Are there opportunities in the Pokémon revival for hospitality to cash in on the craze? Katherine Price reports on some super effective methods
If you have noticed groups of people loitering outside your business with their noses glued to their smartphones shouting strange words like "Snorlax", "Bulbasaur", or "Drowzee", it is probably not your imagination. Pokémon Go, the augmented reality game based on the 1990s video-game franchise, officially launched in the UK on 14 July and already has 21m daily active users.
"Over the weekend we've had queues of people trying to get into the restaurant, standing outside and running in asking us where they can find a Snorlax. I had to call extra staff in to cover the surge in customers," said Christian Southcott, general manager of Maxwell's Bar & Grill in Covent Garden, London, which has found itself a PokéStop (see below).
The free augmented reality game uses GPS to turn the real world into a hunting ground for computer-generated creatures called Pokémon that users can "catch" and train to fight. This is not a game that can be played at home; players must walk around and that means that the potential is there for hospitality venues to play host to the millions of users roaming the streets for Pokémon every day.
Players stop here
Many local landmarks and businesses have found themselves unwittingly turned into Pokémon gyms, where players can battle their Pokémon, or PokéStops, which players physically visit to get rewards. John Hanke, founder of Niantic Labs, which developed the game, told The New York Times that the game will offer opportunities for sponsored locations in the future, allowing businesses to pay Niantic to become gyms or stops. But until then, there are still ways hospitality can latch onto Pokémon Go footfall.
Tim Love, social media manager for PizzaExpress, said sponsorships could be "pretty lucrative" for restaurants in the future. "It sounds like an amazing opportunity for us, so it's definitely something we'd want to look into," he adds.
In terms of sales figures, Costa Coffee has seen an average 30% increase in footfall in stores where Pokémon have been spotted. In particular its St Martin's Worcester store, which is a gym, saw a 10% sales uplift on the day the game launched. Maxwell's has reported a 26% increase in customers during the first weekend of its release.
Pokémon Go - the right screen shows a PokéStop
If your business is a PokéStop, there is an in-game purchasable item called a 'lure module'. For 79p, it attracts Pokémon to the PokéStop for 30 minutes, which anyone in the immediate vicinity can see and catch. Businesses have already been utilising lures, particularly during slow periods, to increase footfall. L'inizio Pizza Bar in New York saw sales rise 75% in one weekend after its manager started using lures to attract Pokémon (and diners) to the restaurant. "Lure spots are pretty cheap as a marketing tool," said Love, "so there's actually no harm in giving it a go. They're 79p, so even if they happen to drive one customer into a restaurant, you're making a fairly big return on investment."
Some venues are even advertising 'lure parties' on social media, when they will be placing lures and inviting users to attend the venue, counting on players getting hungry - and thirsty - during that time. Maxwell's advertised a lure party via its newsletter, which already has 312 attendees confirmed.
Maxwell's has also already made it the sole responsibility of one employee to purchase and drop lures and is spending up to £100 a day on in-app purchases to attract users to the restaurant. MEATmission in Hoxton, east London, tweeted when it would be adding a lure to the nearby PokéStop and invited people to visit the restaurant while playing. Other brands are taking the opposite approach - promising to drop lures if a certain number of drinks are purchased.
Adam Finnegan, a duty manager at the White Horse pub in Leamington Spa, said since it became a gym, people have been coming to the pub specifically to play the game. It is now advertising itself as "both a pub and a gym" on a board outside. While it is too early to say if it has made a significant difference to sales or footfall, he said, "I know a couple of other [pubs] that are PokéStops, they're using lures, and that's bringing in custom for them."
The Crown & Anchor pub in Covent Garden, London, is also a stop. General manager Tiffany Bryant said she has "no complaints" about players coming into the pub to play, especially as she has seen an increase in footfall.
There are many ways hospitality venues can engage with players, from discounts and deals for players, to allowing users to use your location's WiFi, saving them using up their mobile data to play the game. Even businesses that are not near stops or gyms are advertising discounts and deals for players who can show they own rare Pokémon.
"Never in my life did I think Pokémon would form part of my marketing strategy, but it allows us to engage creatively with our customers and new customers," said Anthony Knight, Maxwell's marketing manager. "Many employers are banning employees from using the game, but we are actively encouraging our staff to download the app and engage with customers using the game while in the restaurant."
Similarly, Jessica Levitt, general manager of MEATmission, has noticed players coming into the restaurant who may not have before since the statue opposite the restaurant became a stop. While the restaurant does not want to disingenuously jump on the bandwagon, she said it is "good to engage with the customers on something they're interested in".
Turning players into customers
Engaging with the game and players on social media is one way to include your business in the conversation. You can take screenshots in-game and post them to social media using popular hashtags like #PokemonGo to get the message out that your venue has Pokémon, while encouraging customers to do so as well in return for discounts or rewards. Costa is encouraging players to share their "sightings" via its Facebook page and is looking into introducing a PokéStop selector on its online store locator, while TGI Friday's is also encouraging customers to share their photos of onsite creatures with the promise of prizes. Some Pokémon are rarer than others, and so if your business has been known to play host to some of the rarer species, this can be deployed as an advertising tool.
PizzaExpress put out a post on Facebook calling on customers to send in their photos of Pokémon in PizzaExpress restaurants with the promise of rewards. The post received more than 850 shares, 700 comments and 5,500 likes and reactions. Love said the average age demographic of people who engage with the brand on social media is generally around 25-34, however the largest demographic that engaged with the post was 18-24. "In terms of brand awareness, it could really help put us front of mind for a younger demographic," he added.
Whether Pokémon Go is a short-term trend that fizzles out quickly, or a longer-term marketing strategy, it is something that hospitality can react to immediately, and reap the benefits.
The lingo decoded
Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game based on the popular 90s video game franchise. It uses phone GPS to turn the real world into a hunting ground for creatures called Pokémon that users can catch and train to fight. Players must walk around to play it - like geocaching - and find items and Pokémon.
Players physically visit these locations to get rewards.
Players can train and battle their Pokémon in gyms. During the game, players choose to join a red, yellow or blue team, and gyms are 'held' by members of one of these teams - teams can be overthrown if their Pokémon are beaten and gyms can change hands.
The game has a purchasable item called a 'lure module' that can be placed on a PokéStop. For 79p it attracts Pokémon to the stop for 30 minutes, which can be seen and caught by anyone in the vicinity.
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