The Pokemon Go phenomenon has swept the nation at a record pace since its release on July 6. In just a matter of days the app has moved to the top of the iOS App Store's chart, and we've seen droves of people gathering in common places across the country, hunting virtual characters with their phones.
While it's difficult to predict the virality and success of any content, we often find that the truly successful have many elements in common, and Pokemon Go has hit on all of them:
Emotional connection: At the core of any brand or campaign is an emotional connection. Pokemon is a franchise that has been around for 20 years and developed deep connections with its fans—old and young. Some people have been fans for years while others, who loved Pokemon as kids, choose to play because it makes them nostalgic for their childhood.
Consumer-focused: It's a game that is accessible to anyone with a smartphone, and it's easy to use (despite some server issues). No complicated or expensive equipment is required. All you need to do is go outside and search.
Visibility: You see them everywhere. Groups of people hunting Pokemon, eyes glued to phones. They are obvious because they are disrupting the normal course of daily human behavior. This naturally sparks interest, prompting observers to seek an explanation by searching or asking others, which causes a ripple effect of awareness.
Social element: It's incredibly social. Pokemon Go is bringing people together in the real (physical) world where they bond over a common interest. It's a welcome change from the walled social interactions online. Because it brings people together physically in a new situation, it has become ideal sharing material for social networks. We are even seeing Pokemon Go related Craigslist Missed Connections!
Headline-worthy: Perhaps the biggest catapult to extreme virality is that it's drawing major headlines on social networks and news outlets. We've seen news about Pokemon Go accidents, health benefits and robberies. The familiarity of the brand and chaos that has ensued has created perfect fodder for the media.
These are elements of true engagement and something advertisers and content developers should consider when thinking about how consumers might interact with their brands. How can you achieve these elements in your storytelling advertising? Remember these five themes:
1. Build a genuine emotional connection with your target consumer. One player described Pokemon Go as "finally achieving my childhood dreams." Remind people of familiar and shared connections from their lives.
2. Pokemon Go demonstrates the importance of a large brand presence that engages people with sight, sound and motion. In the online world, this can be achieved with compelling video creative, strategic use of paid media to aid discovery, and strong social sharing. Combined, these elements create the online sense that "we're experiencing this together."
3. Relate to themes going on in the real world in a genuine way—from social issues that people care about (think of JetBlue's "Reach Across the Aisle" effort) to the feeling of connection and gratitude that people have during holidays (see American Greetings' "World's Toughest Job" campaign).
4. Build shareable content that creates social conversation, like Dove's "Beauty on Your Own Terms" video. Write the headline that you want your advertisement to evoke, and create content that drives the headline you want.
5. Put familiar content in a new context—evoke wonder, surprise and delight the way Pepsi Max did with its Uncle Drew character, who schools younguns in basketball. Pokemon Go demonstrates the power of inserting brands into our natural daily lives, but with a twist that creates emotional connection, wonder and engagement.
Advertisers and content developers can learn a lot from the explosion of this phenomenon to optimize their own storytelling.