News & Views

Opinion / Pokémon Go and the case for Augmented Reality

by Kristina Dimitrova

The wait is over for Pokémon lovers and 90s kids in Britain as Pokémon Go was officially released in the UK and Ireland last week. The smartphone game, which uses augmented reality to mix the digital and physical worlds, has turned into a global phenomenon within a week of its launch. To collect Pokémon and battle other players, users have to explore the real world and compete with others for little creatures nearby.

The game has already overtaken Tinder based on daily active users. What’s more, people spend more time playing the game than they spend on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter or Instagram.

Apart from the strength of the Pokémon brand – that Millennials have grown up loving and Gen Z are just discovering – the success of the game is a compelling case for the potential of augmented reality, which has been left lagging behind Virtual Reality in terms of buzz.  

Don’t get me wrong, the potential of VR technology shouldn’t be underestimated. But until headsets become cheaper, lighter, smaller and more fashionable, I personally don’t see them entering the mainstream. Let’s face it, no one wants to be that guy.

Augmented reality, however, is a different story. In most cases, the only thing you need to make the most of the technology is your smartphone. Some brands have been quick to realise its long-term potential, instead of thinking about it as a one-off PR stunt. Just as Pokémon Go hooks you into buying pokeballs and razz berries, these brands are using AR to drive purchases and increase consumer engagement.

Back in April, cosmetics brand Max Factor partnered with augmented reality mobile app Blippar to make 80% of its product portfolio interactive. The partnership lets consumers unlock specially curated content tailored to a specific mascara, eyeshadow palettes and lipsticks. To do this, people download the free Blippar app and then scan any item’s barcode. Potential shoppers can then see ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of the make-up, read customer reviews, watch video tutorials from the brand’s creative directors and purchase the products through their phones.

When I spoke to Laure Murciano, Max Factor’s global marketing director, she shared that this is the best way to get people exposed to the Max Factor content for longer, at the moment that they are considering the product. ‘We know that this is where the world is going so we want to be there. Broadly speaking I think this is really how we will behave in the future,’ she told me. ‘It won’t be about browsing and searching by typing but by using the camera on your phone.’

Elsewhere, UK biscuit brand McVitie’s launched an app that lets people create and play with their very own virtual kitten via augmented reality. The app, created by Grey London, supports the latest iteration of McVitie’s Sweeet TV campaign and aims to modernise the confectionery brand. In just one week, the iKitten app was downloaded more than 53,000 times with the average session time surpassing five minutes.

Digitally-savvy fashion label House of Holland also recently experimented with AR. During London Collections: Men, the brand partnered with Visa Europe Collab and Blippar to help people buy outfits straight from the runway. Blippar users had to point their phones at an outfit until the app identifies the item. If registered through the merchant, potential shoppers could choose their size and purchase the garment with their pre-registered debit or credit card. ‘I think this is the future of retail because it makes any person walking down the street shoppable,’ says designer Henry Holland. Just as your world is now a Pokémon playground, imagine how it could become the most extensive shopping window.


There’s clearly a lot of room for brands to tap into AR to deliver useful, relevant and entertaining experiences that also impact their bottom line. Consumer appetite is building up and the companies which make a continuous investment in the technology will be the ones reaping the benefits. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to catch some Rattatas.