Case studies show how attractions capitalized on 2016’s biggest sensation, “Pokémon Go”
by Michael Switow
Last August during the height of “Pokémon Go” mania, every weekday Enchanted Kingdom’s digital media marketer, Zyrille Limpin, briskly walked from one “PokéStop” in the park to another. She was releasing “lures,” the pink hearts and cherry blossom petals that attract the fictional Pokémon creatures and, with them, the multitudes of fans who play the game.
“Filipinos embraced the craze with open arms. From the moment it was officially released in the country, it was ‘Pokémon Go’ everywhere. In schools, malls, parks, restaurants, even offices, players were glued to their smartphones,” says Limpin, who is herself a huge Pokémon fan. “We launched our ‘Pokémon Go’ campaign to cater to the generation that loves this franchise, particularly the millennials. We wanted people to know they can have the best of both worlds at Enchanted Kingdom—they can release their inner Pokémon master and enjoy our rides and offerings at the same time.”
By encouraging gamers to come to the park, Enchanted Kingdom, located about 30 miles south of Manila, was following a marketing strategy that has been adopted by attractions from the Louisville Zoo to the Sydney Opera House: leverage a popular fad to drive attendance and generate revenue.
To better understand this strategy, particularly for those who haven’t played “Pokémon Go,” here’s a brief tutorial: Niantic Labs updated the classic 1990s Nintendo video game by bringing it into the mobile environment and adding augmented reality. “Trainers,” as players are known, wander the real world trying to catch as many Pokémon as they can by flicking a virtual PokéBall at the animated creatures that appear on their phones. Once caught, trainers teach the Pokémon to battle each other in “gyms.” There are hundreds of different types of Pokémon—some more rare than others—which is particularly pertinent for attracting gamers.
The game was released in summer 2016 in some 70 markets (and is now available in more than 110 countries). It quickly became one of the world’s most popular apps, grossing more than $600 million in just three months as it was downloaded half a billion times. At its height, mobile users spent almost as much time searching for the brightly colored Pokémon as they did playing the next 19 mobile games combined.
The furor around “Pokémon Go” has calmed down in the months since its debut, so it’s perhaps a good time to look back at how the game impacted the industry in preparation for whatever the next digital fad may be.
Playing the Game
There are a number of different ways attractions tried to capitalize on “Pokémon Go’s” success:
- Malaysia’s Sunway Lagoon ran a six-week campaign offering a 40 percent discount off the gate to the first 100 Pokémon players wearing the Pokémon color of the day and set a target of welcoming an additional 2,700 visitors during the promo period.
- The Seattle Art Museum posted a slideshow on Instagram showing Pokémon species in its galleries.
- Busch Gardens Tampa Bay held a public “lure-a-thon” and gave season-pass holders an exclusive one-hour head start.
- For just A$25, Australia’s Dreamworld offered special after-hours guided Pokémon tours.
A key to understanding these promotions is that “trainers” catch the elusive augmented-reality Pokémon at real-world PokéStops, and they are particularly attracted to places with uncommon Pokémon species.
Niantic places PokéStops in locations that receive a lot of foot traffic—including museums, zoos, aquariums, and theme parks. The company says PokéStops are located in places that are free to visit, but, in reality, many are on the other side of the turnstile. For example, there are 15 PokéStops at Enchanted Kingdom, 12 of which are inside the park.
The lures Limpin was releasing at Enchanted Kingdom are purchased within the “Pokémon Go” app. Anyone can buy them, but you need to be physically present at the PokéStop first (though some players have hacks to get around this), which is why Limpin needed to visit each one in rapid succession. Enchanted Kingdom decided to release lures inside the park every weekday at 4 p.m., because that’s a slow period. “It’s around siesta time when people are resting, sitting down, and looking at their phones. It’s also not hot, so it’s the best time,” she explains.
Each lure costs $1 and lasts for 30 minutes, which meant Limpin had to revisit each PokéStop two to three times to ensure a continuous campaign, providing her with a good daily workout, as well. (She estimates walking at least 2-3 kilometers during peak Pokémon hours.) Limpin also budgeted for random releases, so she could purchase additional lures when she noticed players—easily identifiable by their portable chargers—in the park.
“I just figured they’d like that. I know how it feels to see a rare Pokémon,” says Limpin, adding that the best advice she can offer parks wanting to leverage a promotion like this is: “Play the game! Understand what it’s like to be a player.”
In addition to the lures, Enchanted Kingdom created other Pokémon related events—a real-world PokéBall hunt for kids (think Easter eggs) and a contest with questions like “Who’s that Pokémon?” and “Name the most Pokémon you can within 30 seconds.” While the quiz was designed for adults, two children below the age of 10 apparently schooled their elders.
Over the two months of the campaign, Enchanted Kingdom spent just $500 on lures. The payback? A 9 percent increase in attendance as compared with a year earlier. The company also observed higher food and beverage and merchandise sales, in part because Pokémon trainers don’t travel alone.
Publicity also came cheap. Enchanted Kingdom produced infographics highlighting the types of rare Pokémon that could be found in the park. These spread like wildfire in social media and even attracted local news coverage; there was no need to purchase ads. “It was the hype of the craze,” Limpin notes. “Anything Pokémon just went viral.”
In Singapore, Universal Studios Singapore and Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) were hot spots for hunting Pokémon. With more than 70 PokéStops in the area—and discounts based on the number of Pokémon caught on the premises—company officials say visitors extended their stays at the resort.
Subsequently, RWS upped the ante with a 10-week “Pokémon Research Exhibition” at the S.E.A. Aquarium. Visitors pretended to be scientific researchers. Their task was to identify the taxonomy of an unknown Pokémon based on a series of clues. Participants were given an Observation Notebook with images of possible Pokémon answers, plus a real-life two-toned PokéBall that had a chip inside with the clues and the answer.
There were eight stations in the attraction where players placed their PokéBalls to receive information—like the height, weight, footprint, silhouette, or partial outline of the critter contained within—but they were only allowed four clues before guessing the answer. Some of the observation stations were interactive, such as requiring a player to jog in place to get more information.
Entry to the Pokémon Research Exhibition required a separate ticket purchased on top of aquarium admission, though RWS encouraged visitors to buy online packages that included both. Aquarium-goers who did not buy a ticket online could purchase one on-site for S$8; online packages for adults were just S$1 more than regular admission; children’s packages were actually S$1 cheaper.
“The recent ‘Pokémon Go’ phenomenon, which took the nation by storm, generated significant footfall and excitement at Resorts World Sentosa. This was an exciting opportunity to take this Pokemon fever further,” says RWS Senior Vice President of Attractions Jason Horkin, who notes RWS is the first attraction to stage a Pokémon Research Exhibition outside Japan. “Pokémon fans got a healthy dose of science and, of course, fun during their mission; it was edu-tainment for visitors, which is the heart of what we do here.”
Hair-Raising News Coverage at
Kentucky Kingdom, an amusement park located just south of Louisville, tapped into a fad of a much different kind in 2016: political furor.
When the National Rifle Association announced Donald Trump—then a candidate in the Republican primaries for President of the United States—would speak at its annual meeting last May, the team at Kentucky Kingdom was not thrilled. Their concern had nothing to do with politics, but with the logistics of the candidate’s visit.
Trump was scheduled to speak at Freedom Hall in the Kentucky Exposition Center, just next door to Kentucky Kingdom.
“We have a unique challenge when large events occur in proximity to the park,” explains Adam Birkner, the park’s media and communications manager. “Parking and traffic patterns are updated, and that can impact guest experience.”
Birkner and his team decided to turn the challenge into an opportunity by leveraging the visit, in a humorous way, to gain visibility and drive attendance: They dared the presumptive Republican nominee to ride the park’s newest roller coaster.
“We have a hair-raising challenge to extend to Donald Trump,” a member of Kentucky Kingdom’s team says in a Facebook video, while sitting in the coaster. “Ride ‘Storm Chaser,’ our yuuuge new coaster, this Friday the 20th and let us help you put those pesky hairpiece rumors to rest! Have your people call our people.”
The online challenge generated local and even some national media coverage, with outlets promising updates should Trump accept the “Storm Chaser” challenge. It also coincided with an aggressive campaign to drive season-pass sales. While the park can’t directly quantify the impact on its finances from the stunt, it received an impressive return on investment in terms of publicity.
“Our goal was to earn as much free media as possible,” explains Birkner. “Our media analysis tool, which tracks mentions and news stories, placed a value of $199,813 on the additional coverage generated by the Trump promotion.”
At the same time, the costs associated with the campaign were minimal. The collaterals were produced in-house and distributed to the media by Kentucky Kingdom’s communications team. The only external expense was $50 spent on Facebook to boost the post.
“This is an exceptional example of the direction we’re headed with current events and park relevance,” says Birkner.
Michael Switow is a Singapore-based writer who covers the Asia-Pacific attractions industry for Funworld.