with the game; almost anyone can pick it up and start catching Pokemon in minutes. But it’s hard to master, trying to figure out how all the mechanics work and catch powerful, rare Pokemon. This learning curve makes it accessible to beginners but both challenging and rewarding to more experienced players—a perfect recipe for client acquisition and retention.
  7. Tribalism. Tribalism is an inherent trap of thinking in human psychology—and it can be powerful, rewarding, and destructive all at the same time. We’re social creatures, but evolutionarily speaking, we tend to gravitate toward strong, tight-knit groups. We love to associate ourselves with some aspect of identity—whether that’s a sports team, a religion, a nationality, or anything else—then bond with people within our groups (and outcast those outside them). Pokemon Go took advantage of this by making players choose between one of three teams—Instinct, Mystic, or Valor—and competing against the other two tribes. It’s made people more invested in the game and has helped forge stronger lines of loyalty.IMG_6369

Hopefully, these psychological marketing tidbits have helped you walk away with an even greater appreciation for the revolution that is Pokemon Go. You can use these principles to boost brand loyalty and visibility for your own company—or take a shortcut and just drop a lure in front of your building.

If you’re looking for more shortcuts and tricks to improve your customer acquisition and retention, Sarah and I are here to help. Contact us for a free consultation and we’ll show you how to take your brand to the next level! Or I can show you my Snorlax.


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