Is Pokémon going after your data?

July 15, 2016

 

As I write this, Pokémon Go is the hottest thing on the planet, hands down. And while most of my Facebook friends seem to agree in their disdain for the game, more than 65 million US users beg to differ.

 

On the other hand, given the fickle nature of the digerati, by the time you read this, Pokémon Go may be old news, joining all manner of phenomena from Angry Birds to the Pet Rock on the dust heap of fads that make you go WTF? I can only hope.

 

First, a disclaimer. To say that my interest in video games is mild would be a vast exaggeration. The last game I played with any regularity was Duke Nukem 3D, and even then, I waxed nostalgic over its 2D-scroller predecessors. I’m a relic, to be sure.

 

Even so, I believe my dislike for Pokémon Go is well-founded. Simply put, Pokémon Go is dangerous.

 

For starters, it puts your physical well-being at risk. Just a couple of days ago, it was reported that two fellows not far from where I live in San Diego fell off a cliff pursuing those elusive Pokémon. One guy got stuck on the cliff; the other bounced all the way down to the beach some hundred feet below. I’m wondering if perhaps Pokemon can fly, and these two gents forgot they can’t.

 

Let’s suppose for a moment, however, that you’re smart enough to avoid stepping out in front of a moving bus to capture a Pokemon. This game is still dangerous.

 

According to a report on The Fiscal Times website, “In order to function, Pokémon Go needs access to a player’s smartphone camera and precise location, to generate maps and place Pokémon within them (even that data release may allow strangers to access your physical location). But upon downloading, the app asks for a user’s Google profile and device identifiers. It seeks to access user contacts and read any USB storage devices in the machine. It can control Bluetooth settings and vibration on the user’s smartphone, while blocking it from sleeping. Initially, the game even secured access to users’ individual Google accounts, like their Gmail inbox, contacts, photos and calendar. Niantic (the game’s developer) called this a mistake, saying they only wanted the profile information.”

 

That’s a big intrusion, but it’s really the point of the whole game. The revenue that the game maker generates selling you virtual Pokémon storage devices for $1 is peanuts. The big money is in selling your data. Big data = big money, plain and simple.

 

Be that as it may, businesses have been quick to jump on the Pokéwagon and leverage the phenomenon to their benefit. For example, according to a recent Reuters report, a pizza joint on Long Island saw its business jump more than 75% in over one weekend simply by activating a $10 Pokémon “lure module.” This module lures Pokemon to the shop, presumably with their pursuers hot on their virtual heels.

 

This success and others like it have prompted some to suggest that Pokémon Go could disrupt other now-ubiquitous digital-era marketing tools like Groupon and Foursquare. I find that highly unlikely because, as I noted earlier, I expect Pokémon Go to vanish just about as quickly as it appeared.

 

That said, I doubt that the owner of the pizza joint really cares whether Pokémon Go is gone tomorrow. It’s here today and it’s selling extra pizzas. And maybe that’s the marketing lesson in all of this.

 

Back in the day, when I was a young marketing whippersnapper (did I really just write that?), you developed a long-term marketing plan and then you executed it over time. There’s plenty of talk today about how businesses need to be as nimble as possible, and that goes for their marketing, too. So what if Pokémon Go disappears by this time next month? If your business can use it to generate some extra coin between now and then, you need to be smart enough to recognize the opportunity and nimble enough to take advantage of it. You can’t fall asleep at the marketing wheel.

 

I’ve always said that marketing plans need to remain fluid. Now that appears to be an understatement.

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