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Pokémon Go - fad or fantastic marketing opportunity?

Louisa Osmond, Teaching Fellow

Faculty Blog

Chances are you’ve heard of Pokémon Go. It’s the latest global gaming phenomenon. In the US it’s estimated that 7.5 million people downloaded it within three days of its launch, and it has achieved $1.6 million of daily revenue in Apple’s iOS store alone. Moreover, it’s added more than $7 billion (£5.4 billion) to Nintendo’s value by virtue of shares in the company rallying since its release.

The game is dominating gaming charts and seems to be capturing two markets: teens discovering Pokémon for the first time, and people in their late 20s and 30s who are on a nostalgia trip, remembering Pikachu (one of the most recognisable Pokémon characters) from the first time round.

Unsurprisingly, the game is attracting a lot of attention. Stories of Pokémon hunters are everywhere. In Wyoming a woman found a dead body while looking for a Pokémon in a river near her home. Police said the man had died within the last 24 hours and no foul play was suspected. In Bosnia players found themselves in danger after straying into an area littered with active landmines, and coastguards on the south coast of Britain have been mobilised repeatedly to rescue gamers left stranded by high tides.

The premise of the game is similar to that of geocaching or, in old-school terms, a treasure hunt. Using augmented reality (AR) it enables players, via their smartphones, to hunt Pokémon in the real world. It was designed to get people out and about and counter criticisms that gaming is a sessile sport. GPS places a map on the user’s screen and different Pokémon species pop up nearby. The player is then encouraged to go and capture them. Once in the right area, the smartphone’s camera renders the Pokémon into the real environment. The player must then catch the Pokémon by throwing a Pokéball at them. Some are difficult to catch because they bounce around and the player only has a limited number of Pokéballs.

McDonald’s became the first brand to advertise on Pokémon Go when it paid for 3000 restaurants in Japan to become ‘Pokémon gyms’: locations players must visit to progress in the game. The fast-food giant credits the activity with delivering all-time monthly highs in guest counts and average order value. It also claims that this campaign fits with its strategy to be involved with innovative marketing platforms from the outset. For McDonald’s, therefore, the Pokémon Go tie-up appears to be strategically sound. However, some marketing pundits (including Marketing Week’s Mark Ritson) are quick to criticise brands that have jumped on the bandwagon, accusing them of ditching long-term marketing objectives in exchange for looking cool. It is understandable that brands are interested. AR and location-based marketing have yet to live up to their potential, and with a global audience exceeding 100 million (and growing daily) Pokémon Go looks set to change this. Familiarity, after all, breeds acceptance.

Whatever camp you fall into – fad or fantastic opportunity – what is clear is that people are flocking to Pokémon Go to catch Charizards, not to be advertised to. Therefore, as with all marketing communications, brands need to ensure that Pokémon Go campaigns are relevant or risk widespread derision by gamers across all social channels.

What do you think? Does Pokémon Go represent a fad or fantastic opportunity for brands?