In an insightful article describing the lessons brand managers and marketers can learn from the explosion of Pokémon GO, SocialMediaToday’s Mark Miller summed up the phenomenon with a phrase that immediately made me think of radio: “a franchise that you probably assumed dead was given a boost of life by finding a place in the hearts (and pockets) of millions of people across the world.”
As recently as a month ago, both radio and Pokémon were considered pop culture artifacts, or at least past their respective primes. The original Pokémon had been eclipsed by newer games like ARK and any number of first person action games that put the players in the middle of a battle. Similarly, many see radio as having been pushed out of relevance by companies like Pandora and Spotify who offer the same content (music) but with sexier technology. You could also describe Talk Radio, once considered AM Radio’s unstoppable driver, as being nudged into obsolescence by the growing popularity of podcasts.
So how did Pokémon GO, the newest iteration of a 20-year old invention become arguably a bigger hit than it was originally? And what lessons can radio learn from that story? The answers lie in a magical 3-part formula: technology + nostalgia + community.
- Technology – The heart of the original Pokémon brand was all low tech aimed at kids aged 7 to 12: playing cards, toys, and Saturday morning cartoons. Most of those kids outgrew those things. Twenty years later, Pokémon GO utilizes Augmented Reality gaming. AR is the kind of advanced tech that appeals to those grown up kids as well as to the new generation. Radio hasn’t found the cutting edge technology to put them over the top yet. There is an FM chip in every smartphone, but most of those chips aren’t ever activated. Many radio stations offer their own apps, but there isn’t one app that unifies the industry — one app to Rule Them All. The lesson: Radio has to identify and leverage the right technology to make the old seem new again.
- Nostalgia – The twenty-somethings playing Pokémon GO are mostly fans of the original franchise. They have a deep connection to the brand and are willing to take a chance on a new game for the opportunity to re-establish that connection. Aren’t all of us in radio always talking about how radio’s greatest strength is the connection it has with listeners? Most consumers alive today grew up listening to the radio, which provided the soundtrack for first kisses, family road trips, and sweltering summer evenings at the community pool. The lesson: Radio needs to harness that connection and use it as a tool to remind people what a huge part of their lives radio music and personalities have been and still are.
- Community – Merely days into the Pokémon GO craze, communities have sprung up online and IRL to find Pokémon. Businesses are signing up as Pokémon hotspots. Some users are even using it as a kind of dating site. It makes sense; we want to have mutual experiences, and doing anything is more fun with others who enjoy it too. Since its inception, radio has created communities. We all have these pictures in our heads, scenes from a montage of what radio has meant to us and generations past: depression-era families gathered around the Philco listening to The Lone Ranger, teenagers dancing at sock hops hosted by the local deejay, love stories played out on long-distance dedication shows, call in advice shows bringing people together (think Sleepless in Seattle). Communities do more than provide word-of-mouth brand marketing, they create the space for growth and the forum for directing that growth. The lesson: radio needs to look to its user communities for direction.
Pokémon GO is the first big AR success because it hits all of the sweet spots that are needed for success: technology, nostalgia and community. Radio has one of the three points above fairly well covered and that is community. Whether it is taking calls from listeners on a morning show or hanging out at a festival or concert radio brings people together all of the time. Creating new tech or piggybacking off something new is within reach for the industry but requires some investment and willingness to take risks. Harnessing the power of nostalgia might be the easiest to accomplish either by painting a picture with audio using the considerable talent in the industry or using an effective visual in TV or online. If all three get locked down, radio just might be bigger than Pikachu.