Pokémon Go and the rise of augmented reality

If history sees fit to look back on the summer of 2016 there will be two phrases that dominate the conversation – Brexit and Pokémon Go. While we knew the referendum was coming, nothing could have prepared us for the global phenomenon that is Pokémon Go. The Nintendo mobile game has created legions of zombified fans, loitering on street corners in search of virtual monsters in a bid to “catch ‘em all.”

The craze has had multiple effects so far: teenagers are finally emerging from their stuffy bedrooms to enjoy the great outdoors (albeit through their mobile phones), emergency services all over the world are pleading with players not to cross roads without looking both ways and brands are waking up to the power of augmented reality.

Virtual reality’s little brother hasn’t had the same airtime enjoyed by VR until now. Headsets such as Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear have dominated the news agenda, not least because of the huge investment funnelled into them. But the astounding success of Nintendo’s latest game has finally given augmented reality the proof of concept it needed and shown that it has the edge on VR in a number of respects. Rather than having to invest in new kit, users have everything they need in their smartphones – instantly making it more accessible. Also, the kind of technology used to catch Pikachu, Charmander et al allows you to interact with other users, while VR by comparison is quite isolating. It proves that users can have a rich and interactive experience without wearing a cumbersome headset (for those of us who don’t want to mess up our hair).

Some brands are piggybacking directly onto the back of the game to reap the benefits of the technology. McDonalds, for example, is the first brand to have a sponsored location – 3,000 branches in Japan have been turned into Pokémon gyms (places where players can gather to fight other players’ captured creatures) – no doubt increasing the footfall through the fast food joints. Other brands are taking to social media to tap into the craze, offering discounts to people with high scores and alerting users when there is a rare Pokémon on their premises.

But beyond Pokéballs, Pokégyms and Pokéwatsits, there are ways companies can get on the augmented reality bandwagon and create their own buzz. Cosmetic brand Benefit recently released a tool called Brow Genie, which uses augmented reality to show users how to achieve the perfect eyebrow shape. Meanwhile Tesco has worked with Disney to release a Frozen sticker book that animates the stickers when a specific app is hovered over the pages.

Whether it’s used to bring a marketing campaign to life, or acting as an additional function in a new product – augmented reality is set to become one of this year’s biggest trends for business.